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  • Writer's pictureSpeak Your Roots

Interview with Lapdiang A. Syiem on World Theatre Day, 27th March 2022

1, Why do you choose indigenous themes for your performances?/ Balei phi jied da ki khanatang, khanaparom Khasi na ka bynta ki performance jong phi?

I look to our folk narratives as a foundation on which I build my performances. These stories that we have, live in our individual and collective memory and it's important to keep these memories alive and relevant in our contemporary understanding. I find my connection to myself, my roots, my identity through these stories. The themes I choose are reinterpreted and adapted to where we are now as a society. They carry significant metaphors to perhaps lead us on to examine what we've become as community.

Nga phai sha ki khanatang khanaparom kum ki maw nongrim jong ka sawangka kaba nga leh. Kine ki khana kiba ngi don ki khih ki ksar ha ki thymmei jingkynmaw jong ngi shimet shimet bad kum ka jaitbynriew, kadei kaba donkam eh ban pynim ïa ki ha ka juk mynta. Nga shem ba lyngba jong ki, la lah ban plie ïa ka jingiadei jong nga bad ka tynrai ba shapoh jong nga, ka longbriew manbriew jong nga bad ka jinglong ba pura jong nga. Nga pynïahap dur ïa ka jingmut jong kine ki khanatang bad ka juk mynta. Ki ïeng na ka bynta bun kiei kiei kiba ktah ïa ngi kum ka jaitbynriew kiba long ruh kum ka ïit khmih jong ngi.

2. How does theater make folklore more accessible?/ Kumno ka sawangka ka pyn ïar ïa ki riti ki dustur, ki khanatang jong ngi ki Khasi?

I have often considered this when I look back into our folklore and our oral culture and tradition. Storytelling around the hearth is what we all go back to and theater has its roots in storytelling, of coming together and sharing in a common space. We live with an understanding of value systems that have been passed down to us by our ancestors and I think it's important to examine what they mean to us today.

Theater is expressive, unlocks emotions and can move beyond the realm of realism into the imagination, into liminal spaces that are often felt and not seen. And our folklore captures these very liminal spaces that exist in our consciousness. I find so much potential in how theater as a medium can take a story, a narrative, a memory and bring it to life. And in my work it captures the spirit of the oral or the folk in its expression.

Nga la ju pyrkhat bha ïa kane haba nga phaidien sha la ka folklore bad oral kolshor lajong. Sawdong ka lyngwiar dpei ban ïathuhkhana sngewtynnad para mangi, ka long ka thymmei jong ngi bad ka long ruh ka tynrai jong ka jingïaleh sawangka. Ngi la ïoh pateng ïa ka jingstad ba wan na ki kmie bad kpa tymmen jong ngi bad ka long kaba donkam ban sngewthuh ïa ka jingmut bad jingthmu jong ki ha ka juk mynta.

Ka sawangka ka kren briew, ka ailad ïa ngi ban pynpaw ïa ki jingmut barieh bad ka tih ruh ïa ka thymmei jong ki jingmutdur, ki kyndong kynshrot, ki bynta sharud shakiar jong ki jingmut jingpyrkhat jong ngi, kiba ngi shu tip, tangba kiba ngim iohi. Bad ki folklore jong ngi ki ïoh kem ïa kine. Nga shem ba ka sawangka ka plie lad ban pynwandur ïa kine ki khana, ki jingmutdur, ki jingkynmaw, ban ai dur ïa dar ïa ki. Bad ka sawangka kaba nga leh ka kem dur lut ïa kine.

3. What do you have to say about bilingual theater?/ Phi don aïu ban ong shaphang ka sawangka kaba pyndonkam ïa ka ktien phareng bad ïa ka ktien Khasi?

I gravitated to bilingual theatre (English and Khasi) because of my upbringing; my schooling, my environment and being away from home during my training in theater. I often regret not being completely fluent in Khasi and I regret that I was taught to speak English in a way so as to get rid of what would have been my natural Khasi accent. Bilingual theater does have its pros as well, the fact that more people can understand and experience the performance without having to wait for a translation. And we all speak more than one language now. It is the reality we are living in. But we can dismantle hierarchies in language especially when it comes to our mother tongues being placed secondary or lower than another majority language.

