During the third week of the Autumn term the Department of Film, Theatre & Television at Reading was asked by Theatre Royal Stratford East to involve thirty students in a project entitled ‘Home Theatre’, whereby thirty devised pieces of theatre would be performed in thirty different homes across London. The aim was to create a tailor-made performance for each host – where the artist would meet them, discuss the contents of the piece, and a week later have a performance for friends and family to come and watch in the comfort of their own home. The performances took place in a diversity of different households and communities – from high rise London flats to a local hospital ward – one was even performed on a house boat.
Our role as film and theatre students was to meet the host with the artist, work with the artist in the devising process, and most excitingly – film the live event on the night when all performances were being shown across London. Finally, all the films would be broadcast live on Saturday 9th of November over the theatre’s website for all of us – as well as the general public – to watch from our own homes.
Looking back at it now – the best part for me was the idea of home based theatre itself. To be invited to create a performance in someone’s home – someone’s living space – which is so personally connected to the person or people living there, was a real challenge for us as performers who were used to performing on a bare stage. We had been given a fantastic opportunity to use this space to create performances around real people in a space that is so lived in and uniquely recognisable to that individual.
As a Film & Theatre student the project was perfect because it allowed me to work collaboratively with my artist and director on the theatre side – looking at how to structure the performance and how the artist could use the space, whilst also allowing me to have my own individual piece of work to take away from the project with the film – experimenting with composition and various camera angles within the space, how I would work with the quality of light and sound, and how I could feed the camera in to the audiences experience within their homes.
My performance took place in an Indian care centre – within the lounge area of their building. The performance was a massive challenge for me and my artist – dealing with an audience from a different culture and with a different language far from my own. They told us they wanted a performance to make them laugh – something happy and nostalgic – pointing out films they used to watch and songs they used to sing. Although many of the residents were from different regions of India with varying and conflicting languages and religions – all seemed to share collectively with many memorable films and songs they loved from their past lives back home in India; Bollywood film classics such as Pakeezah’s feature song ‘Chalte Chalte‘ and the song by Raj Kapoor – ‘the showman of India’ – singing ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’, which states within the lyrics that even though his clothes are from different regions of the world – ‘his heart belongs to India.’ This material was extremely enjoyable for me to watch and research as a film student – especially in relation to our new World Cinema module. The performance night itself was incredible – we were full of adrenaline and nervous thoughts, but once they all started to laugh and sing along – leaning out of their seats to shake the performers hand – I felt the warmth and excitement that brings people to the theatre. The songs and films were not just a means of entertainment – they were memories, memories that we brought to life in their own living room. The experience was incredible and emotional – and brought to my attention the benefits of site specific performance when the aim is to create work based on the lives of real people that occupy these spaces.