The ‘Readings in the Shed’ is a project that I undertook in the year 2018. It is essentially a performance art initiative that focusses on bringing a contemporary or classical work of literature in the form of a ‘Reading’ and performance format, in small alternative spaces across Mumbai. The literature chosen is from different parts of the world, written in different times, but are essentially close to the times we live in, and find resonance in our own life here in India.
But why Reading?
Everyone who has ever held a book in their hand very fondly remembers a quote, a phrase or at least a small little poem that they engaged with. Words, verse and prose, have a distinct effect on us as human beings. We romance the idea of a story and always have some to tell. What is life, but many stories with introductions, conflicts and resolutions.
This romance with the written word made me contemplate, I wanted to read more, not the run of the mill stuff that is being force fed to us through smart publicity, but those books and words that are not readily available.
Those poems which have touched people’s hearts, but aren’t available on the bestseller racks of a bookstore. It is true that a lot of interesting literature, is not necessarily the most popular literature. Hence, the idea sprung in me to get a few like-minded people to read together. Thus, a small group of people, essentially theatre makers, came together to read plays about seven years ago. Plays were an interesting entry point for reading together. Since plays had multiple characters, multiple participants could engage in the reading together. The reading would move into discussions about themes, ideas and philosophy of the texts that were being discussed. Somewhere, the readings attracted like-minded people. The group that essentially started with three people, grew to many. People came, some stayed, some left. But what they shared, always stayed. A number of beautiful pieces of literature that stemmed from various parts of the world. Some were from Africa, some were from Norway, some seminal Indian works that I hadn’t heard about, unveiled themselves through random discussions, heated arguments, complex debates and simple conversations.
As the years went by, the readings grew more intensive and we diversified from plays, to short stories, to essays, to poems, and even a novel that we finished in (believe it or not) one day. The beauty of reading a story together had its own meaning, and I began to realise that a reading in solitude is markedly different from a reading together. First, a reading together had a performance value to it, because no matter who the reader was, they would always end up, rather peculiarly, reading as if they were on stage. This was not how people read in solitude. This wasn’t a drama either, because the book in one’s hand limited the amount of movement one can or cannot do. The type of text also affected the quality of this performance. A play was performed differently to a screenplay, and a ballad was performed differently to a sonnet. Every piece of text had a unique and rather beautiful dramatic quality to it, which was a new form of entertainment. Second, the reading always and unavoidably led to a discussion, which would necessarily spiral into many other conversations, some new works would reveal themselves, some political ideas which I was not aware about surfaced, and sometimes just person- al experiences of readers came into the conversation. These readings were a ground where small talk had no place. The community led to a group of people who came from all walks of life, their professions did not matter, their thoughts did.
Readings in the Shed
After many years passed an increasing need to share the texts we have accumulated, arose. To make an even larger community of readers, to bring those texts to the masses that aren’t necessarily well marketed, but are so rich in content that they cannot be ignored once their words have reached the ear. So my co-reader, Himali and I set out on the journey to read to a larger audience. The idea of ‘Readings in the Shed’ was born. Each reading is a new chapter of exploration, where fellow readers journey into the unknown land of a new conglomeration of words. The first chapter was a play from Chile, the second chapter was short stories by women writers from Pakistan, the third chapter was poems from Poland, and the fourth was original writings (developed over four months in collaboration with ‘The Readings in the Shed’ Critique Team) by playwrights from the UK for India’s Independence Day.
The Readings in the Shed is a project that not only explores the power of the written word, but also explores the device through which the mind receives this word. Theatre and reading combine to form a third form of entertainment
that cannot only be identified with one or the other.
Now, the question, What is the Shed?
A shed is an idea and not a place. A shed can be any structure which is ready to house a reading, ready to accommodate readers comfortably, and ready to support the experience. The shed keeps moving, and as it moves, the voices reading the text change, and so does the form. What the shed provides is a ground for like-minded readers to find a place to read together, and then converse. In the long run we would like to make a community of readers who keep going back to the shed to read together, philosophise together, and converse together. It also aims to make the world one large shed of readers, where texts can freely travel between countries, and thoughts are exchanged with a discussion on the sub text and the context of the literature in question.
‘Readings in the Shed’ is an honest attempt to make the world of literature marry the world of theatre, while being witnessed by readers in India, and in the process, revealing texts and reading them in a format one wouldn’t have experienced before.