Grey zones: performances, perspectives, and possibilities in Kashmir

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This doctoral project investigates the use of theatre practice to engage across the'victim'/'perpetrator' binary in the Kashmir valley; a binary that is framed in this project as a tripartite division between Civil Society, Militants/Ex-Militants, and the Indian Armed Forces. Using Primo Levi's (1988) concept of "grey zones" to investigate how narratives from these spaces might be given theatrical form, this thesis utilised six concepts to frame the aesthetic, pedagogic, and ethical principles of a practice-based-research undertaking: Immersive Theatre, Documentary Theatre, devised theatre workshops, affect, situational ethics, and performance auto-ethnography. With one Kashmiri theatre company operating as my central collaborator, the first two phases consisted of devised theatre workshops and performances with Civil Society and Ex-Militants in Kashmir. Exploring instances from these projects through thick description, critical analyses, and auto-ethnographic writing, the grey zones of Civil Society in Kashmir are situated as being within acts of aggression that occur between civilians who are differently privileged, while it is Ex-militants who are discovered as occupying a liminal space when studying narratives of militancy in the region. By contrasting these two phases of practice-based research with the third phase of 'failed' attempts to engage with the Indian Armed Forces, this thesis postulates that the grey zones within the experience of government soldiers might only be accessed by making theatre with cadets at military academies. By drawing out the parallels and disjunctures between the manifestations of the three phases of theatre practice, this project offers outcomes that contribute to scholarship around theatrical interventions in times and places of war. The concluding outcomes are framed by one question: if an outside theatre maker were to create one performance piece that contains cross-community narratives from Kashmir, what ethical, pedagogical, and aesthetic considerations might arise as a result. Amongst the strategies that are put forward to answer this question, there are three outcomes that are particularly significant: a re-articulation of grey zones as existing both between and within each of the three groups; the proposal of a process-based spectatorship when utilising novelty in form and content; a re-framing of the discussion around affect and effect by considering artists' intention and spectators' response vis-à-vis a theatrical creation.

Includes bibliographical references