How do you create theatre from a table at home? Watch a series of online performances made with Forced Entertainment
Watch Forced Entertainment’s short video to see artists from Nepal and Sri Lanka using everyday objects – such as a candle, a kettle and a perfume bottle – to tell their Table Top Stories. Captions available in English.
Artists from Nepal and Sri Lanka recently worked with Forced Entertainment, one of the UK’s leading experimental theatre companies, to create Table Top Stories, a unique collection of workshop performances that are available to watch online.
For this project, Table Top Stories gave a platform to solo artists self-identifying as female or queer. In the videos, each artist sits at a table and tells us a story, speaking to camera. They use everyday objects – such as a candle, a kettle and a perfume bottle – to represent characters. Their stories explore subjects such as the trauma of sex trafficking, the complexities of motherhood and the inequality of marriage. The pieces were made as part of a workshop process facilitated by Forced Entertainment.
See the video above for an overview of the artists, their stories and the process.
To see a film of complete stories from the Nepali artists, shown as part of WOW Nepal 2021, visit YouTube. The film shows five stories. Sandook by Namrata KC, Coat by Renuka Karki Dholi and Pewa by Pashupati Rai are in Nepali. The Mask by Loonibha Tuladhar (nine minutes in) and Three Stoned Cooking Stove by Vijaya Karki (42 minutes in) are in English.
Nepalese theatremaker Loonibha Tuladhar presents The Mask during the Table Top Stories workshop. Image: Katha Ghera
A creative response to Covid-19
With Covid-19 causing international travel restrictions, Forced Entertainment designed a month-long series of online workshops. The workshops brought together people from three countries speaking different languages: three artists from Forced Entertainment, six artists from Nepal and six artists from Sri Lanka.
The central creative approach was inspired by a live Forced Entertainment production first shown in 2015. Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare features actors telling condensed versions of all Shakespeare’s plays, in a moving and gently comic celebration of dramatic storytelling.
Like the South Asian stories, in Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare each performer sits at a table and uses household objects to stand in for characters. In 2020, Forced Entertainment released an At Home version, made in response to Covid-19 restrictions, which broadcast company members performing from their own homes.
‘As theatre shifted to digital platforms during the pandemic, Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare was an interesting point of reference,’ says James Tyson, our Theatre and Dance Programme Manager who works with South Asia. ‘It compresses epic stories to a micro level. With its deceptively simple format, it also translates very well to the frame of a small screen.’
'Theatre shifted to digital platforms during the pandemic'
Nepalese artists (clockwise from left) Pashupati Rai, Vijaya Karki and Renuka Karki Dholi perform their Table Top Stories for WOW Nepal 2021. Image: Katha Ghera
Addressing inequality through theatre
The South Asian Table Top Stories took place as part of the British Council’s work with WOW – Women of the World festivals. We found partners for the workshops: Floating Space Theatre Company (Sri Lanka) and Katha Ghera (Nepal). The partners invited artists who self-identified as female or queer to bring a story to share with Forced Entertainment.
‘It was liberating to be in a space where the majority were women artists, as the theatre scene in Nepal is most often occupied by men,’ says Akanchha Karki. Karki is Director of Katha Ghera, which is also creating new space. It’s a collective of women performers and creators who often direct their own plays, and it aims to bring forward untold stories and marginalised voices.
Karki continues: ‘The themes explored in these stories range from a woman in a complex marriage who is subjugated to trafficking and violence; mothers who will go to any lengths to keep their children fed and happy; and how society perceives its daughters to be a commodity to be married away, hence doesn't give women equal rights in property. The women in all the stories carry much resilience, perseverance and strength and they persist despite all odds.’
'The women in all the stories carry much resilience, perseverance and strength and they persist despite all odds'
At the end of the workshops, the artists shared their stories with each other, and with an invited audience, online. The Nepalese performances were also broadcast on Facebook as part of WOW Nepal 2021.
WOW began as a festival at London’s Southbank Centre. The WOW Foundation, led by Jude Kelly, now holds events all over the world, celebrating International Women’s Day and aiming to build a global movement for gender equality.
The British Council has worked with WOW since 2015 and we help to find teams of local artists and organisations that curate and produce events. In March 2021 we partnered WOW events, online and in person, in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey. Over 300,000 people saw online work by 300 artists, academics, cultural professionals and policy makers.
The events provide a safe space for women and girls of all ages to reflect, share stories, exchange skills and be inspired by each other. You can watch highlights from WOW Istanbul and WOW Pakistan 2021 on our Culture and Development website.
Over 300,000 people saw online work at WOW 2021 events in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey
Sri Lankan theatremaker Arun Welendawe-Prematilleke rehearses his Table Top workshop piece, Nothing Happened. Image: Floating Space Theatre Company
'Warmth and connection were possible in the virtual space'
The Forced Entertainment facilitators – Imogen Ashby, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor – were unsure about the quality of the contact in this particular format. But they found, ‘Warmth and connection were possible in the virtual space. Through the variety of the artists’ stories we experienced how adaptable and generous the table top format could be, how it could flex and bend to meet the needs of whoever encountered it. We saw how each artist could take this framework and make it their own.’
‘I discovered old folk tales and contemporary original stories,’ says James Tyson of the British Council. ‘Through this process of exchange and mentoring, of watching and listening, each performer distilled their story into a new form over a short space of time. It was as if these stories – of wars, isolation, joys and sadness – have always been with us.’
Floating Space Theatre Company wrote a blog for us about the collective experience of the creative process: ‘What Table Top Stories has given this community of artists is the space and context to return to questions that artists have always been asking in some ways: why we make work, and how we approach making.’
Table Top Stories ran online on 5–29 January 2021, led by Forced Entertainment (UK) for the British Council, in partnership with Floating Space Theatre Company (Sri Lanka) and Katha Ghera (Nepal).
Facilitators: Imogen Ashby, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor (Forced Entertainment).
Artists: Tasmin Anthonisz, Abiramy Patkunam, Ruhanie Perera, Sumathy Sivamohan, Arun Welendawe-Prematilleke and Chalana Wijesuriya (Sri Lanka) and Renuka Karki Dholi, Akanchha Karki, Vijaya Karki, Namrata KC, Pashupati Rai and Loonibha Tuladhar (Nepal).
Find out more:
> See a blog from Floating Space about their experience working with Forced Entertainment
> Discover the story of Kausi, a new theatre space in Kathmandu created by Katha Ghera
> Read about a previous production from Katha Ghera, made in the wake of #MeToo
> Watch video highlights from WOW Istanbul and WOW Pakistan 2021
> Find out about Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare: At Home, which inspired these workshops