Good theater connects the past to the present to the future. And this is what the Boston audience got to witness during the first South Asian-American Theater Festival in New England organized by Off-Kendrik. The festival hosted many theater groups, young adults, professional theater personalities, and storytellers having roots in the south Asian region and from across the USA. As much as it was a celebration of diversity, it was also an opportunity for dialogue and building partnerships between the communities.
This is exactly what ‘Off-Kendrik’, a local nonprofit organization deeply committed to theater, strives to achieve. Its artistic director Sankha Bhowmick, along with a small group of likeminded people, produced their first play ‘Bijoner Chayer Cabin’ in 2008. Since then the organization has grown to be able to provide a platform for people of diverse backgrounds to come together and share a bond of unity through the medium of theater as well as other forms of visual arts.
As they say, theater is the mirror of society. Being true to that, Off-Kendrik is interested in and focused on bringing out the immigrant experience through their work. The group is primarily an experimental Bangla theater group. Off-Kendrik’s insistence on originality in their work makes them address various contemporary issues and not get trapped in just the past. Even when they worked with the literature of masters like Satyajit Ray, they adapted those for the current audiences.
From the minimalistic approach towards the production they have slowly expanded to mainstream production styles as well and primarily perform in spaces at local universities and theater spaces. Most of their productions are original plays in Bangla, yet they have consciously chosen to make their work accessible to audiences beyond one language. Production of a show of ‘Voices’ with Tapati Lahiri, Jhumpa Lahiri’s mother, prompted them to start translating the content and provide super-captioning in English for the benefit of a wider audience.
Sankha Bhowmick comes from the culturally rich and progressive environment of Jadavpur University in Kolkata. Hence, no big surprise when he looks at the theater activity as a powerful medium to address social justice issues and to stand with the marginalized communities. Along with psychological dramas, absurd comedy, mystery dramas, Off-Kendrik has produced intense social dramas as well. As an art form, he believes theater can be transformed into a universal language, like music or dance. And that that universal language will help break the barriers to get passionate people together. Off-Kendrik’s ‘Voices’, a story-telling platform, started in 2016 and it invites the larger South Asian community members to have a dialogue about their dreams, aspirations and a search for identity!
The Off-Kendrik team is trying to offer a wholesome theater experience to the viewers and communities. Theater activities, including the different workshops they hold, serve as an educational crucible. Sankha and the team yearn for a future when the local South Asian communities come together through theater to preserve our culture and existence.
Let us hope we reach that place soon!