International Theatre Festival of Kerala returns to Thrissur after a two-year Covid hiatus

ITFOK will be held at seven venues in Thrissur between 5 and 14 February with a focal theme of “Humanity Must Unite”.

BySreerag PS

Published Jan 24, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdated Jan 24, 2023 | 9:00 AM

International Theatre Festival of Kerala returns to Thrissur after a two-year Covid hiatus

The International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFOK), one of India’s major theatre festivals, is returning to Thrissur after a two-year hiatus.

In a short span, ITFOK has carved a niche for itself and has attracted an audience from across the world — becoming one of the most sought-after theatre festivals in Asia.

Recognising theatre as the most impacted art form during the pandemic, the 13th edition of the festival focuses on humaneness, art-making and artists, and comes with a focal theme: “Humanity Must Unite.”

Origin of the idea

The festival curator, Deepan Sivaraman, told South First that the pandemic has impacted all art forms but it has impacted theatre the most.

He said that irrespective of the size of the production house, theatre couldn’t function while adhering to Covid norms. He added that it is time to bring artists under one umbrella and stand for each other, and for humanity.

“We are holding a conglomeration of artists from across the world. This is being done on a large scale, a scale at which it has not been seen previously at ITFOK. When I say artists, I don’t merely mean theatre artists, but also painters, musicians, architects, philosophers, and numerous people associated with art and culture. This is what we are trying to do under the theme ‘Humanity Must Unite’,” said Sivaraman.

According to festival organisers, “This edition of ITFOK is an invitation to assemble, gather, meet, and hold hands, as we remember the courage and the kindness we have experienced during this time.

“It is a moment also to remember the injustice and the disarray this time has brought on. The festival will be an effort to rearticulate with renewed force the connection between humaneness, art-making, and artists.”

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All the world at Thrissur

The 10-day-long theatre festival will begin on 5 February with Brett Bailey’s play Samson, from South Africa. The festival will feature 10 international plays and 14 Indian plays, which include four theatre performances in Malayalam.

Sivaraman told South First that the organisers had received 265 entries from almost all prominent theatre production houses in the country.

“On the one hand, it was a major challenge and, on the other, it was a great opportunity where we could select from the best of the best,” he added.

Poster of the play Tempest Project (Supplied)

Poster of the play Tempest Project (Supplied)

Among the plays in the international theatre section, the late Peter Brook’s Tempest Project from France is undoubtedly the highlight of this edition of ITFOK.

Brook, considered to be the greatest theatre director in the contemporary world, sadly passed away in July 2022. Tempest Project is being featured at the festival as a homage to Brook.

Italian theatrician Romeo Castellucci’s Third Reich is yet another important play from world theatre that will have five screenings at the festival.

The festival organisers told South First that they have scheduled additional screenings so that no one misses the experience of the play.

ITFOK, since its inception, has regularly featured numerous theatre productions from countries like Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, and so on.

The trend continues in this edition as well.

The ITFOK website describes Don’t Believe Me If I Talk To You Of War — a theatre performance from Palestine — as a “three-way poetry performance between words, vocals, and image. Artists echo the reflections by poet Asmaa Azaizeh on stage, on the people living outside wars, the nature of evil, and the inevitability of death.”

Poster of the play Ava Maria (Supplied)

Poster of the play Ava Maria (Supplied)

Palestine’s Khashabi Theatre’s play The Museum, Eugenio Barba’s Ave Maria from Denmark, Ali Chehrour’s play Told by My Mother from Lebanon, and Xameleon Theatre group’s Antigone from the UK are some of the other plays in the world theatre category.

The festival will end on 14 February with the play Kafka — an autobiographical work that is loosely based on Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, by Mehdi Farajpour of France’s Orian Theatre Dance Company.

Why ITFOK stands out

ITFOK — funded by the Government of Kerala — and Bharat Rang Mahotsav — funded by the Government of India — are the two major theatre festivals in the country.

However, what differentiates ITFOK is its variety of themes and curated plays from across the world. The immense public participation of people in Thrissur, as well as theatre lovers from the rest of the state and nation, is unique to the festival.

ITFOK is hosted by Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy, an organisation of the Government of Kerala. The festival began in 2008, when the governing body of the Akademi was headed by film and theatre actor Murali.

The first edition of ITFOK focused on Asian theatre and, later, the festival focused on themes like African theatre, Latin American theatre, Classics revisited, Eastern European theatre, Spectatorship & Gender, Body, Street performances and Imagining communities.

Also Read: Thespians gather for 6-day ‘Just Theatre’ in Bengaluru

Sold out already? 

Half of the tickets for ITFOK are being sold online. On 20 January, the online booking portal was opened and within hours, the tickets in the black box venue were sold out.

At the time of reporting the story, the online tickets for a majority of plays featuring in the festival were sold out.

The street art festival would be an important feature of the festival. Apart from that, the festival will also have public lecture series where experts from varied domains will deliver lectures.

The audience will also have the opportunity to meet the actors during the Meet the Artists sessions scheduled for the morning hours on all days of the festival.

Musical performances of popular bands like Avial, Indian Ocean, and The Manganiyar Seduction will also be featured in the upcoming edition.