Celebrate The Art Of Stories At Kommune’s Spoken Fest | Verve Magazine
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January 11, 2019

Celebrate The Art Of Stories At Kommune’s Spoken Fest

Text by Shubham Ladha

Co-founder Roshan Abbas on the significance of storytelling and the new formats they’ve innovated for the festival this weekend

What do TV, theatre and radio personality, Roshan Abbas, VJ-turned-anchor, Gaurav Kapoor and indie musician, Ankur Tewari have in common?

Apart from being storytellers in their own medium, their common appreciation for the art led them to start Kommune, a platform for artists to nurture their talent for live spoken art performances and promote its awareness through videos on digital media. One of the most essential forms of communication, storytelling plays an important role in today’s world, which is virtually hyper-connected. While Kommune started four years ago in an apartment, its presence has expanded over time. Their performance fest, Spoken, now in its second edition, features a line-up of 65 artists and is attended by thousands in Mumbai’s Jio Garden.

We caught up with Abbas to learn more about Kommune’s significance, Spoken 2019’s curation and the journey between it.

What is the significance of Kommune in today’s age?

Roshan Abbas (RA): I genuinely believe that all of us have stories within and only some of us have the joy of turning that into a profession. But there are many other people who have a story and want to tell it, but don’t have a platform. And that’s where Kommune as an idea began; if you have even a small idea of a story in the performing arts – dance, theatre, storytelling, poetry or music – that was where it could be created.

I do believe that in today’s day and age, where everyone is constantly trying to create an image of themselves behind a screen, the one thing about performing arts is, because it is a human-engaging medium, there is really no pretence between the performer and the audience and when you drop that veil, there is so much more humanity and vulnerability. We have been able to give a voice to a generation that very often seems to be hidden behind a screen. Kommune is a non-judgemental platform where people must get comfortable with the idea that they’re in a safe space – that’s when there’s such an outpouring of stories on a very human level.

How’s the journey been from the start of Kommune to the second edition of Spoken?

RA: I am a big consumer of life experiences – even when I travel abroad and I had heard from friends about the joy of the Edinburgh or the Glastonbury festival, or Coachella and Burning Man – whenever I heard about these festivals, I thought if I ever create a festival, it must have the spirit of these events.

When we crossed 100,000 subscribers on YouTube my basic thought was even if 1% of those land up, it will be 1000 people – that was the precursor in terms of scientifically trying to say, if 1000 people come, we can at least create a groundswell. There was a vision in my head of people sitting on the ground in a Hyde Park-kind of location and listening to people – an immersive experience. When we started with the budget, I used to go to sponsors and talk to them. Performers, because of Kommune having been around, were far more excited, but the sponsors were still thinking twice, but I managed to convince them. Last year the outpouring on social media was so much that brands noticed it and reached out to us. All of them are saying that storytelling is at the core of their brand and at the core of the festival, so that is a great synergistic partnership.

We do a ‘Young Poet’s’ area and get over 1000 entries, which is phenomenal because it means there are a 1000 people who are hobbyists but are looking at this as a profession. We do feel that when people gather at something that becomes the holy grail of what you do, then it’s reason for you to go back and say, “I’m going to work my ass off this year to be called to perform at Spoken.”

What kind of a line-up can we expect this year? How did you curate these artistes?

RA: There are 65 performers. From Prateek Kuhad to Indian Ocean and many more. We’ve also got the likes of Jim Sarbh, Anya Johar, Kubra Sait and Rajshri Deshpande, as well as different formats we’re trying out, where poets are performing together. There’s a poem being mimed by 20 actors.

Our curation philosophy is “never before, never again”. Lazy curation is when you have access to folks who will come and do the same thing they always do. Then people don’t want to come. The beauty of not appointing one single curator, but having five to six people — who all travel and are exposed to shows around the world — is that they bring talent without ego to the table, and objectively decide what works and what doesn’t. A lot of performers expected us to just invite them but we refused… if we can create opportunities to force people to become masters of their craft, it will only help them.

Spoken 2019 will be held on 12th and 13th of January, 2019 in Mumbai’s Jio Garden. You can find more information here.

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