Kochi’s entertainment calendar has stand-up comedy, open mics, poetry readings and more sharing the stage

Stand-up comedy, open mics, storytelling, poetry readings, Indie-music, theatre acts have made a distinct place in Kochi’s entertainment calendar The new gig in Kochi

At an open mic event, Kochi in Love, 22- year-old Alan K shared a very personal story. One which demanded a lot off him emotionally. He relived the pain of coming out gay to his dying father. The audience, at the event by Papercup Events with Queer Kochi Collective, was mainly members of the LGBTQI+ community. “I was comfortable on that platform, and in the knowledge that my story would resonate with the audience. Events such as this have a social role – you can vent, find liberation and develop coping mechanisms,”he says.

The open mic was among an increasing number of such events that have made a space for themselves across the city. This year, especially the last six months, has seen an explosion of such live, art/ performances.

“Kochi is ‘woke’ to art,” says Deepthi Sreenivasan, one of the founders of Art House 18.

By art, Deepthi means live/performance arts, which Art House 18 organises besides Indie-music concerts. Initially they started out with house concerts, in their house, which they later moved to an outside venue. “My brother is an Indie musician. Finding a space to perform for them is not easy so we decided to get together and formed Art House to create that space,” she says.

While classical concerts, theatre, dance performances, with the sabhas and music festivals, have their regular followers the newer forms — stand-up comedy, open mics, storytelling, poetry readings, Indie-music, theatre — too have now found a place in the city’s entertainment calendar. Not only as a source of entertainment, with established acts and artistes, but also as a platform for self expression of lesser known and budding artists.

“When I was in school, there wasn’t much else to do it was either Marine Drive or Oberon Mall. In Bengaluru, as a college student I had options to consume entertainment, other forms of it besides films. I got accustomed to it and when I returned, I felt I was missing something,” says Sanjay Sundar. He set up Papercup Events, with friend Aparna Thankaraj, which organised Kochi in Love, this weekend they will organise their fourth event.

Comedy and music are the most popular , but open mics are very popular among the teens who are huge consumers of such events. “These are school kids…with so much talent, initiative and confidence. They will pick the guitar or the mic and start performing – singing, dancing or stand-up,” says Sanjay. Deepthi sees the trend as laying the foundation for these kids — as performers, organisers and consumers too.

Consistency is key to keeping the audience interested, keeping the events coming at regular intervals. “You have to do that, put out an event every month and try to have a mix ,” says Abraham Vadakkan of V12 Verve. He says The Cuckoo Club opening in Kochi suggests that the time is ripe for such events. At their last event Verve showcased five bands and a display artist; the next is scheduled for December. “We want to provide a performance space for local artists,” he says. They don’t intend, for now, to get into open mics instead they have the open call system of choosing artists where they listen to them before putting them on stage. The aim is to curate the event in such a way that it ensures a quality experience.

Since these are ticketed events, the onus is on the organiser. The prices could be anywhere above ₹100, inclusive or exclusive of food cost if held at a coffee shop/restaurant space. The free pass culture still rules, “We are not making a lot of money, this is a niche scene. People should choose to go for such events and pay for it. It will take time but one hopes that we are working towards creating a space for such events,” says Deepthi. After splitting the revenue with the space, artists and equipment provider, the organiser isn’t left with much.

Theatre practitioner Pooja Mohanraj echoes the sentiment. “If ticket pricing is steep then it cuts out the college-going crowd. One needs to think of more than breaking even if you want to establish. Don’t get caught up in the finances, give it a year or two, take a risk, cut ticket prices…” As each venue attempts to establish itself in relation to such events, she makes a case for collaborative effort where all parties involved work together to create quality content and sustain the interest in such a way that it is viable – artistically and financially – besides keeping it vibrant.

At the heart of this willingness for new forms of artistic expression lies the Kochi Muziris Biennale, which brought new experiences. “It made art accessible, and affordable to people. Arousing curiosity in people to check out what it is,” adds Pooja. Travel and the subsequent exposure to similar events, reverse migration – return to Kochi from bigger cities such as Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru and/or the necessity of alternative means of entertainment and perhaps, most importantly, the need for a community gave the trend an impetus.

Artist Radha Gomathy explains what these spaces mean poetically, “these spaces kindle bonds based on creativity, there is a communal need. These are oases in an urban jungle.”

Such spaces perform important social functions where conversations can start, those that are often sidelined such as mental health and sexuality. Humans of Kerala, for instance, had a mental health interaction at Donut Factory where psychiatrist Sanju George participated. At the time he said, of the venue, that such spaces worked well with the younger population.

“A lot of people, especially young, live alone in the city. Such spaces are a chance to get together, meet people with similar tastes –bonded by art and friends. There is a sense of belonging connections made in such spaces are not out of obligation. These ties are 100% genuine,” says Alan.

Last month 40-odd people gathered at the Kerala History Museum for a storytelling session. In the space among the exhibits, Vikram Sridhar sat on the floor along with most of the attendees and told his stories. At the session, which was for adults, he used his voice (sans mics) – he acted some parts, sang using the iktaara, and used movement to supplement the action. “It is more intimate, it is closer,” Vikram says of the seating and his style. The space was unconventional, as was the performance.

As the new forms thrive, they cause disruption in the perception of the performance space. The performer and the audience are now part of each other, the proscenium comprises both and the conventional stage is absent. “The space is inclusive of the audience, it is comes to you,” says storyteller Smitha Nair, Marigold Creative. With expression and art forms becoming mainstream and democratic, the creative space is casual and often flexi.

These are usually attached to popular hangouts – read coffee shops and restaurants – Chai Cofi, Donut Factory, The Brewing Company, Nosh Haus, Drunken Monkey, French Toast, and Papaya (Papaya Space). The events are either held in the restaurants or in a space on the premises. While most organisers move around a bit, not sticking to one space there are others who associate with one space. For example Mumbai-based The Cuckoo Club events are held at French Toast and V12 Verve with Papaya Space.

When Hari Subhas opened the Drunken Monkey franchise near Jawahar Nagar, he catered for space above it for a hall for small events. “There are plenty of larger halls, but not too many smaller spaces for small gatherings,” he says. Comedy Lounge recently held a stand-up event by Sai Kiran, Kochi in Love was held here.

One of the earliest compact, alternative performance space is River Bourne Centre in Tripunithura which has hosted theatre events, workshops, dance, music performances and art shows. Anarga Rajesh says that although it took time – curating events and getting people to come – the five years of RBC have seen an increase in people turning up at events.

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