“Moving into a new site is our starting point for a production,” says Prashant Prakash, one-half of the theatre company Crow, that designs immersive experiences for its audiences, inspired by their venues. “We are no longer calling our work plays,” he clarifies.
In October, Prashant and his partner Nayantara Kotian moved into their newest (work) digs. Crow takes over spaces for a few months at a time, and converts them into venues. Their last production called Tall Tale took place in an old minar in Hauz Khas Village. Late last year, Gujral Foundation offered them an old office building abandoned for at least seven years previously. They spent a month cleaning the place up to prepare the venue for their new theatrical experience. They’ve conserved the dilapidated feel of the site with peeling paint, a rusted step ladder and missing tiles, but in a way that doesn’t feel dingy. The insides of alcoves and door frames are painted, to balance the worse-for-wear look with some colour.
“Our work is site-responsive,” Prashant explains. They’re currently hard at work rehearsing at the venue for their upcoming show, Emporium At The Edge of Certainty. “It’s a version of our first immersive experience, The Floating Market, which was a strange and surreal place staged in a parking lot where all goods were exchanged on a barter system,” he tells us. But as they’ve moved indoors into an old office, their rag-tag market has “grown into an experience similar to that in a shopping mall.”
The Emporium is a fantastical world with more than a dozen characters – all of whom want to sell something, all of whom want to receive something specific in return. These characters will approach audience members and explore what they have to trade. Prashant says, “They’ll laugh if you offer them money.” But they might accept other things from audience members that one may not immediately think have any value: be ready with bills, ATM slips, and other scraps lying at the bottom of a handbag. Some of the sellers may accept unusual payment such as candle-stands or rare words – precious commodities in their world.
The characters come from the scrappiest corners of the city, living in sewers and on the rooftops of abandoned buildings. For this “urban mythology,” Crow has chosen people “one sees in the city but doesn’t really notice – the characters who have slipped through the gaps.”
The fantastical elements of the script are fuelled by their reading habit: both Prashant and Nayantara are science-fiction and fantasy junkies. One of their favourites is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. “Nayantara is a big Terry Pratchett fan,” shares Prashant, “Neil Gaiman is an important influence on our work, as is Kurt Vonnegut, though his influence isn’t as visible on the surface.” Nayantara even wrote a Masters thesis investigating the prevailing notion that science fiction could not be staged.
What Prashant and Nayantara have set out to do with Crow is staging the unstageable. For them, “it’s a fun challenge to create worlds that hold up even when your audience is so close to them.”
Getting there: D-149, Okhla Phase 3. The venue has a flight of stairs, and is not wheelchair accessible. Tickets can be found at this link: https://insider.in/the-emporium-at-the-edge-of-certainty-feb-2018/event The show opens on 3rd of February and runs every weekend of February, including as part of 10th and 11th February.
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