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  Life   More Features  20 Jan 2019  The backpacking minstrels

The backpacking minstrels

Published : Jan 21, 2019, 12:02 am IST
Updated : Jan 21, 2019, 12:02 am IST

Moreover, the ‘foafers’ as they call themselves, not only want to perform or entertain, but also aim to start a conversation about various issues.

Vikas Gupta, Abhishek Malik and Anoop Chugh
 Vikas Gupta, Abhishek Malik and Anoop Chugh

A unique art collective has been travelling across cities, collecting and telling stories and fusing together different art forms to infuse novelty in performance art.

Having never performed in front of young kids, Anoop Chugh, Vikas Gupta, and Abhishek Malik were in a ‘sticky wicket’ situation. Their bohemian, scruffy-bearded appearances had scared the children of an underprivileged school, and so to break the ice, the three storytellers did what they do the best. “As soon as we started singing and dancing, the kids were all over us. It was a major learning for us,” gushes Anoop. Collecting countless such stories, the trio, who are a part of a busking performance art collective called Found on All Fours (FOAF), have been travelling across 10-cities for a month, and are currently parked in Mumbai for their last leg of storytelling.

Anoop, who formerly worked in an advertisement agency, founded FOAF one and a half years ago as a weekend gathering of travelers narrating their stories in someone’s living room. But having jumped from one living room to another, and meeting a diverse set of artists with their stories, FOAF evolved beyond just travel stories and so did their ways of storytelling. “We kept evolving over a period of time, met a lot of different people in different rooms and eventually it evolved into this performing arts storytelling circus,” says the founder. Not limited by anything, the tour has taken them narrating stories on streets, cafes, pubs, living rooms, hostels, slums, classrooms, and even boardrooms. Moreover, inspired by multiple, varied emotions experienced by a person in a day, they don’t stick to conventional formats. “Stories are necessarily understood as something that is spoken. But we are trying to tell stories not just through words, but sometimes by chords, sometimes by fire theatre, sometimes through brush strokes and sometimes through verse,” he reveals.

The trio of bohemian modern-day backpacking minstrels started their journey on Christmas last year and have travelled, performed and collaborated in New Delhi, Chennai, Auroville, Kodaikanal, Hampi, Bangalore, Goa, Pune, Lonavala, and Mumbai. Their ongoing tour has focussed on experimenting with the performance arts where their impromptu performances have tried to trigger varied emotions in their audience. Anoop reveals that clapping is a rehearsed way of reacting, and the collective tries to go beyond to extract other emotional reaction from the audience. “For instance, we have ten short stories as a part of an act, where we do two-three lines stories, and each story touches upon a certain type of reality in life—paedophilia, sexism, domestic violence etc. Nobody claps after these performances. There is pin-drop silence; sometimes they get angry and we have also been stopped in the middle of a performance. We take that as a compliment. For us every emotion has equal weightage,” he elucidates.  He adds that street-theatre meets performance arts and social experiments in their venture.

Moreover, the ‘foafers’ as they call themselves, not only want to perform or entertain, but also aim to start a conversation about various issues. Since the purview of art is also to liberate the artist, Abhishek has realised the feeling as he performs emotional and intimate poems. “I have a piece on body shaming and I have stripped 30-40 times while performing in different cities. During the performance, it’s the message that we are giving and emotions that we are triggering and somehow we also shell our own judgments about life and about others,” reveals the poet and storyteller. Meanwhile, for Vikas, his personal tryst with storytelling led to him lending his theatre skills to the troupe. “My mother has hearing and speech impairment. So, talking through sign language, expressions and hand movements is something that I have been doing all my life. So when I collaborated with them it became even bigger. There are narrators, poets, and musicians and then I am adding visual elements through body movements and facial expressions, so it became an entire circus,” says the theatre artist.

As they reach the last leg of their month-long tour, the trio looks back at their journey reminiscing the memories they have made, which include times when they jammed with total strangers on the streets; helped a street-vendor make his first sale in three days by putting a show and several more. But the artists are thrilled about their upcoming performance in the city, for it’ll give them a chance to create yet another memory.

Tags: foaf