Lifeline 99 99 - A New Interactive Performance by Kaivalya Plays
Kaivalya Plays’ Lifeline 99 99 directed by Akshay Raheja and Gaurav Singh warns you about the greed and loneliness that consume our lives, through a one on one storytelling experience.
Soon, a year will have passed since theatre venues shuttered their doors to audiences. In that time, theatre-makers across the country embraced digital platforms to showcase their art. With venues starting to open up and audiences returning to stage plays slowly yet steadily, there are still many many theatre groups and professionals experimenting with digital platforms such as Zoom, OBS, Facebook and other live streaming technologies to put up their plays and present to online audiences. However, the intent to create “live” theatre continues to intrigue artists, one of whom is Delhi-based performing arts company Kaivalya Plays, whose new play ‘Lifeline 99 99’ takes the audience through a journey on their phones.
Directed by Akshay Raheja and Gaurav Singh, the play combines the use of IVRS technology with live storytelling over the phone. After registering, the audience calls the Lifeline 99 99. This connects them to an IVR machine that enquires about their preference for an experience. Based on their responses, a few minutes later, someone or something calls back but who calls back? Maybe a conflicted sex chat operator or a dead human being or a piece of art, personified. What is known about the Lifeline 99 99 is that it is loaded with fundamental philosophical questions of our absurd times.
The performance is backed by an ensemble cast of Nikie Bareja, Raghav Seth, Kumar Abhimanyu and Ramita Menon and is supported by Thespo’s Audio-Torium, an initiative that encourages the creation of audio-based performances by theatre-makers under the age of 25. In development since October 2020, the creative team of Lifeline 99 99 has been rehearsing remotely across three different time zones, a testament to its unique form that interrogates connection across distance. Akshay Raheja says “It was a conscious decision to restrict this interactive play to a one on one performance, which retains the life of a theatrical experience over a digital medium.” Gaurav Singh adds “Talking to a stranger over the phone isn’t what’s unique, but what’s at stake is the difference. Every episode asks the audience member to change something in each narrative.”
While the stories you hear in these episodes are fictional, they seek to bring out the absurdities of the lives we are living. “Potentially, theatre exists in every live human interaction”, says Akshay, and adds “It is the role of an audience in a breathing performance, how their understanding, trust and expectation changes the performance and the actors in real-time”. Gaurav believes that the interactive nature of the performance is what sets it apart, adding “While all of us may encounter the same emotion (e.g. grief), we all process it differently. It is exciting for us to see how every audience member will leave with a slightly different experience in each show.”
The show opens for audiences in India on 20th and 21st February 2021. Given its deep reliance on phone technology, the team is working hard to make the show accessible to global audiences in a manner that’s financially sustainable. “Right now we are completely self-funded and would need significant funding to cover the technology costs for the next phase”, says Gaurav and adds they are planning to apply to grants and festivals focused on digital theatre, even though such opportunities are limited in India. They hope that audiences enjoy the unique experiences and keep coming back to hear a different episode of Lifeline 99 99.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why did you decide to call this performance Lifeline 99 99?
The idea for this performance was born out of Akshay and my fascination with the good old days of the telephone, wherein voice calling preceded text messages and video calls. Today, we only have transactional, service calls on the phone – food delivery, life insurance, customer care etc. There is something fascinating about hearing the voice of a stranger, trying to connect with you over something utterly mundane like a parcel delivery, and we wanted to explore how that conversation could be theatrical. That’s where the ‘Lifeline’ comes from, an absurd telephone line where humans connect with each other over something crucial to their lives. The ‘99 99’ comes from the social, cultural and economic significance of the number in our lives – from the psychological trick of having prices end in 99 instead of whole numbers to the 99% loading on our computer screens – there is something, one thing, missing from all of our lives at the moment. It can be a person, a desire, a success, a relationship or anything else that we perceive will complete us.
- Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)
Q. What was the inspiration behind this interactive play?
Theatre is an experience of a story through bodies in the same time and space. We wanted to understand how we could preserve theatrical life in spite of not being in the same space as the audience. For us, the inspiration was to understand ‘what is alive in theatre’. We started with the assumption that theatre exists in every live human interaction. This is how we came up with the idea of a one on one interactive narrative. By placing the audience at the core of this experience, we offered them multiple narrative choices that interrogate their beliefs and ideas based on their decisions in conversation around these peculiar scenarios.
- Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Playwright)
Q. How do you place this show within the larger context of COVID-19?
This play was not created as a response (of the art form) to the pandemic, however, the consequences of the pandemic definitely inspired the content of the play. It made us rethink about human connections in live conversations as against telephonic ones. When we set out to create this telephone line, we wanted to preserve the life of human interaction by restricting it to a one on one audio performance, as theatrical as it could be. Therefore, we think it will be relevant even when performance venues open up. Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Playwright)
What we’re doing in Lifeline 99 99 makes use of a ‘distanced’ composition style – one where audiences, performers and spaces will continue to be separated but can be brought together by reclaiming this distance of time and space. With this show, we can continue reaching out to audiences who may be isolating at home or even wanting access to a more visceral performance experience that places them at the centre of it. I believe theatre pieces like this will continue to inform, challenge and investigate the relationship between the audience and the performance, leading to more innovative forms and narratives in the theatre.
Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)
Q. What were the challenges you'll encounter while trying to execute this vision of an interactive play, and how did you'll overcome them?
A big challenge in this process is getting information from all the audience members for a particular slot on time since that is something out of the team’s control. The entire process gets delayed if even one of the members does not make the call on time or does not respond to the reminders. We try to eliminate this problem by internally setting a time limit post which we focus on the information available with us and go forward with our other performances.
