Womens playwrights Conference in Mumbai 1.-9. november

15-12 2009

Impressions of a first-timer

Women Playwrights International Conference
Mumbai, 1 - 9 November

  Two hundred playwrights, directors and theatre managers from all over the world - almost half of them from India. The conference venue was Mumbai University, one of the few green oases in Mumbai, and it was combined with one of the largest Indian theatre festivals ever organised. There were three performances on the programme each day, the majority with women in key positions in respect of scripts or staging.

Some highlights:
* Experiencing the power of the theatre as a social player.

Many of the Asian delegates considered theatre to be the best means of creating a better life for themselves and other women. During the week, they changed my attitudes to the 'theatre of social change'. Jyoti Mhapsekar, chair of the conference, introduced herself as follows: "Activist first, and playwright by accident..."
One example is a performance in which prostitutes (both women without cast and hijras (transsexuals)) played themselves in a performance in connection with which they themselves had had decisive influence on the script. The performance provoked fierce discussions because several of the Indian members of the audience felt that it glorified prostitution. Ultimately, uniformed guards stood on either side of the stage while the cast and the audience had heated discussions. A historic experience for someone who is used to the polite indifference experienced by Norwegian theatre.

* Being inspired by hearing excerpts from so many good scripts!

Please note: for playwrights like Trina Davies (Canada), Katherine Thompson (Australia) (picture), Sally Stubbs (Canada), Katherine Thompson turned out to be an extremely capable speaker, and she talked about writing politically - but on the basis of complex characters with free will. "I am a dramatist first, and activist second!" Political theatre should not be about generating sympathy for 'the innocent victims'...

* The Netherlands had a strong presentation of four scripts and script writers: Marijke Schermer, AnneMarie Slotboom (picture), Marjolijn van Heemstra and Matin van Veldhuizen. Their emphasis on theatrical and interactive forms of dramatic art definitely stood out.

* Hearing the presentation about the successful Swedish project to showcase earlier female playwrights who have been forgot. "We believe that quality invariably survives, but that is actually not the case. It is not necessarily the best that survive, it is what is best adapted to its surroundings." As Darwin said...

* Swedish presentation of the next WPI conference in Stockholm in August 2012. Under the direction of Birgitta Englin, theatre manager for State Touring Theatre, this looks like it will be an absolutely fabulous event. Wanna go!

Tromsø, 19 November 2009
Kristin Bjørn