PresenterGogoi Sukrity - Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Advanced Centre for Women's Studies, Mumbai, India
Panel13 – The Travelling Female Performer: Mobility and Agency in and beyond South Asia, c. 1760-1940
Travelling theatre groups of Assam have served as a popular source of entertainment, social awareness, and community building since colonial times. Brajanath Sarma’s Kohinoor Opera Party introduced co-acting in the 1930s when female roles were played for the first time by women in Assam in the play “Moran Jeeori”. But this decision faced a lot of backlashes from the Assamese society and had to be discontinued. However, this was a crucial decade for performance arts and female performers in Assam. Based on archival material and oral history method, this study was conducted with senior members of selected mobile theatre groups to bring their personal narratives to the fore. It is important to note that while there is a power hierarchy that exists amongst the female performers (not a homogenous category) within the mobile theatre group, they were still dependent on the male members for major decision-making processes. Since most of the owners/producers of the mobile theatre groups were male members, they could decide their mobility in and out of the rehearsal camps and these rules differed for male and female actors. Yet, this form of entertainment came with a contract of nine months, so the actors could also negotiate their position and remuneration based on their decision to continue with the same theatre group or to join another competitive one in the next theatre season. This would ensure a higher pay and better living conditions at times.