(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.


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.


All images can be found here – Link


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 a