• Kaivalya Plays

(Press Release) Lifeline 99 99 - An Interactive One-On-One Performance On The Phone

Press Release (July 2021)


Live theatre on your telephone – Lifeline 99 99 by Kaivalya Plays


An interactive one-on-one theatre show on the phone by Kaivalya Plays in partnership with Exotel.


What would you say if you picked up the phone and heard the voice of a living, breathing character on the other end who is committed to telling you something about the times we are living in. You can ask them questions about their life, offer suggestions to their problems or even talk about something completely unrelated – your choices and responses deciding how the story unfolds.


This is the premise of Lifeline 99 99, a new interactive play by Kaivalya Plays that takes place on the phone. The 'lifeline' is an absurd telephone line that interrogates a critical question that confronts us today – in the age of growing indifference and shrinking empathy, can one still create a genuine human connection? Spanning 35 to 50 minutes depending on the audience’s level of interactivity and how the conversation flows, no two shows are alike as each conversation is unique and personalized to the audience member who dials in. Each audience member can choose from seven distinct, live and interactive stories that'll tell them something about the fate of humanity in the times to come. How does it work? The audience calls a phone number, where they hear an IVRS voice that asks them certain questions and subsequently connects them to one of the seven experiences available – a one-on-one conversation with a conflicted sex chat operator, an aggrieved idealist, a dude alien, a morbid insurance agent, a memory alteration researcher, an ethical scammer or art itself, personified.


The show premiered for audiences in India in February 2021 with four housefull weekends, with 120 audience members dialling in for over 140 hours of one-on-one audio conversations. Akshay Raheja, writer and co-director, says “It was a conscious decision to structure this interactive play as a live, one-on-one conversation, which retains the life of a theatrical experience over a digital medium.” Gaurav Singh, co-director and technical lead, adds “With this show, we are challenging a lot of conventions of ‘digital theatre’ that India has seen in the past one year – neither is it theatre on Zoom, nor is it pre-recorded video screenings. It’s live, interactive, on your phone and you (the audience) are in the driving seat.”


For the second run, Kaivalya Plays is partnering with cloud communications company Exotel to expand the show’s footprint to reach international audiences. Powering over 4.5 billion calls annually, Exotel is Asia’s largest cloud-based customer communication platform. The show leverages Exotel's interactive voice response system (IVRS) platform – used by popular brands for their customer care helplines – and breathes fresh life into it by adapting it for a theatrical medium. Speaking about the partnership, Shivakumar Ganesan, Co-founder & CEO, Exotel adds "It is amazing to see how Kaivalya Plays has used the power of technology to come up with such an engaging presentation. I'm always excited to see the use of cloud communication in such an innovative manner." Singh, whose work at Kaivalya Plays has explored different digital theatre technologies, says "Exotel's platform is user-friendly and easy to use, which allowed us to onboard our creative team quickly and test out the IVRS flow internally". Raheja mentions that the use of the IVRS technology not only allows audiences to choose from different stories, but also makes them aware of their ability to drive the narrative with real-time responses to the performer.


Given its audio-only nature, this is amongst the first digital theatre shows that is accessible to those with limited or impaired vision, as well as those experiencing screen fatigue. Singh says “This show can be attended from the comfort of your bed at your home. All you require is your phone and a working network. Headphones are not mandatory but are recommended.”


Lifeline 99 99 returns for audiences in India, the United States and the United Kingdom for a weekend run of shows in August 2021, starting August 7th onwards.


DATES & TICKETS


Learn more and book your tickets at bit.ly/lifeline9999


Shows at 6PM, 7PM and 10PM IST every Saturday & Sunday, from August 7th to August 29th. Available for audiences in India, United Kingdom and the United States.


MEDIA & IMAGES

All images can be found here – Link


CAST & CREW

Directed and Designed by Akshay Raheja and Gaurav Singh.

Performed by Kumar Abhimanyu, Nikie Bareja, Rochan Mathur, Ramita Menon, Raghav Seth, Gaurav Singh and Vanshika Verma.

Writing by Akshay Raheja.

Technical Production by Gaurav Singh.

Original production managed by Stuti Kanoongo and second run managed by Saumya Upadhyay.



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)


For the directors: how does direction work for such improvised one-on-one acts?

Lifeline 99 99 is based on a predefined script. The narrative structure aids in delivering fairly absurd stories to the audience that are most relevant to the medium of phone calls. Our work entails devising in rehearsals using theatre exercises, continuous work on the script after rehearsals, interrogating the legibility of characters in different situations, working on rhythm and duration, negotiating levels of interaction within each narrative and most importantly putting together a meaningful journey from ‘Hello’ to ‘Goodbye’. -

Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Writer)


For the performers: how do you “rehearse” before each phone call? What are the best and the worst parts of such a performance? Do any particular calls/callers stand out so far – because they were so good or so bad or so awkward or so interesting?


