Writer Abhi Arumbakkam talks about her show ‘Small Screen Lives’ taking part in the latest edition of the Electric Dreams Online Festival

Abhi Arumbakkam

From Friday 24th July until Sunday 16th August, the Electric Dreams Online Festival will showcase various works responding to the digital world we find ourselves in. A mixed programme of web-native theatre, music and experiences, Electric Dreams explores the use of social media, audio, visual, mapping and Virtual Reality as a means of telling stories. Taking part in the latest edition of the festival is Abhi Arumbakkam with her inventive show Small Screen Lives, a piece taking place across social media and highlighting 3 different stories. Ahead of the festival, Abhi talks to us about what to expect!

Hi Abhi, your show Small Screen Lives will take part in the Electric Dreams Online Festival from 2nd to 10th Aug on selected dates. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?

Nervous and excited at the same time. The prospect of putting on a show online brings with (it) the inevitable worry about being entirely reliant on internet connection. However, we have embraced the challenge and everything that it throws to put on a good show.

Small Screen Lives features three monologues and a short play specifically created for online platforms. Can you explain what each monologue entails?

The monologues – Om Shanti, Fenugreek and Freedom – are about three very different online experiences. One is an online meditation class that goes wrong, another is a live cooking instruction video and a third is a Bollywood actor talking to his fans directly via Instagram live. The short play is about three siblings in different parts of the world discussing caring for their elderly mum. They are all drawn from my personal experience and I hope it finds resonance with the audience.

What inspired you to explore these three particular stories?

Over the past few months, we have all lived our lives through various online platforms. We’ve attended interviews and meetings, dated strangers, dined with friends, played games with family and in some cases, even organised virtual funerals. Big life events and themes have been played out on screen no bigger than our palms. As a writer this was a rich area for me to explore my stories and ideas.

How did you approach creating the show?

Once the Electric Dreams team gave me the go ahead, I reached out to Yusuf Niazi – a talented young director whose South Asian Scratch Nights initiative already features one of my monologues – and asked him if he wanted to direct the pieces. He then cast the actors and together, we came up with the whole show. Ideally, I would have liked a bit more time but with Yusuf directing three very talented actors – Imelda D’ Souza, Sharan Atwal and Sanjay Lago – I am sure we have a good show in hand.

The show takes place on Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Skype and Zoom – highlighting the show’s ambition and inventiveness. Why did you decide to use these platforms?

There’s something about having normal, boring conversations in front of a camera that heightens the drama of everyday life. It is as if we are performing in our own private show. Normal occurences take on a more dramatic tone when it is being played out on a screen, which is what inspired me to write pieces set specifically on the various online platforms.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Apart from the three monologues and the short play, there’s a short interval which allows for audience interaction. Think of it as going to the bar during a show and chatting with others about the show. With so much of our days spent online there’s bound to have been a few mishaps and a few unforeseen encounters. It’s an opportunity for the audience to share them with others. The monologues will be addressed to them, so they will be involved right through the show.

What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?

The team and I would like the audience to have been entertained and amused and engaged with. It is a difficult time for many artists and I sincerely hope that the audience knows that their support is keeping theatre alive.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Small Screen Lives is playing as part of the Electric Dreams Online Festival from Sunday 2nd until Monday 10th August, to find out more, visit here…

To read festival founder’s Mark Atkin and Tom Millen’s interview, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop