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How do we arrive at a production?

The journey to each of our productions so far has not been a simple one. It has been a meandering path where every performance has led us to engage with questions that challenge our own assumptions, giving us a space to unlearn and re-attempt them through newer experiments. The Yellammanata Mela marks the beginning of this journey. The play threw at us questions that made us re-think how we appropriate and present a folk form. While the play was attempting to bring alive the story of Goddess Yellamma, we were all urban actors trying to portray subaltern characters.  Also, we were unable to recreate or express the ritual aspects of the play that destroys the fourth wall and makes space for the audience to embody the narrative. Proscenium space and their aesthetics also made this difficult.

Creating a routine of teaching and co-creating daily at Cubbon park, Bangalore helped us organically reach a public art format.

The park is where we found the answer to many of our questions. People of various ages, backgrounds, and interests came over two years to hear Yellamma’s story, learn her songs, and our tryst with Yellamma’s folk forms, our folk mentors and productions. Several of these students helped tell the story of Yellamma and ‘Yellamma and other stories’ was born. . The production, a musical story-telling  not only tried to present all parts of Yellamma’s story, but also gave us a space to engage with its context, letting us examine and question structures in our social fabric as well as allowing us to locate ourselves within these structures. While this format was far more fulfilling and after over 70 shows we found ourselves  dabbling  with similar questions again. The audiences we performed to have been starkly different. From cultural festivals, corporate shows, educational institutions to smaller independent venues.

The Yellamma set became so popular that the fear of overshadowing our mentors who had spent a lifetime practising their forms started to bother us. Also, we had pushed aside the element of research in our work in order to take the story places.

We began putting together ‘Beyond the Urban’ at the end of 2019 once we temporarily closed ‘Yellamma and other stories’. Shilpa Mudbi was collecting domestic agrarian folk songs that encapsulate folklife for several years as a documentary film-maker which were also being taught in the park. These songs gave us insights into agrarian livelihoods of people in the margins. Our most recent production ‘Ritual of strength’ was a response to the political climate in the country.

Beyond the urban

Intrinsically interwoven with UFP’s journey into the realm of folk, this performance is an attempt to give an urban audience an understanding of what folk culture is, exploring its various aspects as artists, travellers and socially responsive individuals.

Beyond the Urban seeks to present a glimpse into the world of folk. It brings to the fore a unique aspect of folk where the lines between the personal and public are almost always blurred. The songs collected and presented in this piece cut across different genres like leisure and bhakti, domestic and skilled and ritual and labour highlighting the malleable nature of folk. This performance is also our attempt to present to the audience how we engage with different aspects of folk through our work. Curated in a way that it could be modified for different kinds of spaces and audiences, this set is an endeavour to encourage conversation and critical thinking.

Duration: 20 to 120 mins

Language: English | Kannada

Team size: 3 to 5

Status: Production available on request

Yellamma and other stories

Yellamma’s story is not a myth but the collective histories of people, especially, women and their trials and tribulations that echo from our past.

‘Yellamma and Other Stories’ is musical storytelling curated to give audiences a glimpse into the mythical world of Goddess Yellamma. a chorus of singers and musicians narrate the summarised, simplified and contemporary version of Yellamma’s myth. Woven into this narrative are glimpses of the form Yellammanata, a ritualistic overnight play hosted during Dussehra by marginalised communities in North Karnataka. The performance also interweaves moments from the lives of artists who practice the form, Devadasis and Jogathis who live and embody this myth and Shilpa and Adithya’s journey with Yellamma. In presenting Yellamma’s tale, the performance poses pertinent questions on patriarchy, purity and power structures.

Duration: 20 – 120 mins

Language: Kannada | English

Team size:  2 to 5

Status: Production available on request

Ritual of strength

Rituals are embodied events that have been practiced across time throughout human history to celebrate and bring closure to events and circumstances.

Our most recent production, ‘Ritual of Strength’ is a response to the current socio-political scenario in the country. Performed by Shilpa Mudbi Kothakota and Poornima Kumar of UFP and in collaboration with Avril Stormy Unger, the production draws its creative aesthetics from rituals. While rituals have been recurring and evolving, they are often linked to a larger folk myth associated with a deity or a community. Rituals have also been and continue to be used as tools of resistance, where the performance body, metaphors, prose, music and movement become curatorial mediums that not only create a realm of enchantment but also challenge dominant social structures. Drawing from the rituals of Goddess Yellamma, ‘Ritual of strength’ is an attempt to bring people together to celebrate the power of folk, to strengthen new-found solidarity and ready our voices to replace forces of institutionalised hate with harmony.

Duration: 90 mins

Language: Kannada | Hindi | English

Team size: 3 key collaborators with a chorus of a minimum of 4 people

Status: Production available on request

Yellammanaata Mela

Yellammanata is a ritualistic overnight play hosted during festivals by lower caste Hindus in North Karnataka.

‘Yellammanaata Mela’ is an ensemble of actors and musicians that recreate the experience of the Yellammanata for an urban audience, while sticking to the original music and form as much as possible. The play, primarily performed by Jogathi’s (transgender women who are disciples of Yellamma), encapsulates the life story of Parshurama’s mother, Renuka and her journey in becoming Goddess Yellamma. ‘The Yellamanaata Mela’ presents this story, highlighting the underlying themes of sisterhood, motherhood, duty and liberation. It was produced by Sandbox Collective and Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan in 2017 for the Gender Bender festival. 

Duration: 25 mins

Language: Kannada | Telugu | Hindi | English

Team size: 5 to 10

Status: Production complete and decommissioned

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