The Green Room: Can Ashokan Theatre Move Past its Tainted Prologue?
By Ragini Bakshi, UG'24
(TW: Mentions of Sexual Harassment, Kirdaar)
Amongst emerging Ashokan clubs is “The Green Room,” the new theatre club. While the founders of the club say that it hopes to revive the theatrical culture at Ashoka - which was suffering after the disbandment of Kirdaar (the previous theatre club involved in cases of sexual harrasment)- questions still arise with regards to its operations. Keeping in mind the circumstances around the disbandment of Kirdaar, The Edict held an interview with one of the core team members of The Green Room who explained the procedures and approaches through which the club hoped to prevent a recurrence of past incidents.
After starting the year off with inductions, the club put up a production and kick started its activities in April this year. They stated that inductions will be held over a two-day period, of which the first day will consist of a workshop to ensure awareness about the history of the theatre club. While this set of inductions hopes to get the club on its feet, full fledged inductions will be held next semester once the structure of the club is more established. They also highlighted how the club’s current intention is to bring in core team members across cohorts to enable incoming members to have solid work next semester.
According to the member, the club aims to completely overhaul the previous leadership structures of Kirdaar by promoting a more democratic and representative process of power distribution. While all clubs and societies are obligated to make such promises, they went on to give more details of how this will be ensured. The club will have 3 presidents, two of whom will be elected by the existing members at the start of the monsoon semester, the third position being reserved for a non cis-male. It is expected that these positions will be filled by candidates from UG ’23 or UG ’24, in order to create a power structure that differs from Kirdaar, where seniors were mostly the ones at the helm. Moreover, the member underlined that The Green Room differs from Kirdaar in the way that it put great effort in explaining to all the members what Kirdaar’s history was and stating that this club will not follow the same path. Additionally, they also created a culture of discussions and encouraged transparency. Lastly, they mentioned how the current functioning of the team is based more on making members feel part of the club first and then their respective teams, so as to avoid separation and segregation.
The member interviewed specified that the club is creating a distinction between creative and administrative direction and wants as flat and decentralised a structure as possible. This would create an ecosystem where no group of people would have creative control and the creative directors would switch from one play to another. Furthermore, with only two administrative heads in the club, there is not much difference between the founding team and the rest of the society. They also pointed out how this will help deal with the problem of information gap between the older and the junior cohorts. However, the start of each semester will witness another election to appoint a first year president (UG ’25) by the club. The Production Heads for the club will be decided at the start of each semester by the existing team members and fresh elections for the position will be held around the mid term break. Lastly, depending on the production heads’ approval they can either be voted out or elected for a second term.
When it comes to the roles of the Presidents and Production Heads, they will hold a sort of administrative approach in order to ensure logistical efficiency of the club. All in all, the role of the production head is to be a point of contact for the team and manage it to ensure minimal inefficiency. The creative roles will be assigned on an ad-hoc basis by the members of every individual production. The redressal mechanism will operate through anonymous Google Forms which can also be used to address grievances about the leadership. Additionally, addressing the commitment that the club requires from the members, the core team member mentioned that all members meet three times a week for two hours except for the days before a play, when they meet more frequently.
With regards to ensuring safety in the club, they informed us that the club cannot set up an internal Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) since Ashoka policy doesn't allow it. All CASH complaints have to go through the college CASH committee and students and club representatives are not allowed to make a judgement in any case. They mentioned how all they can do in their power is to provide information to the complainants and refer them to the set responsible authorities. However, a few alternative measures have been put in place to prevent and address potential causes of harassment or abuse of power. This will be dealt with at 2 levels. At a structural level, the aforementioned Google Form, regulated by two members, will record any concerns of members. When asked about the election process for these two members and the power they will hold, representatives of the club said that these members will not have any position of power within the club and should represent all the teams present holistically. This is to ensure a safe environment for those who put forth their issues. The interviewee assured that the two members will have no control or say over the action to be taken. Given the previous cases of harassment within Kirdaar, this mechanism of anonymous complaints is a matter of great sensitivity which needs to be dealt with carefully.
Further, the member gave us an analysis of how in Kirdaar, the complaints were handled by the same group of seniors who were at the top of the hierarchy. This made their complaints redressal mechanism completely futile. In The Green Room’s case, the founders claim that the form will act as a platform to raise any concerns or issues and those in charge of recording the complaints will have no power to manipulate its actions. Additionally, they mentioned that any sexual harassment case will only be filed through the Office of Student Life (OSL) or CASH, which the club will offer full support to. Further, a document outlining what each members’ work will be circulated in advance to all the new members so any member can raise a concern about something that they aren't comfortable doing.
The club hopes to ensure that no member has the liberty to exploit their power or the physical nature of theatre and this will be enforced through a cultural code of conduct. This is to ensure that uncomfortable situations such as feeling compelled to partake in intimacy exercises, as seen in Kirdaar, doesn’t happen. They mentioned that the ways in which the club hopes to achieve this is by creating a diverse and inclusive leadership system, and establishing unanimously decided rules for interactions between members.
In their final email, Kirdaar mentioned how it was a big mistake on their part to refrain from informing newer batches about the exploitative history of the club. With such a past, many people held concerns over the lack of awareness that was there about the opening of The Green Room, however the latter claimed to be fully transparent during inductions.
As Ashoka hopes to find its footing in theatre again while avoiding the unfortunate history attached to it, one can only hope the Green Room lives up to its myriad of promises.