To prepare myself I work on the rhythm of my character and focus on words that are unique to my character’s design. The most interesting part of performing my episode is that the audience decides the ending that changes with each person. Not only the end, but each interaction also changes me as much as it affects the audience. My biggest discovery is to find the truth and honesty in performance because in this medium there is no way to deceive the audience.

- Kumar Abhimanyu (Performer)


I prefer a quiet space just before a performance so it helps me approach it mindfully. Ending the call is the worst part for me.. because it’s a very emotionally charged moment. The best part, of course, is taking them through a journey. One of my most memorable calls was when I entered into an intense discussion about tea (and why we drink the tea we drink) with this one caller. Another time, the audience member found a loophole in my existing world and it was an interesting challenge for me to figure it out.

- Raghav Seth (Performer)


I close my eyes breathe and listen to the clock ticking for a couple of minutes before dialling into each call. The line between performance and reality is so blurred because it’s a phone call and the audience is as much a part of it as I am, sometimes more. The best part about it is that anything can happen. No two performances are the same cause no 2 people are the same and they’re what drives the experience to different places. 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. I’ve had quite a few interesting calls in the first two weeks of shows but one call I remember is where the audience was very sceptical and hesitant at the beginning of the call but by the end of it was so engrossed that they were the ones giving the monologue right before the call ended and I guess it became as much a performance for me as it was for them.

- Ramita Menon (Performer)


"It’s been a unique collaborative experience, where the flow of creative exchange goes both ways between the actors and the directors. Rehearsals are fairly open-ended, using improvisation to build the worlds of the characters. I would try out a new idea, technique or out-of-the-box element. if it clicked, it found its way into the script."

- Nikie Bareja (Performer)

Where did the idea for this come from? Have there been any precedents for this?

Learning theatre mostly through practice, Gaurav and I have been inspired by the idea of capturing and understanding ‘life’ in a theatrical interaction by interrogating the audience-performer relationship. The precedents for telephonic performance was ghost calls from our childhood, where we would dial a number and hear a recorded ghost-like voice. In September 2020, we tried out this idea by creating a trial account on an IVR system. We realised that our ears are so akin to listening to the computerised voice for providing services, we never imagine it to be suitable for story-telling. We put together a team of performers with a background in narrative based storytelling and over the next three months, devised and created five different narratives in rehearsals.

Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Writer)


The idea of bringing together interactive narratives that capture the absurdness of our lives came to us way back in March 2020, a little before the world went into lockdown. Akshay and I had initially envisaged this project as a 360º video show wherein audiences would wear a VR headset to interact with the stories. But then the pandemic hit and everything paused. In September 2020, we began reimagining the show for a form that can be experienced and executed whilst a large majority of us continue to remain at home. We did research on the medium of telephone and Interactive Voice Response System to introduce choices in narratives. We are now using the software Exotel to bring this experience together. We put together a team of performers with a background in narrative-based storytelling & improvisation and then devised the stories in rehearsals. To our knowledge, this is the first show of its kind being attempted in India. There have been other one-on-one shows elsewhere in the world but none that are structured like Lifeline 99 99 is.

Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)

What is the scope of such a form (or audio plays/performances, in general, even after “normal” theatre resumes, hopefully)? 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)


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)


Any other thing about Lifeline 99 99 that I should know about?

One on one performances are a new thing for Indian audiences and we need to take care of them whilst helping them experience this. That means all our performers need to be mindful whilst speaking to an audience member and account for anything that can go wrong – network drops, poor audio quality, miscommunications etc. Given its interactive nature, the conversation can potentially enter an uncomfortable space (both for the performer and the audience) and agency must be given to both to navigate these awkward moments of silence. This project also requires an intense amount of re-evaluation and analysis since every single experience is unique, so we have to rely on a multitude of factors to know if it’s “working” because there is no big applause at the end of the curtain call. Gaurav Singh (Co-Director, Performer)


The script for this performance has a term called the ‘audience pause’ where the performer stops performing and leaves the responsibility of carrying the narrative forward upon the audience. More often than not, the audience collaborates and complements in this process of narrative creation. In the writing process, this expectation from a stranger to collaborating on stories is quite visceral. Akshay Raheja (Co-Director, Writer)




Press Release (February 2021)


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.


You can purchase tickets for Lifeline 99 99 on the PayTM-Insider website today and dial in for some drama on your phone.


Performance Schedule


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 (Premiere Run)



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.




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