Philippine Sociology and Theater in India

February 03, 2013
Dr. Ricardo Abad

An invitation from the National School of Drama brought Dr Ricardo Abad, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, to New Delhi from 5-12 January 2013 to attend the 15th Bharat Rang Mahostav (Indian National Theater Festival) and to be a featured lecturer of the Festival’s "Meet the Director" forum. Dr Abad was able to watch, at a dizzying pace, 12 plays, mostly Indian productions, a good portion of which were fine examples of Indian popular theater, the traditional wellsprings of contemporary Bollywood films. As it was his third time to attend the annual festival, Dr Abad was also able to reunite with Indian theater students and professors whom he had met in previous visits. He had occasions as well to make new contacts with theater artists and scholars – some Indian, some non-Indians – all of whom expanded his knowledge of Indian and World Theater.

Many of the impressions that Dr Abad reported in last year’s post, Incredible Indian Theater, have been confirmed during this visit. Indian theater remains an impressive enterprise. Performances and productions are prolific, their quality rich and brave; their pool of superb talent runs deep; their theater schools brim with students; their audiences are sizable; and their theater scholarship is voluminous. More impressive is the impact that theater has made in revitalizing tradition and building communities. Immersion programs keep students grounded in local culture and state support for these community projects keep these efforts sustained. And while many communities, he was told, seek more state support, there is no denying that to date much has already been done to recharge local performance traditions, a key facet of India’s cultural heritage, and keep them in high gear.
Play productions were held in the afternoons and evenings. The "Meet the Directors" forum, in turn, was scheduled for the late mornings Included among the lecturers were Richard Schechner, the guru of Performance Studies, from New York University; Takahashi Unichio, a theater scholar, of the University of Tokyo; and Aubrey Mellors, a theater professor formerly from Australia’s National Institute for Dramatic Arts and now with La Salle Singapore. 
Dr Abad spoke on the fourth day of the forum, 11 January 2013. He spoke of theater as cultural capital which, like social or economic capital, is unevenly distributed in society. In fact, he added, it is the link of cultural capital to forms of social capital (networks) and economic capital (material resources)--these forms found largely in metropolitan centers than outside these centers--that defuses social inequalities.
Dr Abad further stressed that these linkages determine, among others, the level of access the public has to experience theater (and particular kinds of theater as well); the extent of support theater companies have for their projects; the access to training and expert knowledge; and the level of support, recognition, and publicity a theater company receives. The kind of cultural capital one receives (say, in school, private or state) also influences the kind of theater audiences learn to enjoy and the kind of theater drama companies choose to mount.

And sometimes these preferences, especially if they are marked by differences in language (English vs. vernacular, for example) or source material (western or local-based), may sharpen inequalities in cultural capital, privileging certain forms over others.

Dr Abad also spoke of efforts to rescue cultural capital from seemingly hegemonic holds, including attempts to value traditional performing styles as key sources of cultural capital as well. But these efforts, while laudable, are generally fragmented. A state-sponsored Theater-in-Education (TIE) Program for schools, similar to the one India has, will perhaps yield better results to redress imbalances in cultural capital.

India has found, for example, that decades of TIE work have dramatically raised the level of appreciation of theater, especially local productions; expanded audience size (Indian festival shows were always full houses!); generated employment for theater-trained people (as is the case in the United Kingdom where a TIE program is also active); and revitalized communities whose local stories and local performing styles found meaning and expression on village, city, and school stages. As part of this effort, Indian drama students, like Filipino medical students, have to spend immersion time in rural areas. Our student physicians learn to heal bodies, Indian drama students learn to boost the bodies social. There is much to be learned from India, curry country and Dr Abad's grandfather's birthplace.

An open forum followed with questions about religious ritual and theater, about the necessity of tradition to shape contemporary theater, and about comparisons between Indian and Philippine theater. Some discussions took place the following day in the Food Court, a closed tent and bamboo structure especially built for the festival where festival patrons gathered to talk, eat Indian food, or sip hot and spicy Indian tea – the perfect drink for wintry weather.
Dr Abad hopes to return in September 2013 to direct second-year students of the National School of Drama for their year-end production. And perhaps to do a series of lectures and/or workshops in the drama school.

Dr Abad with Indian Students

Dr Abad speaking at the "Meet the Directors" forum, 11 January 2013