We push the sky: Nisha Abdulla’s new audio play focuses on faith and fear

Directed by Vivek Madan, ‘We push the sky’ turns up the volume on how political waves impact personal stories

Nisha Abdulla and the poster of ‘We push the sky’

Some of you might agree that the many lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic gave us a renewed appreciation for the power of sound. We loved waking up to the chirpiness of nature, tuned in to the radio more often and listened to more podcasts. Being all ears to an audio play, however, is still a rarity. That said, while the world of theatre was abuzz with the ‘going digital’ discourse amid apprehensions about whether or not people will return to the auditorium to watch a play, audio drama did enjoy a little moment in the sun. For Bengaluru-based theatremaker Nisha Abdulla, the inspiration to listen and be heard mostly came from Deep Listening Circle. Carried out during the Covid crisis, this collaborative initiative by Nisha and therapist-writer Shalini Rao centred on uncertainty, fear and fatigue.

A Qabila Collective presentation, Nisha’s latest project is a website-based audio play, titled We push the sky. The hour-long audio piece is directed by Vivek Madan. It is a story of friendships lost and gained; of faith and fears; and of love and resistance.

According to Nisha, who has written and performed in the play, We push the sky is an invitation to listen to another’s reality and reflect on the differences that make you curious about them. Personal stories, songs and community history are among the central themes of the piece that come together to “suggest that the listening body is a site of active political resistance in a world that incentivises hate and polarisation”.

The first thing that you’ll notice about the audio play is the urge to speak up or rather be heard. Fear and fearlessness jostle for space, as the performer relives her childhood memories of food, conversations, bondings and grief. “There is a unique sense of comfort when you’re listening to an audio piece. There’s no visual to hold you captive, but the experience in itself is no less engaging, gratifying and evocative. Thus, as a listener, you’re more keen and attentive. Many a time, this makes as big an impression in your psyche as what you see on stage or screen,” says Nisha.

The playwright and performer during the recording of the audio play

But it isn’t simply the medium that the team is exploring through the play. We push the sky is also a reflection on communities, people and the present society. In the audio play, the performer goes back and forth in time, as she tries to drive the listener’s attention to the stark difference between today’s India and how it used to be a few decades ago. There are references to political and religious upheavals, and how they impact the mental well-being of the minorities in the country, especially women and children.

“While growing up, we might have taken for granted the ethos of pluralism and diversity in our nation. But today, that’s under threat. Although we uphold a sense of perseverance and resilience, that we live in fear cannot be denied. It’s agonising that almost everything today is reduced to caste and religious identity,” says the playwright, adding, “In a way, this audio play can be described as a piece that throws light on shared personal experiences, and why we need to see them also as memories that are shaped by the politics around us.”

Mark Reddy is the sound designer for the audio play, while Padmini Ray Murray and Bhanu Prakash are the creative technologists, and dramaturgy is handled by Ujwala Rao and art is by The Big Fat Bao.

Nisha began work on We push the sky in December 2021. “There were a few readings of excerpts and drafts of the play, following which the narrative was given a final shape and eventually recorded at Mark’s studio. It’s a long piece, so it was necessary to incorporate elements to break the monotony and hold the listener’s attention till the end,” explains the playwright. In a bid to further promote the play, the team will be releasing a trailer soon.

You can book your tickets here.

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