Janice Savina Rodrigues | NT BUZZ
Sometimes a casual conversation can lead to something that has a very strong impact on our lives. The seed of a thought sown in the fertile minds can lead to more than just a plant. This is what happened 30 years ago, on one evening in November 1987 when Isabel Santa Rita Vas and her student Glen Viegas were casually conversing about a play to be staged as a fundraiser.
“My friend and student Glen wanted to do a play to raise funds for his youth club. As we worked, we realised we were on to a wonderful thing, and that it would be a pity for it to just wind up after that one play came to an end. So we put our heads together and called ourselves an art company! And here we are after all these years, still doing theatre,” says Vas.
The journey since then has been one step at a time, “without pre-arranged maps and compasses,” as Vas puts it. The Company had the desire to do good theatre and work together as a cohesive group, thus gradually moved to doing original scripts with music and dance. “This is challenging and also liberating, it allows us to spread our wings and encourage participants to develop their artistic and creative talents. Thirty years came one day and one play at a time. They say the way is made by walking; yes, that’s how it has been with us,” she adds.
Thirty years ago plays may have been seen as a difficult genre of art to be ventured into only by the very audacious as compared to the present. “I believe it is now increasingly being experienced as a welcoming performing art, and a very inclusive one in many senses. It is a vital form of art as it offers a live audience a few moments of shared experience, when life is put under trial, so to speak. Theatre entertains and provokes; and it looks closely at what is most essential to human society. In some ways, this inclusive theatre culture offers a way of working that is actively counter-culture, when you reflect on how competitive and combative many other activities of our lives have turned out to be,” says Isabel when asked about the importance of theatre in today’s world.
It’s been three decades since she stepped into the theatre scene with Mustard Seeds but Isabel still boasts of the enthusiasm and energy that would put even a teenager to shame. Ask her what keeps her going and that one aspect of theatre that keeps her hooked Isabel replies: “I love the way theatre can, and often does, embrace many arts: music, dance, the written and the spoken word, the creative use of space, innovative sets, light, sound. The nature of theatre is collaborative, and all participants struggle to negotiate the space of individual creativity in tandem with mutual collaboration towards a unifying idea. The friendships that we develop within the group are also important to us, to me, certainly. I think most of us in the group come to appreciate these exciting gifts of theatre.”
To mark these 30 years, the Company will stage the original script of “Hold Up the Sky”. The play set in twentieth century China, focuses on the dramatic personality of Jiang Ching, the talented theatre person who later became Madame Mao. “She was later one of the figures responsible for launching the Cultural Revolution. The characters are pretty variegated in colour and shape, a cross-section of any society, really. We look closely at Madame Mao and those who hovered around her, including her family and fellow actors,” says Isabel.
Through the play the Company will explore themes like freedom of thought and expression, the nature of power, the many faces of theatre itself. The songs and dances, all original and painstakingly put together by the group revolve around these themes that arise from the stories. “We have worked in collaboration with artistes who have composed wonderful songs for us,” she adds.
(The Mustard Seed Art Company will stage ‘Hold Up the Sky’ on September 26 at Gomant Vidya Niketan, Margao and on September 28 at Institute Menezes Braganza, Panaji from 6.30 p.m. to 8.30 p.m. Tickets are available at Magsons – Fatorda and Miramar.)