Ka leh sawangka ha ki arjait ki ktien (English bad Khasi) ka khring ïa nga, bad ka daw ka long namar ka rukom pynheh pynsan ïa nga; ka skul ba nga la leit, ka sawdong sawkun jong nga bad ka jingdon jong nga jngai na ïing ha ka por ba nga leit pyntbit ïalade ha kane ka kam. Nga bynñiaw haduh katta ba ka jingkren Khasi jong nga kam long kaba jlih bad ba la hikai ïa nga ban kren English ha kata ka rukom kat ban pynjah noh ïa ka rukom ring Khasi wat haba kren English ruh. Ka leh sawangka bad ka jingpyndonkam ïa ki arjait ki ktien ka don la ka jingïohnong, namar ki kham bun ki briew kiba sngewthuh bad ym donkam ka jingpynkylla ktien. Bad mynta lei bun na ngi kiba kren ar ne lai jait ruh ki ktien. Kane ka dei ka jingshisha jong ngi mynta. Bad ngi lah ruh ban kyntiew la ka ktien lajong lada ngi ñiewkor ïa ka bad pynshong ïa ka halor ka jait ktien jong kiba bun. Da kaba leh kumne ngi pynduh ïa ka jingkheiñ kor ïa khyndiat tylli ki ktien ba kren da kiba bun ki briew.

4. How do theater and the oral tradition complement one another?/ Ha kano ka rukom ka sawangka bad ka oral tradition ki ïa mir bad ïa hap jingmut baroh artylli?

They share the same roots. Theatre and the oral tradition are part of the same tree. When I work out a script I speak the words before I pen them down. I have been so used to listening to my grandmother and my father speak on important subjects or tell stories never from a script but entirely from memory. I think history is sometimes one dimensional if we rely only on the written. The oral carries with it more than just a one dimensional story. It has the potential to bring forth so many perspectives of how a story can be told. For me returning home after my training immediately drew me to the possibilities that emerged from an organic confluence of theater and the oral tradition.

Ki wan lang na kajuh ka thymmei. Ka leh sawangka bad ka oral tradition ki long na u juh u tynrai dieng. Haba nga pyrkhat kumno ban pynshong ïa ki kyntien ha ka jingthoh, nga kren shuwa ïa ki kyntien halade. Nga lah ju mlien ban sngap ïa i Meieit bad i Papa jong nga ba ki kren halor ki sobjek ba bun lane ba ki ïathuhkhana, ym na kaba pule na ki jingthoh hynrei na la ka jong ka jingkynmaw. Nga nud ruh ban ong ba ka histori ka long kaba lah shiliang lada yn shaniah beit tang ha kato ba la buh ha ki jingthoh. Ka ktien ka thylliej (oral) ka long bun syrtap. Ka lah ban pynmih ka khana kaba bun ki mat. Ïa nga hi shimet ka jingwan phai sha ïing hadien ka training ka pynshai ha nga la ka jingïathaiñ lang jong ka sawangka bad ka oral tradition.

5. What do you think is the scope of theater based on indigenous culture and themes?/ Phi sngew kumno shaphang ka jingïar jong ka sawangka kaba la pynshong nongrim ne pynmih jingmut na ki riti dustur tynrai?

I think once we step out of the idea of conventional theater, scripts, and narratives we become open to other cultures of theater/ performance/ ritual that have been neglected or ignored in the past. I strongly believe that this is what is needed in our articulations as artists. I know that I have been struggling to fit myself into the space of conventional theater that addresses themes of a larger majority. As an indigenous Khasi woman, I think it's important to address the significance of my indigeneity through the theater that I script and devise. And there is scope for these narratives to be performed and given a place in our contemporary understanding of theater, which is inclusive of minority voices and experiences.

Lada ngi kyntait noh ïa ka leh sawangka kaba shu buddien thik kumba ju leh, ka rukom buh kyntien kumba ju buh bad ki khana kiba ïathuh kumba ju ïathuh, ngi plie la ki jingmut jingpyrkhat sha kiwei pat ki kolshor jong ka sawangka/ ki rukom pyni/ ki riti ki dustur kiba la shah ieh shrah ne shah iehnoh beiñ ha ka mynnor. Nga ngeit skhem ba ngi donkam ban ïatai halor kane ha ki jingïapyrshang jong ngi kum ki artis. Nga ruh nga la dukhi khait ban pyrshang ban pynhap ïalade hapoh kata ka sawangka jong kiba bun-paid, kaba kren tang ki mat kiba ïadei bad kita kiba bun. Kum ka kynthei kaba dei na ki rit-paid, ka long kaba donkam ïa nga ban pynpaw pyrthei ïa ki mat kiba ïadei bad ka jinglong rit-paid lyngba ki symboh kyntien kiba nga thir bad suh lang ha ka sawangka kaba nga leh. Bad don bun ki lad ban pyni ïa kine ki khana lyngba ka sawangka, ban ai jaka ha ka jingsngewthuh jong ngi shaphang ka sawangka kaba mynta, kaba kynthup ruh ïa ka sur ki rit-paid bad ïa ki jingshem jong ki.

