Theatre is a deliberate performance, created by live actors for a live audience, using scripted language, and began around the 15th century in England. In India, Sanskrit theatre emerged sometime around the 2nd century BC and flourished for eleven centuries, until it was banned due to the Islamic conquests.
THE GOAN SCENARIO
In Goa, Joao Agostinho Fernandes, was the first to write and stage an original tiatr in Konkani, and introduce a female artist, Regina Fernandes, on stage in 1904, in Bombay.
Maria Isabel de Santa Rita Vás, teacher, author, playwright and theater director, a PhD in Philosophy, specializing in British and American drama, worked as the head of the English Department, Dhempe College of Arts and Science (Miramar, Panjim) retiring after almost forty years, was a guest faculty at the Department for English, Goa University.
In 1987, some students asked her to help them perform plays. The result was an amateur theatre group, The Mustard Seed Art Company. “As part of English Literature, one learns drama, and initially, we adapted plays by other playwrights like Charles Dickens, Mahesh Dattani. Eventually, I began writing my own plays, and the group started contributing stories. We do plays about our own people, and incidents that one encounters,” she elucidated.
In 1992, Goans were travelling abroad, and HIV was a major issue back then. She wrote and produced her first play, A Leaf In the Wind, the story of Dominic D’Souza, the first HIV AIDS patient in Goa. It was not to decry him, but to spread the awareness among the public.
She scripted plays based on her experiences and on social and political issues – A Harvest of Gold dealt with the exploitation of farmers; Who Killed the Ministers was about corruption in politics, Unmask the Mask concerned social responsibility; and Little Boxes is a story of child labour.
My Name is Goa was about alcoholism and the culture and history of Goa, and was performed entirely in mime. Who Sits Behind My Eyes was inspired by a Tagore poem about the life of a woman living in a fishing village (and aimed to remind the modern generation not to forget or ignore traditions) and won a prize.
In 2016, All Those Pipe Dreams revolved around a typical Goan family, who bought and moved into an old mansion. In 2017, Hold Up the Sky, was a historical fictional dramatisation on the life of Madame Mao, the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong, of China.
In 2018, she wrote the 66th play, Famous Nobodies, a fictional story about the museum exhibits of spouses of famous personalities striking up a conversation, and focused on Kasturba Gandhi, Eva Braun, Marilyn Monroe and Mary Slattery (wife of the Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur Miller).
The 250th birth anniversary of Abbé Faria, the noted Goan hypnotist, was celebrated in Candolim in 2006, for which she made a video In Search of Abbé Faria, dramatizing his life. Among other plays, are Kator Re Bhaji (Cut the vegetables), My Name is Goa, Who Sits Behind My Eyes, Out of this Window, released on YouTube in 2021.
Formerly, they would advertise for actors; but, with the advent of social media, those interested in acting contact them. Many actors get their own costumes, while Isabel provides for those who cannot afford to. They began performing at Kala Academy, Campal, Panjim, but finance to hire a venue was a major problem.
“When you pay for a venue, it’s not to our advantage. And, if you have sponsors and patrons, you have other issues. They dictate terms and conditions, unsuitable to us. We have performed at the Dona Paula jetty, at river fronts, Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts (Altinho, Panjim), on someone’s terrace, International Center Goa (Dona Paula), and at the Goa University,” she adds. They are planning to publish a work on 35 years of plays.
AWARDS & MORE
Fluent in the Portuguese language, culture and theatre, she was a guest speaker on the topic of ‘Theatre in Portuguese in 20th century Goa.’ She translated the play, No Flowers, No Wreaths, written by Orlando da Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister of Goan origin, into English, and was given the opportunity of presenting her translation to him.
She was awarded the Goa Sudharop Fellowship in 2003 (awarded by an NGO working for the betterment of Goa), and the Goa State Cultural Award for Excellence in Drama for the year 2012-13.
They conduct workshops for kids, and have had over 65 productions, and are still churning out more. “Anyone interested in the performing arts, or looking for an alternative life-changing experience, is welcome to join us! We always say, “Once a Mustard Seed, always a Mustard Seed!” says Goa’s eminent theater celebrity.
If you would like to join the ‘The Mustard Seed Art Company’, feel free to contact +91 7038141165