My friend Priya Venkatesh, herself a theatre person, told me about another interesting and unusual performance at Jagriti on the 15th of January, 2015. So I went with her and three other friends, to watch “Two Women Talking.”
The excellent brochure produced by Jagriti talked of story-telling, not as the retailing of fiction, but as the telling of one’s life experiences. In fact, the telling of one’s personal stories, and listening to those of others, has been designated as a form of therapy for everyone.
The two protagonsists, if that is the right word, were Monsoon Bissell and Benaifer Bhadha. The form of the production was just…conversation. In the post-production interaction with the audience, they revealed that when they first set out to stage this in New York,they started out by scripting it, and it was “a disaster”. Ever since, they have made it completely extempore, just winging it over the personal incidents that occur to them at the time.
Here is Monsoon, talking about the production.which they started with a group called Narrativ.
The very nature of the production mandates that there be no director, and apart from an introduction to the two “players”, there was no other presence on the stage. The lighting was “house lights on” throughout; there was no music; the props con.
However, it was obvious that the two have done this for a considerable time together. At no point in the hour-long production did they talk across each other; and each listened as intently to the other as the audience did.
The range of topics that they touched, in recounting their personal stories, were: body image and losing weight; grandparents; their own names, schools and colleges they attended; gender issues; their sexuality..and so it went, riveting us with the honesty and integrity of their words. What they stressed, ultimately, was the necessity of having a ‘safe space’ where one could open up about oneself, and reveal one’s own experiences, in the form of story-telling, to one’s listeners.
The performance was always leavened with deft touches of humour, which kept the atmosphere from getting too laden with emotion, and engaged the attention of the audience. The closeness between Monsoon and Benaifer came across clearly, as did their sincerity in their interaction.
However, what I still remain unclear about, after having watched the performance (and unable to attend the workshop that they held on Sunday, the 18th January)is how I, as an individual, can apply this method to my own life. First of all, I must be willing to lay myself open to another person; find that individual; who must also be willing to open up in a similar fashion, so that I can, in my turn, listen; and build up that “safe space” Monsoon and Benaifer talk about, where I can begin to heal the wounds of my life. As an ordinary individual, I cannot have a theatre space where a willing audience will listen to me, and social taboos may not allow me to open up at all.
On the other side of this point of view, I feel that with close friends, I already do have this method in place; In the relationship that a close friendship entails, I do have the opportunity to both talk about my life stories, and hear my friends’.What, then, is unique about the method advocated by Monsoon and Benaifer?
I do wish I’d been able to attend the workshop on Sunday, perhaps some of my questions would have been answered. But as of now, I would say that “Two Women Talking” is a marvellous, honest and moving performance, where each performance will be completely different from the other in content. But I cannot see it as a method that every member of the audience can adopt or benefit from.