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Collaborative project ‘Anon(ymous)’ crosses divides

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UMaine junior Bell Gellis Morais rehearses alongside her virtual scene partners, Anuvab Dasgupta (left) and Totini Mukherjee (right). UMaine junior Bell Gellis Morais rehearses alongside her virtual scene partners, Anuvab Dasgupta (left) and Totini Mukherjee (right). (edge photo by Neily Raymond)

ORONO - Students at the University of Maine are collaborating with artists in Kolkata, India to bring an international theater experience to Orono.

Naomi Iilzuka’s “Anon(ymous)” will feature filmed actors in India performing alongside live actors in the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre at UMaine. Co-directed by Dr. Rosalie Purvis of UMaine and Dr. Debaroti Chakraborty of Presidency College in Kolkata, the show will premiere on Friday, October 15 and run through the 24.

“Anon(ymous)” reimagines Homer’s “Odyssey”through a contemporary lens. Anon, a young refugee, journeys through a strange American landscape. He encounters some good people, some weird crackers and some who just don’t care - and he will need all his cunning to find his way home. Think the “Odyssey” meets “American Gods,” but with a broad social conscience. The play explores issues of migration and cultural assimilation that merit discussion, especially given the current political ethos.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll mention that I am a dramaturg for the production, and am also performing as a member of the ensemble.) 

Libra assistant professor Rosalie Purvis directs the Maine cast of “Anon(ymous).” Purvis has worked with the Indian arts organization Chaepani for several years, as well as the Presidency College Department of Performing Arts, and saw an opportunity to bring the Maine and Indian communities together. Of course, this required ingenuity: actors in Kolkata filmed their scenes with imaginary castmates, then sent the footage to Maine to be projected on enormous onstage screens. Purvis describes the effect as “painfully virtual.” How can an actor speak to a video like they’re a real person? “But we thought, well, that is exactly what this play feels like,” recalls Purvis. “You have this separation, you have people that can’t be in the same space, who are constantly ...  leaving people behind, not quite able to catch up with their memories.”

Not only does “Anon(ymous)” require actors to coordinate with characters on-screen, it’s a story built around choreographed movement. Actors use their bodies to depict an ocean, a sewing shop and a sleazy old saloon, to name a few; the kineticism of the show gives it its spark, but it also means that rehearsals can be reminiscent of gym class. 

Assistant professor Debaroti Chakraborty, of Presidency College’s Department of Performing Arts, directs the cast in Kolkata. Chakraborty, whose research has concerned the narratives surrounding political border contention, sees “Anon(ymous)” as a sort of “intercultural duet.” She led her actors through a series of workshops to emphasize the longing at the heart of the play. “We found that most of the names of food, smell and places were culturally unfamiliar,” said Chakraborty. “So ... [we] started to talk about our own personal and cultural associations with smells, objects, touch, tastes, and sounds that evoke the feeling of home. Most of us have inherited histories of migration, and immediately we found ourselves in an immersive space.”

The Maine cast is eager to perform before a live audience again. It’s been a year-and-a-half of virtual theater, after all, a format which drives a bar between the actor and audience members. “Anon(ymous)” will allow audiences to experience the magic of live theater again. But it will also remind them of the divisions that are still with us. 

“I hope that audiences will relate to the feeling of missing people who are far away,” says director Purvis. “And I hope that people will think about ... what is happening to migrants ... how these stories are specific, but also universal. It’s been like this for centuries. Most of us have this in our histories somewhere.”

(“Anon(ymous)” runs from Oct. 15 - 24. Tickets are $12 and are available for pre-purchase on the UMaine School of Performing Arts website.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 October 2021 08:22

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