No matter your budget, sensibilities or mood, you’ll likely find a suitable theatrical event somewhere in Toronto at any given time. Perhaps you’re interested in something extreme. While evocative and experimental productions abound, most offer a fairly conventional experience in that they won’t demand too much of you. What if, though, you crave something a little more… goading?
With 350 performances, spanning over 20 productions throughout 5 major Indian cities, the Rangaai Theatre Company now brings their innovative DARKROOM series to Toronto. DARKROOM V4.0 is billed as An Immersive Sensory Experience. With direct audience participation and a trigger warning for graphic stories of rape and child abuse, the production promises a challenge for even the most intrepid theatre-goers.
Founded by Artistic Director Tushar Tukaram Dalvi, Rengaai has been very busy since 2016. Named after the Goddess of Theatre, their mission—to dismantle the protective boundary between audience and performance—coincided with a serendipitous development in the Mumbai theatre scene. The popularity of intimate, black box theatre spaces exploded and they were popping up all over the city. This aligned perfectly with Rangaai’s aim to fully immerse audiences in a variety of storytelling formats.
When you first enter the Red Sandcastle Theatre for DARKROOM V4.0, you’ll be encouraged to roam freely—to see, touch and smell a variety of objects and photographs. Every picture here has a narrative. The defining metaphor of the performance itself is a darkroom, where stories are developed onto the sensitive surface of the audience’s psyche.
The first segment of the performance proper is an immersive and dynamic presentation of Khol Do, Saadat Hasan Manto’s controversial short story in which the rape of a young girl figures prominently. Presented in both English and Urdu, the audience is blindfolded for this part of the performance.
Next is the micro-story segment where audience members will chose from a selection of possible stories. Here, there will be some intimate, one-on-one engagement with performers. The content of these micro-stories was an inventive response to these photographs, developed by the cast in collaboration with a dramaturg.
The third segment, titled Durga Pujo, is a true story. Back in 2015, the troupe received an anonymous real life account of one individual’s harrowing experience of child abuse. To immerse the audience as fully as possible in this ghastly tale, to properly convey the outrage and anxiety of an atrocity, Dalvi and his team took cues from the sensory provocations of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty.
Adding pressure to this already fraught finale, the audience is required to take action to bring it to an end. Without the audience’s input, the performance will get stuck in a loop. Dalvi hopes this call to action will resonate deep enough to affect audience members beyond the immediate theatrical context. This idea leans heavily an another influential theatre-maker: Brecht. Theatre as a tool for social awareness and change creeps at the edges of the DARKROOM concept.
The performance concludes with a talkback segment. This a vital element in the DARKROOM project. Audiences will likely appreciate the catharsis of venting their thoughts and feelings after such an intense experience. And the content of the show itself has been greatly enriched by audience feedback over the years.
Let’s reaffirm some of the important specifics. DARKROOM V4.0 has several disturbing features: you’ll be blindfolded; you’ll have to make decisions; the subject matter and overall tone are dark and gruesome. Is there any lightness to balance the mood? I did ask; and no, it’s gonna be grim.
Having read thus far, I’m sure your gut is telling you some things. Mine, for the record, is churning. The content alone sounds distressing enough. The thought of audience participation further triggers my social anxiety; in my experience, though, active engagement has almost always been rewarding. I don’t imagine this will be fun, but certainly gripping and I’m intrigued. I have a penchant for disquieting adventures and I’m sorry I’ll be missing out on this instalment. Rest assured, there is more on the horizon.