Blogging from Germany: Institut für Angewandte Wirklichkeitsverwechslung

This is becoming a motif. Reality messed up, yo.

Today I'm facilitating an actors workshop at Theatre Münster on Illusion and Reality. http://www.theater-muenster.com/

The artistic director of the Junges Theatre, the superbly witty und pretty Julia Dina Heße, has set up an imaginary Institute for Practical Mixed-Up Reality or Institut für Angewandte Wirklichkeitsverwechslung. Imaginary scientists and educators from the imaginary institute go off to real schools and devise magical games for real children. All towards a common end: Is what we are told by the adults around us the absolute truth? The rules we are asked to follow, are these the only possible rules?

Julia Dina Heße In Kerala, India
For instance, Manuel, an actor from the ensemble, set himself up as a teacher of Math and English. He told the children they were experimenting with some state of the art new learning methods. He spoke to the children in English peppered with German (This is the modern approach to learning languages, he said, when the children tittered) and handed out a math quiz and said they'd have 20 minutes to complete it. He then began humming high pitched monotone, saying this would improve concentration. He also established a rule that said they must all stand and massage their temples every ten minutes. The children stood, massaged their temples and began work on the math quiz. In 5 minutes, Manuel took away their sheets. When they protested, he said the time too was part of the plan. He didn't want to stress them out when they began. German children are brought up with the desire to excel, get better grades...so never doubted him for a minute. They objected, mildly, to the humming, but said - 'If it improves our focus, why not?' They accepted what was offered to them as truth inviolate: hook, line and sinker. When they were told it was just an experiment with reality, ah, that's when the dialogue actually began.

As I was devising my games for this afternoon, I realized that anything I said about Indian rules or rituals to a western group would seem like an out and out fabrication. Try this:
- Menstruating women mustn't touch pickles for fear they will spoil
- Buying gold during Dhanteras will appease Goddess Lakshmi who will then make you very rich
- Don't look at the moon during Ganesh Chathurthi or Ganesha, the Elephant God will get mad because the moon laughed when his (Ganesha's) stomach burst after eating too many modaks.

At dinner last night Julia insisted that everyone eat with their fingers. There was shock, discomfort and a feeling that we are doing something radical, unseemly.

Alternate readings.

A dramaturg from Münster, Anna, told me a friend had visited India but was so culture shocked she couldn't step out of her hotel for 3 days. I told her I sometimes felt the same in Germany. Not to the same degree because we have so much more exposure, but culture shocked nonetheless, by the alone-ness on the streets amongst other things. So, yes, I know what she means.


But give me the serpent over the rope, it's alive, it's vital.

At workshop yesterday, Oliver, a film maker from  Fetter Fisch (http://www.fetter-fisch.de/) a group of Free Artists who are collaborating on this Illusion and Reality project was shooting some interviews for a film on the same subject. He asked me about the presence of illusion in Indian theatre and I just went 'glub glub glub'. I simply couldn't figure out what's what. Where does the one end in India. Nyaya or logic has gone for a six and everything exists in 600 shades of gray.

Dinner at Julia's home

Tamarind Seed Game


Snakes and Ladders
Life itself is a constant tussle between illusion and reality. On my lane for instance, this is what morning sounds like: Mrs. D'mello's hens making a racket on the roof, ghosts of Geeta doing kolam and then her Friday tulasi pooja, Jyoti combing her hair while looking at her reflection in the jeep mirror, Kuki practising Handel, Narsimha sweeping the garden while simultaneously fending off Mushroom's amorous advances and Tommy D'mello calling 'Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma.......' non stop for 45 minutes. Tommy is schizophrenic. Overtones of Tommy's father, dead for many years, singing the Ave Maria.

Next to this theatre feels like the place one can go to for some reality checks.

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