You step on to the platform of the Park Street Metro station and as you wait for your train, you become the leading lady of a story that is unfolding on the big screen in front of you. Or as you walk around the South City Mall, you suddenly start dancing in sync with a dozen people around you. Or you enter rooms at Taj Bengal and discover unknown stories of the men and women working behind the scenes there.
There is an invisible Calcutta around you and sometimes you are part of that unseen world. Celebrating those untapped spaces and almost carving a carnival out of it is Parallel Cities, “a portable festival for urban intervention”, organised by Max Mueller Bhavan in association with The Telegraph.
Calcutta will be the first Asian city to host this unique theatre project where the performers include factory workers, hotel cleaners, a blind musician, writers, passersby and sometimes the audience itself.
Before this, Parallel Cities played out in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Warsaw and Zurich.
Taking place between December 11 and 17 at six locations (the stage) — a terrace (Everest House), a Metro station (Park Street), a hotel (Taj Bengal), a factory (Monginis), a library (Ramakrishna Mission) and a shopping mall (South City) — Parallel Cities delves deep into otherwise taken-for-granted functional places with pre-scripted interventions.
The situations vary in form and content. At places you can listen to the script and follow the instructions, at others you can read or touch. The ‘show’ can be for a single person or for a hundred spectators at the same time.
This is how Martin Waelde, director of Max Mueller Bhavan, defined and described the project: “The project actually brings out the distinct socio-economic and cultural character of each city. For example, in the hotels of Berlin and Zurich there are many immigrants working, but in Calcutta we have people coming from different states of the same country. Parallel Cities is not about what is same in the cities but about the independent elements embedded in each city at places which exist parallely in each city all over the world.”
Parallel Cities has been curated by award-winning theatre director Stefan Kaegi, along with Lola Arias, while all the locations have different artistes prepping the stage and the performers. “I find Bengalis particularly good storytellers and good observers,” said Stefan. “Calcutta has a dense population in public spaces and we haven’t shown the project in a city where so many people live on the street. I also believe there will be a bigger impact in the shopping mall project since it deals with a phenomenon that is more recent in Calcutta than in other cities.”
Stefan is no stranger to the city having curated Call Cutta in 2005, another unique theatre project where you had to walk through the streets on the basis of a voice on the phone. “Call Cutta also made the people see their own city from a different perspective but this time it is not about globalisation but about you in your city,” explained Stefan. “All our protagonists in Parallel Cities are very Bengali — the hotel cleaner, the author scripting live stories in the Metro station, the factory worker and the blind musician and obviously also our audience who turn into performers in many of the projects. I often get the experience that people here suffer from their city… noise, chaos, etc but this city also has a lot to tell. Let us stand still and listen to the city for a moment.”
To register for Parallel Cities, call +918582835362 or +918582835400 between 11am and 6pm or book at Max Mueller Bhavan, 8 Ballygunge Circular Road.