Erin Mee Examines Theatre of
Roots Movement in New Book
by Liza Clark '03
In Theatre of Roots: Redirecting the Modern Indian Stage, Assistant Professor of Theater Erin Mee examines the period after Indian Independence in 1947 when theater practitioners made an effort to create an "Indian" theatre that would be aesthetically different from the Westernized theatre established during the colonial era and prevalent in urban areas at the time. Those efforts included a return to their roots in classical dance, religious ritual, martial arts, popular entertainment, and Sanskrit aesthetic theory.
The Theatre of Roots - as this movement was known - was the first conscious effort to create a body of work for urban audiences combining modern European theatre with traditional Indian performance while maintaining its distinction from both. By addressing the politics of aesthetics, and by challenging the visual practices, performer/spectator relationships, dramaturgical structures, and aesthetic goals of colonial performance, Mee says the movement offered a strategy for reassessing colonial ideology and culture and for articulating and defining a newly emerging India. In Theatre of Roots she presents an in-depth analysis of this movement: its innovations, theories, goals, accomplishments, problems, and legacies.
Mee uses primary research to examine the work of three major Indian directors, all practitioners of Theatre of Roots: K. N. Panikkar of Kerala; the Kannada playwright, actor and director Girish Karnad; and Ratan Thiyam of Manipur in the extreme northeast of India. She also undertakes a study of how national cultural bodies like the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the National School of Drama played a significant role in inflecting the nature of a movement that began with individual artists but soon came to be identified with the formation of a national identity. This work of scholarship benefits tremendously from the fact that Mee brings her own theatre experience both within and outside India to bear on her research and analysis.
Mee's articles on modern Indian theatre have appeared in TDR, Theater Journal, Performing Arts Journal, Seagull Theatre Quarterly, and American Theatre Magazine; two of her articles have been included in books on Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani; and she edited Drama Contemporary: India, a collection of modern Indian plays published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Mee is a theatre director who has worked at some of the most important theatres in the United States, including New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theatre, The Guthrie Theater, and The Magic Theatre. In India, she has directed two of Kavalam Narayana Panikkar's plays in Malayalam with his company Sopanam.
Theatre of Roots is part of the series Enactments, edited by Richard Schechner, and is published by Seagull Books, Kolkata.