About “Nothing”, the play

Haunting and provocative, the play Nothing, explores the nuances of being an individual in a world that demands conformity

When theatre actor and director Kirtana Kumar was on her annual tour in Germany with her production Boy with a Suitcase, she was handed over Janne Teller’s book Nothing by a friend, who told her that it was a “wildly popular story”. Like any other book, Kumar read it, not really thinking much of it, until she gave the book to her teenager theatre students. And much to her surprise, they loved the book, which they irculated amongst themselves until it was dog-eared.

It’s then that Kumar realised that the story, about a group of teenagers faced with getting their classmate Pierre Anthon out of the plum tree, struck a chord with them. “I didn’t have the same response when I read the book, and neither did I expect the students to have any response. In fact, I thought it was a bit provocative. But much to my surprise they fell in love with the book and told me that it was the story of their lives,” says Kumar, who has adapted the play for stage which is being performed by the Theatre Lab (Youth), a vertical group of children from different Bengaluru schools who have an advanced interest in theatre and work together to hone their ensemble skills.

It’s no wonder that the group of teenagers aged between 13 and 16 years of age, have been involved in every aspect of the production — from working on adapting the book into a play, designing sets and costumes.

The book, hailed as a contemporary classic, is about a group of teenagers faced with getting their classmate Pierre Anthon out of the plum tree. Earlier, Pierre Anthon walked out of class, climbed the tree and declared that “Nothing matters. So nothing is worth doing.” Flummoxed by this and by Pierre Anthon’s refusal to come down from the tree they decide to take matters into their own hands to show him he is wrong. While it has been adapted into a play in other parts of the world, it’s the first time that something of this kind is being done in Bengaluru. The premier of the play on June 24th, 25th and 26th at Jagriti Theatre in Whitefield will probably be the first time that a group of teenagers have developed and performed a play, which is for teenagers and adults alike.

Kumar says that they have retained the same text—in terms of dialogues, although they’ve cut down the number of scenes so as to fit it on stage within 70 minutes (the play doesn’t have an interval).

Since the driving force behind the play has been the kids themselves, there were several instances when Kumar found the kids contradicting her ideas. “During the adaptation process, there were some scenes which I felt we could do without. But the children argued and fought until it was included,” she says.

The “haunting and provocative” production through storytelling, music, image and drama “plays with the nuances of being an individual in a world that demands conformity” provoking questions about meaning and what actually matters. Which is why, the play is open only to those above the age of 11. “This play, adapted from the eponymous contemporary classic, addresses what today’s teenagers really feel like and are concerned with— the meaning of materialistic things, nationalism, sexuality, identity and love. It is an allegory of sorts,” Kumar says.

The group has worked on the production over the last one year. And considering that the children are tied-up with school activities— co-ordinating rehearsals and timings has been a challenge. But they’ve pushed boundaries to put together this premier which they are hoping will leave the audience pondering on what makes life worth living.

Credits Bangalore Mirror

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