Ghafir Akbar hits pandemic rewind with his 1-minute digital theatre series

Ghafir Akbar's ‘re:lapse(d)’ video series - surrounding pandemic reflections and memories - was shot in his bedroom. Photo: Handout

Were the last two years of lockdown just the passing of time? Or was it more than that?

Theatre director/actor/educator Ghafir Akbar offers a curious (and intimate) study of such questions in his 24-episode digital theatre project called re:lapse(d).

“When I look back, I would want to remember it truthfully and honestly. I want to remember how difficult and extraordinary it was. And how mundane and tedious it really was. And how much I changed during the pandemic. It is my attempt to catalogue my own experience and do it through a medium that was so new to me ... digital theatre,” says Ghafir.

Supported by the Cultural Economy Development Agency’s (Cendana) Create Now Digital Grant, re:lapse(d) is a series of minute-long videos that explore Ghafir’s state of mind – and being – during the lockdown.

“As the single performer, this project catalogues my body in the different spaces I inhabit, my mental consciousness in and out of stasis, and document the varied interior and exterior life that I (and in turn the audience) have been experiencing since March 2020,” explains Ghafir, who recorded the videos between January and May this year in his bedroom.

“Impulses and provocations from the outside world enter my bedroom."

There are several layers to the live performance, with the use of light and music, found and original text and objects.

“In turn, I will respond in various performance styles including rehearsed and improvised performance, which may include forms of acting, movement, and expressionistic choreography,” he adds.

To date, Ghafir has posted 13 videos on his YouTube channel, each presenting the actor in various lockdown situations.

In one video, he is located in an extremely claustrophobic white room, with only the back of his head visible, watching a Zoom meeting. Slowly, he falls asleep and collapses to the ground but not before his hand shoots out from beneath the table and turns off the Zoom call.

“The aggressive force of the pandemic has affected me in more ways that I can comprehend. My identity as a person, an artist, and my relationship to my world is being reset. So, my question to myself is: how will I honestly remember my time during lockdown?

“Before I forget, before memory deceives me, it is imperative that I itemise and archive these memories before I form false future narratives. If I want to stay relevant in creating work in the future, I must have evidence of my time during the pandemic. I hope many others will find it as important,” he concludes.

Last December, Ghafir presented a new live theatre production How To Be Alone at DPAC, starring Jo Kukathas. It was a collaborative effort with US-based director/dramaturg Joel Waage, which discussed an intriguing proposition – being alone does not imply loneliness.

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