The remit I had for this reading differed from my usual writing/dramaturgy process, in that I usually work from original writing, in consultation with the author, and with the ability to re-write material. This time I was working with text that had existed for decades and with no authors to consult with. The brief was to stick to the original text, adapting, but not re-writing, so that the words came directly from the accounts of the authors, in their time.
In order to make the reading live for an audience I had to find the drama in the accounts, which at times was challenging, given that sometimes, the writing could be quite dry – worthy and factual. By looking at the sub-text, and getting to know more about the times that the converts lived in, their locations and social status, I was able to form a clearer picture of the people behind the accounts. The key questions for me were: why did they convert, and what was at stake in doing so?
Not being a person of faith myself, I had to find a way to give the accounts some kind of context and understanding, that I from my 21st-century perspective could empathise with, in order to convey it to a mixed audience. I read through the (mainly 19-Century) research material that Hephzibah gave me, and saw how different each author’s journey towards conversion was. I felt it was important to depict that difference, and the sense of their undergoing a powerful psychological and emotional journey, as well as the ramifications of how they would be regarded by family, friends and authorities, and manifest a fundamental change in the way they would continue to live, from day to day.
With this in mind I structured the reading by creating an introduction read by Hephzibah to give a historical context to the subject matter of the project, and then shorter introductions to set the scene for each extract. I performed each character with a different voice and each section was punctuated with music by composer Niroshini Thambar, giving texture and form to the reading.
I’m looking forward to exploring more materials from the research project, using it as stimulus to create a play, which gives a more rounded picture of how these experiences, and the political and social settings in which they occurred, affected and shaped Indian history of that period and beyond, for a contemporary audience.