at unpredictable intervals in the intentionally-unfinished amphitheatre
of Auroville's Visitor's Centre, the Academic Genius Brothers'
performances may question taste, but packs the house. Like a
review of Aurovilian events and foibles, AGBs allows a sometimes
over-serious community to laugh at itself. The fact that the
show often generates anger and outrage means it must be doing
Starring creators are Paul and Wazo, and the performance includes
regular guest star and rock 'n roll legend, Aurovilian Johnny,
who pumps out tunes from the days when music was music and still
had words. Paul and Wazo make up the majority of the evening,
performing original songs, satirical irreverances and tricky
moments of improvisation. Although preparation sometimes stretches
to a full afternoon, the show always appears fresh and lively
and the performers desperately wide-eyed. Imagine three squirrels
in a glass box trained to receive an electric shock the moment
they stop performing some little dance taught from birth, and
you have the Academic Genius Brothers.
see also the Fertile
Forest Vandi Theatre
Often referred to as the Leonardo Da Vinci of Auroville, Australian
Johnny ('44) combines great artist, brilliant mathematician,
playwright and Elvis Presley impersonator into one erudite,
patched lungi-wearing abominable snowman of the tropics. The
man can be found most days tinkering in that fruit-tree forest
of solitude called Fertile.
Between the sun-dried mongoose hanging on the old school wall
and his packing-crate workshop, the latest snap-on Sterling
Engine appliance takes shape in his hands. It's possible he's
wearing those deep blue-lensed Roy Orbison welding goggles he
picked up during his last Chennai junk mart sojourn.
openly admits to wasting massive amounts of otherwise productive
work time on his latest hare-brained renewable energy project.
No less than three burly men are required to operate his Sterling
engine-powered dosa mixer, when previously the job required
one (much less sweaty) woman and a hand grinder. The not-quite-disturbing-because-you-couldn't-describe-it
smell of the composting toilet has only recently faded into
something less challenging. The aging relic of Solar Cooker
7 plays host to a well-developed vine and assorted small birds
in one of Fertile's backfields. A mysterious concrete cylinder
with a concrete fondue cow-head emblem behind the kitchen contains
the ten year-old remains of methane fuel from the cowshit gas
style and reaction against military-school education labeled
him "the best teacher in Auroville". Early students
of his converted chicken shed schoolyard began their days with
meditation, writing down their dreams and Pythagoras in the
sand. With a curriculum alternating between free association
poetry and guest lectures on atomic warfare, boredom was rare.
Because new arrivals spent their first school days designing
and building their own desks, graffiti and vandalism were either
non-existent or beautiful. Most students from that time have
either graduated from or have almost completed their first if
not second university or college degrees.
Johnny also features
regularly in the cabaret review-styled show The Academic Genius
Brothers, warming up the crowd with rockin' tunes from late
greats like Chubby Checker, Mick Jagger and The King. His set
normally moves on through beat poetry to woo the mostly urban
Aurovilian audience towards a diet of home-grown ragi porridge,
his daily staple and religious foundation.
With a bearded face resembling popular images of the Christian
messiah, British Paul ('66) was unsurprised in his early Auroville
days, when people often referred to him as 'Jesus'. It was only
until he took to striding out of the Fertile forest shirtless
after a day of tree-planting and seed-collecting, that the nickname
continued. From then on most were just speechless in the presence
of his bronzed skin, baseball-shoulders and washboard abs.
Initially most of the gossip about Paul focused on his appearance,
which was generally taken to preclude anything upstairs. For
how could one so statuesque be lumbered with further burden?
But destiny long ago saw fit to prove those Auroville gossips
wrong. Not only did it equip him at birth with a startling wit
and lightning mind, it moreover conspired to direct him through
Edinburgh University and come out with a degree in forestry.
Today Paul divides
his time between producing and performing in the hit traveling
bullock-cart theatre show,
Muthu and Bapoune, and either managing Fertile forest or hiking
through distant hills in search of rare and exotic seeds. These
and others mailed from far away places complement the existing
set at Auroville's new botanical gardens co-founded by him and
other Aurovilian greenworkers.
Paul forms half
the backbone, the pelvis and crucial pieces of the Academic
Genius Bothers. He, along with thesbian partner Wazo, create
the spark, the kernel, the seed that makes the show and the
audience laugh. Occasionally other performers participate, hanging
heavily on the show's mighty skeleton that Paul forms so much
Straight from the anarchic radical revolutionary theatre streets
of Paris, like a bird Wazo ('52) flew to Auroville to strike
terror into the hearts of Aurovilian landed gentry. With little
regard for his own safety Wazo regularly writes and performs
theatre that makes Auroville laugh wickedly at the foibles of
bureaucratic bungling in the city of dawn. Blessed with Marcel
Marceau mime skills and a comic's gait, even when he's trying
to be serious he's funny, which sometimes frustrates him.
at birth, Wazo ('oiseau', the French word for 'bird') got his
name when after his arrival in Auroville in 1983, he constructed
a massive rickety wooden dragon-like bird which paraded, blazing
and bubbling with multicoloured paper and leading a bemused
convoy three kilometres from Kottakarai to the Amphitheatre,
to lay giant eggs filled with sweets and chocolates for the
children caught in its wake. The event was never forgotten and
Wazo remained Wazo ever since..
by his bald-but-for-a-ponytail head, Wazo charms audiences with
his coy infant smile. Performing and producing alongside Paul
Blanchflower in the hit traveling village show Muthu and Bapoune,
Wazo hams it up without compromise to riotous laughter.
Holed-up in the
artists' enclave Kalabhumi, Wazo acts as mentor to rising young
stars and sees himself selflessly as support and agent for the
talents of any young artist. Indeed, he has often worked together
with the Auroville Youth Atelier
(AYA) as musician and actor.
Wazo plays the wild card in the theatre of life and in the Academic
Genius Brothers. With an on-stage presence so fiery it burns,
Wazo spins like a top thrown with brilliant indignation. On
stage with Paul, Johnny and occasional guest Jesse (writer of
this article), sparks have been known to fly when Wazo cuts
loose. Frightening and fantastic, he brings another world to