- Stuti Kanoongo (Production Manager)
What’s funny for me is that while the play itself interrogates the distances we traverse in our everyday lives, we also created and rehearsed this show while being completely distanced! The creative team, consisting of 7 individuals, is spread across four different cities (6 at the last count) across three different time zones. Coordinating common times for rehearsals and discussions was quite a task. Secondly, each of the stories is written to strike the right balance between interaction and story-telling. The play is based on original scripts written by my co-director Akshay, which were devised and developed with the performers in rehearsals. Lastly, it took us sizable time and financial resources to settle on the ‘technology’ of the experience. Right now this project is completely self-funded and the economics of the one-on-one ticketing system makes it challenging to recover the creative and technical costs. We are hoping to receive additional funding through grants and crowdfunding to expand this project to global audiences with possibly, more experiences than just five. - Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)
The worst part about it is that I cannot physically be with my team members while developing this piece and I also miss meeting the audience after each performance which you would do if we were in a physical venue to have a chat.
- Ramita Menon (Performer)
Q. What is the scope of such kind of a show once theatres fully reopen? How do you see this moving ahead?
This play was not created as a response (of the art form) to the pandemic, however, the consequences of the pandemic definitely inspired the content of the play. It made us rethink about human connections in live conversations as against telephonic ones. When we set out to create this telephone line, we wanted to preserve the life of human interaction by restricting it to a one on one audio performance, as theatrical as it could be. Therefore, we think it will be relevant even when performance venues open up. Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Writer)
What we’re doing in Lifeline 99 99 makes use of a ‘distanced’ composition style – one where audiences, performers and spaces will continue to be separated but can be brought together by reclaiming this distance of time and space. With this show, we can continue reaching out to audiences who may be isolating at home or even wanting access to a more visceral performance experience that places them at the centre of it. Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)
You can purchase tickets for Lifeline 99 99 on the PayTM-Insider website today and dial in for some drama on your phone.
Premieres on 20th and 21st February, 6PM to 9PM IST
Tickets (INR 200/-) available at the link - bit.ly/lifeline9999
Upcoming performances: March 6, 7, 20 & 21 and April 3, 4.
Cast & Crew
Co-Director, Writer - Akshay Raheja
Akshay Raheja is a theatre director and playwright based in New Delhi. Over the last six years, he has led multiple collaborators – actors, writers, designers and production staff – to create indelible live theatre experiences. His work has been showcased across India in the Old World Theatre Festival, Sahitya Kala Parishad and the Thespo, International Youth Theatre Festival in Mumbai. His plays have been produced and hosted by eminent Indian cultural institutions like Instituto Cervantes, India Habitat Centre and Jawahar Kala Kendra. He has trained under Tadpole Repertory and assisted Abhishek Majumdar in Eidgah ke Jinnat (2018).
Co-Director, Performer - Gaurav Singh
Gaurav Singh is a theatre-maker, improviser and arts manager from New Delhi who is currently based in London where he is studying at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He is the General Manager at Kaivalya Plays (India) and the Communications Manager at The Nursery Theatre (UK). He received the prestigious Chevening India Scholarship (2020) as well as the Gender Bender (2019) grant. He is also working on a new audio play under Writer’s Lab Mumbai, an initiative by G5A Foundation for Contemporary Culture and Soho Theatre.
Performer - Raghav Seth
Raghav Seth is a BA Graduate in Theatre Studies, English and Psychology from CHRIST (Deemed to be University). He is trained in Western Theatre and has also developed a skill for voice acting. He also sings, writes poetry, and has recently got into rapping and film-making. He is a firm believer in growing in his fields and becoming better in his craft!
Performer - Ramita Menon
Ramita Menon is a freelance yoga teacher, improviser and Spanish language learner from New Delhi, India currently based in Spain. She sees art as an invitation to possibility, a way to be lost and a way to be found. She enjoys creating art essentially about people, their experiences and complexities. Ramita hopes to engage people with art in as many ways as possible creating interdisciplinary and broadly accessible work.
Performer - Kumar Abhimanyu
Kumar Abhimanyu is a Delhi-based actor, director and designer who has been doing theatre for the past six years. He has performed at Old World Theatre Festival, Sahitya Kala Parishad and Bira Fest. He has constantly been engaged in the process of writing and designing his plays. He has completed his master's in Performance Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi where he studied under the guidance of Anuradha Kapur, Deepan Sivaraman and Arjun Raina. He has trained with Tadpole Repertory and Indian Ensemble.
Performer - Nikie Bareja
Nikie Bareja is an artist based out of Delhi, currently pursuing her Post Graduate Diploma in FTII, Pune. She is also a trained Kathak dancer who graduated from St. Stephen’s College in 2019, where she acted and directed productions for the collegiate group The Shakespeare Society that went on to be showcased at the Indian Habitat Centre as part of the Old World Collegiate Theatre Festival, the Shakespeare Society of India as well as Insituto Cervantes. While composing ‘Blind Spots’, University of Delhi’s presentation at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ’17, she found theatre to serve as the empirical lens to observe society and as a catalyst to portray multiple perceptions.
Production Manager - Stuti Kanoongo
Stuti Kanoongo is a lifestyle product and graphic designer, who is now focusing on a career in design management. After graduating from NIFT in 2018 and working across different organizations, she graduated from the inaugural batch of the Theatre Management Fellowship by Kaivalya Plays and joined the company as Communications Manager in September 2020. Here, Stuti oversees communications, audience development and program operations, whilst occasionally dabbling in production management.