Sankar Venkateswaran [India]
“Criminal Tribes Act”

Theater|Post-performance Workshop|Symposium

©ZTS/Christian Altorfer
Questioning the positions we take in our society, Indian director presents his “theater as a tool”

Indian director Sankar Venkateswaran runs a theater in South India’s Kerala province, ceaselessly experimenting with the dramatic arts in his characteristic ways. His 2016 rendition of Shogo Ota’s The Water Station at the Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival, along with the rest of his activities, represents a bold attempt to reinterpret and update Western-centric understandings of the history of theater from the perspective of Asia.
The TCT ’19 performance of his new play, Criminal Tribes Act (premiered in 2017 at Zürich’s Theater Spektakel), will be his first in Tokyo. The “Criminal Tribes Act,” which was in effect from 1871 – 1952 under the colonial British government in India, sought to crack down on nomadic tribes (street performers, fortune tellers, peddlers, etc) and their descendants by proclaiming them “criminals,” with effects still resonating today. In the play, two actors speak before the audience in their respective native languages, English and Kannada. The stories of their own origins, memories, and research reports gradually throw into relief the structures of numerous phenomena, including the social discrimination that has emerged with the process of modernization, as well as the reinforcement of the caste system that has been in place since ancient times. Attending to these proceedings, we, the audience, must also come to confront the discriminatory structures lurking within the individual and social unconscious.
Following the two performances, there will be a post-performance workshop and an opening symposium on January 19th and January 20th, respectively. The workshop will allow the audience to share in a dialogue with the director and actors; the symposium will focus on festivals and theatrical spaces.

Program details

January 19th [Sat] / 15:00 – 17:30
Performance of “Criminal Tribes Act” and Post-performance Workshop
* Following the performance, a workshop lending further insight will be held with the director and actors. Open to all audience members.
Workshop Facilitators | Sankar Venkateswaran, Chandra Ninasam, Anirudh Nair

January 20th [Sun] / 13:00 – 16:00
Performance of “Criminal Tribes Act” and Theater Commons Tokyo ’19 Opening Symposium
Panelists |
Sankar Venkateswaran (Theater Director)
Reiji Ando (Art Critic)
Akira Takayama (Port B, Theater Director) and others


Sankar Venkateswaran
Sankar Venkateswaran is a theatre director from India. Born in Calicut, Kerala, Venkateswaran studied directing at the School of Drama and Fine Arts, University of Calicut, after which he trained at the Theatre Training and Research Programme, Singapore. In 2013 he received the Ibsen Scholarship from Teater Ibsen, Norway, which furthered his work with the indigenous people in Attappadi, Kerala. His following works, including Criminal Tribes Act, reflect the shift in his working context. In 2015 and 2016, Venkateswaran served as the artistic director for the International Theatre Festival of Kerala. During his term, the program emphasized South-South exchanges to resist the Eurocentric agendas of cultural practice. He gained attention in Japan with his production of Shogo Ota’s The Water Station at Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival 2016. Currently he lives and works out of the theatre he built in Attappadi.

©Gabriela Neeb


January 19th [Sat] / 15:00 – 17:30
Performance of “Criminal Tribes Act” and Post-performance Workshop

January 20th [Sun] / 13:00 – 16:00
Performance of “Criminal Tribes Act” and Theater Commons Tokyo ’19 Opening Symposium

Performance times

Performance approx. 45 min.
Post-performance Workshop approx. 90 min.
Opening Symposium approx. 120 min.


Libra Hall
1F Minato Park Shibaura, 1-16-1 Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0023

How to Participate

Booking essential. Show general admission pass on entry.
Buy Pass


English, Kannada (with Japanese subtitles)


Directed by Sankar Venkateswaran
Performed by Chandra Ninasam, Anirudh Nair
Production management, Japanese subtitles by Satoko Tsurudome
Interpreter|Kanoko Tamura (Art Translators Collective), Kyle Yamada (Allergen Theatre)
Stage support|URAK
Produced by Theatre Roots & Wings
In cooperation with The Saison Foundation and Kyoto University of Art and Design
Venue support|Minato City


Related program

Theater Commons Tokyo ’19 Opening Symposium