Vivek Vijayakumaran’s new play ‘Imagine a Room’ is a critique of how we perceive safety and freedom

The absurdist piece is opening at Shoonya — Centre for Art and Somatic Practices in Bengaluru on June 11

Lakshman KP and Kavya Srinivasan in a scene from the play

By Reema Gowalla

From 2020, when his performing arts studio in Koramangala was grappling to raise funds to stay afloat amid a raging virus, to 2022, when he is ready to open his most elaborate production to date, noted theatre actor-director Vivek Vijayakumaran has made quite the journey. He has always been fascinated by ​​absurdist works, something that time and again reflects in the kind of projects he creates or collaborates on. But his new play Imagine a Room explores the genre in a deeper form, says Vivek. An Our Theatre Collective production, the play is set to premiere in Bengaluru on June 11, with five shows scheduled during its first run.

Directed by Vivek, Imagine a Room is an 80-minute performance that he describes as “an absurdist comedy that unfolds in a land of no time and no name, where four people are challenged to question their ideas of safety and freedom by a mysterious presence”. Humour being an important element in the play, it aims to provoke the audience and at the same time entertain them. It’s a devised piece, featuring actors Abhitej Gupta, Honey Raza, Kavya Srinivasan, Lakshman KP and Shrunga BV. Meanwhile, Shruthi Menon and Prashant Parvatneni, from Brown-Study Works, have written the script. The play is primarily in English, but it also uses Hindi and Kannada in between.

According to Vivek, it’s a political piece that revolves around the ‘safety factor’ — how we perceive it; segregate different things in our life; and then decide on how we want to secure each of them. “It’s actually like critiquing our own judgement and reflecting on the rules that we have created for ourselves. No particular time or place was kept in mind while making the piece, while the ‘room’ is also used only metaphorically in it,” he explains. Imagine a Room has been in the making for over two years, and has taken shape after several rounds of brainstorming and deliberation in workshops and otherwise. Needless to say, the script has also shifted over time.

Vivek Vijayakumaran

“This play is the outcome of our collective effort, in which every member of the cast and crew has put in their time, ability and craft to take it to the audience. Be it set design, costume or props, this has been the most extensive project that I have worked on in my life. And given the challenges and consequences we have faced over the past two years, this project has made me realise that no matter what, persistence and resilience finally pay off!,” says the actor-director, who was part of Chanakya Vyas’ acclaimed piece Jhund and also did shows of his solo performance, Adhura, in recent times.

Anybody who has been following Our Theatre’s works over the years would remember their ‘Eat for Art’ fundraising initiative. Interestingly, the making of this project too involved the cast and crew members to not only train and manage other tasks, but also cook and eat together at the studio. “It provided a unique opportunity for all us to know each other better outside the realm of the rehearsal room. A kitchen or a makeshift cooking space automatically creates an informal and a more comfortable atmosphere, where one can relax and engage with one another. More than cooking a delectable meal, this was about accommodating other people’s taste and sharing the physical labour and experience. This, in turn, has positively impacted the making of the play,” explains Vivek, who recently also made his film debut with the Kamal KM-directed Malayalam political thriller Pada.

A snapshot from the rehearsal session

Recently, a special workshop — titled The Actor’s Exercise — was conducted at the studio by Manipur’s Pangambam Tyson Meitei. This, according to Vivek, helped the actors have a nuanced approach toward building their characters. He also makes a special mention of Nitin Sharma, an industrial designer, who came all the way from Mysuru to help him with the set and prop design as well as assist him in the play.

Among the others in the crew are Sachin Ravindran (assistant director); Subodha Subrahmanya (lights Design); Ayush Gupta (sound design); Aastha Kejriwal and Aloka Gloria Dsouza (costume design); Robin Joe (publicity head); Sudharshan K (poster design) and Nidhi Joshi (production manager).

Imagine a Room is opening at Shoonya — Centre for Art and Somatic Practices on June 11 at 7pm and on June 12 at 4pm and 7pm. The next shows will be held at Ranga Shankara on June 14 and June 15 at 7.30 pm.

You can book your tickets here.

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