“Crossing Over”: A Theatrical Tribute to the Struggles Against Cancer in Bengaluru

Cancer, a malady that ravages not just the body but the very soul of individuals it touches, often imparts a trail of destruction that surpasses the patient and deeply affects family members and caretakers alike. The exhaustive treatments, often stretching for years, burden the sufferers with debilitating side effects that are as much emotionally taxing as they are physical.

In the heart of Bengaluru, a beacon of solace exists in the form of Karunashraya (Bangalore Hospice Trust), an institution that provides a sanctuary offering palliative care free of charge to those facing the terminal stages of illness. Their focus on ensuring a dignified and comfortable existence for their patients has cemented their role as a pillar of compassion within the community. In recognition of this, Karunashraya unveiled a book in 2023, “Crossing Over,” which gathers intimate stories of those under its care.

It is within this context that Crossing Over steps off the pages and onto the stage, an initiative by First Drop Theatre, commencing its first curtain rise from April 13. Directed and scripted by Bejoy Balagopal, a pioneering figure alongside Radhika Jain at First Drop Theatre, this stage performance is a product of a distinct form of art known as playback theatre.

Unconventional in its approach, playback theatre discards the need for elaborate stages and costumes, instead relying on the power of socio-improv to communicate narratives. Author Balagopal articulates the versatility of playback theatre, noting that any open space can transform into a stage. Using an amalgamation of text, poetry, movement, music, and metaphorical imagery, the actors give life to the experiences shared by audience members in real-time.

The collaboration with Karunashraya is not a new domain for First Drop Theatre. Their foundations lie at the intersection of healthcare and theatre, making their expertise particularly suited for delving into the emotional landscape of hospice care. Previous interactions with the nurses and caregivers at Karunashraya offered profound insights. These caregivers admitted to emotional numbing—one of the many coping mechanisms employed against the daily tide of loss and heartache that accompanies end-of-life care.

In response to this emotional strain, Radhika Jain conducted an extensive eight-week workshop aimed at healthcare professionals, educating them on emotional awareness and management to maintain their own mental well-being. It was through years of engagement with Karunashraya that the group was approached to dramatize the heartfelt stories contained within Crossing Over, thus, translating written testament into performative narrative.

Crossing Over, characterized as a proscenium play, encapsulates three pivotal stories: “Bonds That Bind,” exploring the complexities of relationships, “Rainbow of Emotions,” which delves into the various stages of patient acceptance, and “Prem & Prem,” presenting new perspectives in healthcare beyond the gender binary. Additionally, “Shadow and Light” paints the sorrowful journey of a friend grappling with the loss of a partner to cancer.

Bejoy Balagopal reveals that one significant realization for caregivers is the simplicity of being present for patients. The play emphasizes the power of conversation—often overlooked in favor of comfort measures but arguably more therapeutic.

Following the performance, the audience can anticipate an interactive half-hour of playback theatre. Earlier stagings of the play occurred for Karunashraya’s staff and guests on World Palliative Care Day in October 2022 and to a broader public in February and March of this year.

The stage setting for Crossing Over is beautifully orchestrated by Radhika Jain, with visual aesthetics crafted by Naman Roy and an auditory backdrop provided by Deepthi Bhaskar. The cast will feature performances from Thulasi Raj, Snehil Basoya, Vinay Kumar, and Bejoy Balagopal himself.

Viewers can expect to partake in this powerful theatrical experience on April 13 at Vyoma ArtSpace, JP Nagar, followed by shows on April 14 at Medai – The Stage, Koramangala, and April 20 at Shoonya Center for Art and Somatic Practices, Lal Bagh Main Road, with all performances starting at 5.30 pm. Tickets for the event are available through BookMyShow. This narrative adventure awaits those who seek both artistry in storytelling and a compassionate window into the human experience with cancer.

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