As our original production Lifeline 99 99 wraps up its closing run, cast member Nikie Bareja reflects on her year-long association with the project and the various characters she got to embody during its lifecycle.
From being an abstract concept I chatted about with a friend late at night to becoming a full-fledged theatrical performance that has been running for over more than a year, Lifeline 99 99 has been one whirlwind of an experience.
Early beginnings: Devising an experience
This journey began for me in December 2020, when my very dear friend (and the Co-director and Writer of the play) Akshay Raheja just randomly called to talk about this idea of a dead insurance agent trying to sell life insurance (which by the way eventually turned out to be the first experience we premiered under the Lifeline in February 2021). I was super keen on being a part of Lifeline 99 99 even before I completely knew or fully understood what it was, just based on that one conversation I had with Akshay. As an artist, I find it incredibly thrilling and fulfilling to take on offbeat performative experiences because more often than not, they prove to be indelible.
What attracted me the most to this kind of a performance, was the idea of ‘devising’ it one episode (read: story or experience) at a time. In the first run of shows in February 2021, I had a very enlightening experience exploring the theme of time in the experience we internally called ‘Cab Infinity’, wherein an alien is on its way to earth to transport you to a galaxy where time has stopped existing. Here, I got to work collaboratively with the writer – a lot of what my character "4^42" said was motivated by our personal questions about time and productivity. This approach aligned with the larger existentialist and absurdist questions posed by Lifeline 99 99 perfectively. The experience evolved heavily based on what the audiences brought to the table throughout our preview performances for selected audiences at Thespo's 'Audio-torium' initiative as well as our first run of shows, including the online ReConnect Theatre Festival 2021 co-organized by NH Theatre Agency, Ctrl+Z Theater Group, and Bohemi Theater Group.
Growing with every new experience
Our relationship with our audiences is what is truly unique about Lifeline 99 99. Not only did it give room for the experience to evolve organically through audience feedback and interaction, but it also offered them agency on how the narrative unfolds. This nudged me and my fellow performers to arrive at very new takeaways, both for the audience and for ourselves, through the course of the conversation. This was not just the case for my first experience ‘Cab Infinity’, but each of the seven experiences that were eventually available on the Lifeline. I also got a chance to play the character of 'Joanna' for the experience titled 'Welcome to Sensuality', wherein audiences meet a captive sex chat operator who is struggling to keep up with the emotional demands of the job. With the discussion revolving around intimacy and connection, I got a chance to reflect on what love is and can mean in different contexts. Sometimes what the audience offered as a response to our words was so conspicuous and fresh, that it eventually found a way into our script.
My most joyous time through the last year of working on this project, has been devising the 'Memory' experience, wherein a researcher named 'Kalpana' takes the audience back down their memory lane, revisiting people and places from the past to arrive at a message for the present. This is one of the most sensitive experiences available under Lifeline, calling for a nuanced and delicate approach to interact with the audience. This affect further extended to me, as I feel I have become more empathetic after embodying this character. I still remember when we were first devising the narrative, I was in the city of Dharamkot in North India, wherein the proximity of singing bowls in my actual environment made it into the very design of the performance itself. I also had a chance to experiment with my voice and accent considerably for 'Kalpana', which is always fun for an actor! Performing this experience during the second run of shows in August 2021 and subsequently at the RangaShankara Theatre Festival 2022 was truly special, as it gave me some conversations that I am going to remember forever.
Looking back at it all
As we wrap to the final run of shows, with a quick pitstop at UK’s Living Record Festival, I feel both grateful and nostalgic. Coming out of the Lifeline today, I know that I am a better improviser, better performer and a far better listener. Thinking about the journey we have had, I feel that I am going to miss our vibrant zoom rooms terribly – from rehearsing and pre-show chatting to anxiously waiting for our allocations to different audiences. But I am looking forward to what Lifeline may transform into in the future, for every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
I have always said that with each performance, I have realized something new about myself, and as I picked up the phone one final time to perform a different experience yet again (humble self-brag: I'm the Lifeline 99 99 performer who got to play the most number of unique experience in the show's run) I cannot wait for all the mini epiphanies that are in store!
Read more about Lifeline 99 99 on our website below. For more information, press requests and festival enquiries, you can reach out at email@example.com