This weekend sees the staging of the Sikh community’s first immersive play, hosted by Saffron Mic in west London. The performance of this rousing art form on Saturday titled ‘Snapshots of Punjab’ aims to “provide the intersection between history and art, with the intention to strike at the mind and the heart” – a lofty ambition indeed – and a most welcome addition to the roster of arts events instigated by Saffron Mic. So what’s it all about?
An immersive play must be experienced to be fully appreciated. Lovers of the arts and theatre will be familiar with seeing the free-flowing of expression at a safe distance, but an immersive play offers a wholly different perspective. ‘Snapshots of Punjab’, according to the Saffron Mic press release, promises “a unique theatrical experience that blurs the lines between space, performer and spectator” where “ticket-holders will travel in small groups through singularly crafted environments, meeting key personalities at pivotal moments from recent Sikh history and will consider fundamental questions about the path to the present“. The promotional poster depicts Rani Jind Kaur, Master Tara Singh and Bhagat Puran Singh, amongst others, and one can surmise from this and the title that the immersive play will be a journey through Sikh politics and current affairs of the last century and a half. I’m anticipating an intimate viewpoint into these key moments, the ability to peer over the shoulder of those who were involved and perhaps even the opportunity to peer into the whites of their eyes as they live through the events that have shaped where we stand today.
I believe that immersive theatre is an apt way for Sikhs to recount history, partly because I envisage an explosion in the sheer number of questions that arise as one is immersed into the play – and it is that capacity to ask questions that eludes so many of us from comprehending just what has been happening to our community and way of life since we migrated en masse to these shores. I would like to think that this is an event that will be well-attended by young and old alike, particularly as it takes place at the easy-to-reach Norwood Hall in Southall. There are a number of time slots to choose from – ticket-holders experience the play in small groups – and I will be attending along with a number of others from my Sikh Studies circle at successive time slots so that we can take time to digest the experience individually before engaging in a hearty discussion together afterwards.
Success as always is not measured in quantity, but quality, and it is promising that events like these exist at all, symbolic of the dynamism amongst new generations of Sikhs to humbly stand on the shoulders of those who built before and show no fear when constructing anew. I was involved in organising the first ever Saffron Mic event back in November 2012 and then moved on to perform at the flagship event which grew ten times over in a short space of time. I have had no involvement in this latest iteration of what is now sadly one of the only remaining Sikh arts events that takes place in the West, but am therefore even more excited to join the audience for an event that promises to be an insightful and thought-provoking experience. I feel a sense of satisfaction from having helped found what has become a safe environment to empower community matters through the arts; but I feel an even greater sense of pride that I was able to walk away and this movement continued. That pride is in the wider community – perhaps some of you reading this article – who came in, picked up the baton and ran with it or who continued to support by attending. Far too many organisations exist on the backs of those who drive them and in the arts in particular, we see entire movements rise and fall because of the cult of personality. There is no shame in this, but it suggests that those organisations failed to press home why they came into being in the first place. In the Sikh world, the expendable nature of every individual, no matter who they are, is central to the cultivation of our way of life; thus, our society is built upon the ideals that we believe in, not on the individuals who express those ideals the most effectively at any given time. In that light, this is a clear opportunity to witness the actions and thoughts of some of the key players from recent Sikh history and to look at them beyond the one-liner depiction we tend to bestow on them. ‘Snapshots of Punjab’ offers us the chance to step in their shoes and see things as they did, to immerse ourselves in a play that continues to determine who we are today.
Tickets to the immersive play ‘Snapshots of Punjab’ are on sale now at saffronmic.com.