Curtain Call: The story of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”

Published on Mar 14, 2021 01:28 PM IST

I am writing this article while prepping for a very unique show called “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”

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ByNipun Dharmadhikari

I am writing this article while prepping for a very unique show called “White Rabbit Red Rabbit”. Written by the Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, the uniqueness of the play lies in its concept of performance. It is a mono-act piece, but every performance requires a different actor. The actor is given the script on stage, in front of the audience and she/he has to start reading and performing it immediately! One of most important pre-requisites of the play is that the performer should not have read the script before nor should she/ he have watched someone else perform it!

It should be the performer’s first time, getting to know the material! (So, if you are someone who feels that you have a fair chance to perform it, I would suggest that you leave reading the article at this point!)

The concept of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” came to Nassim when he refused the mandatory military service in Iran. He was not allowed to leave his country and this play was written as a reaction to his incident. Ironically, before he was finally granted a passport, the play had already been performed in most parts of the world.

The play is an important cultural phenomenon of recent times. This is an audacious experiment which requires no director and set. Just an actor and some stage props, and of course an audience! There are many moments in the play where the actor interacts with the audience members, often calling them up on stage. Nassim makes it clear through the play that it is his creative expression and that the actor is just a medium. He gives out his email address in the play and appeals to the audience members to send him pictures of the performance and their thoughts about the text.

The performer is sent an email 48 hours before the play which has a set of instructions, prepared by Nassim of course. The actor is asked to prepare an animal impression and to bring a water bottle, in case she/he needs to drink during the performance. There are two glasses of water on stage, as part of the stage props, but the actor is not supposed to use or touch any props unless expressly mentioned in the script.

The play has been translated in over 30 languages in the world and was brought to India by Mumbai-based theatre group QTP. It is presented in Marathi by Natak Company, of which I am a founder member. I have watched several performances of this play in Marathi and it is interesting to see that the tone, outcome and impact of every show is different even though the text is the same. The same text was performed as a comedy by a few actors, but the climax of one show in particular was extremely emotionally charged.

“White Rabbit Red Rabbit” was first performed in 2011 and is still performed by theatre companies across the world. Most of the theatres in Europe shut down on March 13, 2020. Normal theatre going practice is yet to resume in most parts of the world. It is a situation similar to the one Nassim was in when he was not allowed to travel, making this play more relevant. Keeping this in mind, a global event has been organised to perform this play in all languages at 8 pm local time.

The script has also been modified considering the fact that most performances will be conducted online. The writer is not charging any royalty for these performances and has urged all theatre companies to donate profits to a charity of their choice.

Curtain call: Nipun Dharmadhikari is a storyteller and looks forward to telling them on stage, in front of the camera or in person.

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