6. How do you bring out the aspect of gender and matriliny?/ Ha kano ka rukom phi pynwandur bad pynpaw ia ka gender bad matriliny?

Through an adaptation of "Who Rules The Roost?" adapted from 3 of Esther Syiem's poems and "To the Men with Hate Speech on Their Lips", a poem where I had collaborated with Garth Bonello, a Welsh musician. My body in performance is my tool or instrument of expression. As a female body I want to explore what this means to my expression and how to challenge the stereotypes or conventions we build around gender. Matriliny defines a large part of what my identity is but I think we should stay clear of romanticising it. I think it's important not just to celebrate it but also to critically examine its role, significance and its evolution.

Lyngba ka jingpynwandur biang jong nga ïa ka " Who Rules the Roost?" kaba la shim na ki 3 tylli ki poitri jong ka Esther Syiem bad "To the Men with Hate Speech on Their Lips" kaba long ka poitri kaba nga la thoh hi bad perform bad u Gareth Bonello, u nongrwai bad u nongtem na Wales. Ka jingpyndonkam ïa ka met jong nga ha ka rynsan ka jingïalehkai sawangka, ka long kum ka atiar ba nga lah ban pynkren ïa bun kiei kiei. Kum ka 'riew-kynthei kaba leh sawangka lyngba ka met kaba nga don (Physical Theater) nga kwah ban wad shuh ki lad kumno ban pyndonkam ïa ka bad lyngba kata, kumno ban pynkheiñ ruh ia ki jingbuh kiba rim kiba ïadei bad ka jingsngewthuh shaphang ka long kynthei (gender). Ka matriliny ka batai ïa bun kiei kiei kiba pynlong ïa nga kumne kumba nga long tangba ngim dei ban shu kyntiew skong palat ïa ka. Hooid ngi dei ban sngewsarong ïa ka hynrei ngi dei ruh ban thir bad tohkit bha ïa ka phang kaba ïadei bad ka jingdonkam jong ka bad ka jingkhih jingksar bad jingtyllun jong ka ha ki por ki ban sa wan.

On this World Theater Day, here is an interview (English and Khasi) with theater artist Lapdiang A. Syiem who has been a practising actor for almost a decade. Syiem's art has become a medium for the portrayal of Khasi heritage as well as a critique of Khasi society as it moves into the twenty-first century.
Khublei Shibun @lapdiangsyiem for expressing your thoughts and experience! 😄🙏
Photo credit: Helen Davies. In frame: Lapdiang A. Syiem, Benedict S. Hynñiewta, Gareth Bonello and Rhys Ap Trefor.
Lapdiang A. Syiem is a graduate of the National School of Drama, New Delhi. She further specialised in Physical Theater at the Commedia School, Copenhagen, Denmark. Syiem has performed in India, Pakistan, China, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Some of her work includes:
🟡 "Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues" funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which culminated in "Performing Journeys" 2019-2020.
🟡 "Ngan Hiar Sha Wah" (I'm Going Down to the River), recipient of the REFUNCTION 2020-2021 grant awarded by Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi.
🟡 "Speak Up and Act on Sexual Violence and Impunity", a theater production under the projects Stepping Stones and Body of Evidence supported by Zubaan, New Delhi, 2019.
🟡 "Reaching out to grasp...roots... I stand uprooted " commissioned by the Goethe Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan (Mumbai) for Poets Translating Poets (Shillong) 2019.
🟡 An adaptation of the Khasi legend "Ka Noh ka Likai" performed at Cultures of Peace-Festival of the Northeast organised by TISS, Guwahati and Zubaan, Guwahati, 2016.
Performances in Shillong include:
🟡 "Reaching out to grasp...roots... I stand uprooted " at Khasi National Durbar Hall, 2019.
🟡 An adaptation of the Khasi legend "Ka Noh ka Likai" at Dylan's Cafe, 2017.
🟡 "A being-human; being human human beings" at Kiddies Corner Secondary School, 2017.
🟡 "Ka Nam" an adaptation of a Khasi folktale, Junior CALM festival, 2013.
🟡 "Ka Tiew Larun", an adaptation of a Khasi folktale, Monolith festival, 2013.


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