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Photo: Anupan Nath/AP.
Actors in Awahan mobile theater group perform in a village near Guwahati, India, after a two-year hiatus because of Covid.

So many activities got suspended during Covid, and many workers wondered if they would still have a job when the world reopened. That was true for everyone from servers in struggling US restaurants to actors in rural India.

In April, Al-Jazeera posted about a traveling theater in India that, to everyone’s relief, is reemerging after two years.

“Traveling theater groups in India’s northeastern state of Assam are reviving the local art and culture scene after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in their performances for nearly two years.

“Seven roving theater companies are back on stage playing before crowds in villages, towns and cities across the state. These mobile theaters are among the most popular forms of local entertainment.

“ ‘The public response has been very good. They love live performances. We have no competition from television and the digital boom,’ said Prastuti Parashar, a top Assamese actress who owns the Awahan Theatre group.

“Before the coronavirus hit the region, about 50 theater groups, each involving 120 to 150 people, performed throughout the state. They would start in September, coinciding with major Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja and Diwali, and continue until April. …

“Drama is an integral part of Indian culture and the mobile theater groups do not restrict themselves to mythological and social themes. They have in the past covered classic Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tales and historical subjects like the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Diana and the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“The groups travel with directors, actors, dancers, singers, technicians, drivers and cooks, in addition to all the stage infrastructure to perform three shows in one place before moving on to the next makeshift venue.”

For a bit more background, let’s turn to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which states that “Indian theater is often considered the oldest in Asia, having developed its dance and drama by the 8th century BCE [Before Common Era]. According to Hindu holy books, the gods fought the demons before the world was created, and the god Brahmā asked the gods to reenact the battle among themselves for their own entertainment. Once again the demons were defeated, this time by being beaten with a flagstaff by one of the gods. To protect theater from demons in the future, a pavilion was built, and in many places in India today a flagstaff next to the stage marks the location of performances.

“According to myth, Brahmā ordered that dance and drama be combined; certainly the words for ‘dance’ and ‘drama’ are the same in all Indian dialects. Early in Indian drama, however, dance began to dominate the theater. By the beginning of the 20th century there were few performances of plays, though there were myriad dance recitals. It was not until political independence in 1947 that India started to redevelop the dramatic theater. …

“Classical Indian drama had as its elements poetry, music, and dance, with the sound of the words assuming more importance than the action or the narrative; therefore, staging was basically the enactment of poetry.

“The reason that the productions, in which scenes apparently follow an arbitrary order, seem formless to Westerners is that playwrights use much simile and metaphor. Because of the importance of the poetic line, a significant character is the storyteller or narrator, who is still found in most Asian drama. In Sanskrit drama the narrator was the sūtra-dhāra, ‘the string holder,’ who set the scene and interpreted the actors’ moods. Another function was performed by the narrator in regions in which the aristocratic vocabulary and syntax used by the main characters, the gods and the nobles, was not understood by the majority of the audience. The narrator operated first through the use of pantomime and later through comedy.

“A new Indian theater that began about 1800 was a direct result of British colonization. With the addition of dance interludes and other Indian aesthetic features, modern India has developed a national drama.

“Two examples of ‘new’ theater staging are the Prithvi Theatre and the Indian National Theatre. The Prithvi Theatre, a Hindi touring company founded in 1943, utilizes dance sequences, incidental music, frequent set changes, and extravagant movement and color. The Indian National Theatre, founded in Bombay in the 1950s, performs for audiences throughout India, in factories and on farms. Its themes usually involve a national problem, such as the lack of food, and the troupe’s style is a mixture of pantomime and simple dialogue. It uses a truck to haul properties, costumes, and actors; there is no scenery.”

Great traveling-theater pictures at Al-Jazeera, here. More detailed information at Britannica, here. No firewalls.

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Listening to the lone WICN radio host early Saturday morning reminded me of when I was a WGMC radio host in Greece, New York — until Suzanne was six months old and starting to reach over the baby seat to grab the turntable.

I was never sure if anyone was out there listening, but I liked doing it anyway.

Kind of like blogging.

At 5:30 a.m., the WICN host was playing a series of mellow tunes. He seemed to be enjoying the music, which means he didn’t talk much. I appreciate that kind of host so much more than the ones who love to hear themselves talk.

WICN, “Jazz Plus,  for New England,” is a rare boon to jazz lovers. Having been to the studio recently to donate school instruments, I couldn’t help thinking that the hours before dawn on a Saturday must be pretty bleak and lonely in that industrial part of Worcester.

The only thing I was able learn about the host after Googling around was that his last name is Chandler. It was nice to think of Mr. Chandler enjoying the music in that barren neighborhood before 6 a.m., and I wish I had told him that someone was listening and appreciated the way he rode the records, transitioning so smoothly.

You can listen to WICN online, here, if you don’t live near Worcester. Send the station an e-mail to tell a host you’re listening. It’s a small outfit. I’m still waiting to hear back from my own e-mail.

If you are free during a weekday, be sure to catch a live performance by Pamela Hines and Arnie Krakowsky (below) on January 29.

Update 1/27/14: WICN General Manager Gerry Weston e-mails that the early morning host was “Osay Chandler, he’s out of Pittsburgh.”

Photo: WICN
Join pianist Pamela Hines and her special guest on January 29 at 2 p.m. Arnie Krakowsky, a  professional tenor saxophone jazz musician, will perform live with Hines in the WICN studio.

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