4 Corners - Natasha Agarwal gives an account of her experience on a Goa residency project with Hartman de Souza

Natasha is a theatre actress and was part of Team Thespo X in 2008:


I was sitting in the audience mouth agape when I first saw Arman and Terence perform ‘For Mother Earth’. Their energy and intensity was … palpable. By this time I’d already committed myself to the residency led by their director, Hartman de Souza, and this was my first taste of what lay in store. At the end of the performance I remember walking slowly to Hartman, and after the initial dumb struck moments, telling him that I don’t think I could do that. His response was that the first performance date was in fifteen days. I didn’t believe it. I thought he was joking, he often does that. He wasn’t.

Within a week’s time we were in Goa for our month long theatre residency. We stayed at a farm in Maina Village, Quepem. The farm had its own river running through it, waterfalls, and unending wilderness to get lost in! Add to that, our rehearsal space was where the owner’s husband Tony’s ashes still lay buried! I guess from Day 1 we knew we were off to a slightly ‘different’ experience. Did I mention that the nearest place we got phone coverage was 12 kms away?

We began the residency with lighting candles at rehearsal place in Tony’s memory. We were assured that its perfectly all right to do Tandav on top of the memorial tablet there – yes, Hartman went on to demonstrate the fact, obviously. Next was a blindfolded trust walk/trek through the wilderness to one of the smaller rivulets. We traced our way back through the butterfly alley, took a pit stop at the river to bathe as buffalos and then headed back to Hartman’s cooking (which also added to the ‘different’ experience). It felt like we were in a different world.

We rehearsed twice a day, putting in 5-6 hours of work every day. We yelled, we cried, we sang, we danced, we learnt new massage techniques, all in the garb of acting. The performance we were working towards was closest to physical theatre, comprising of influences from dance, acapella, kallari, chants and mimicry. We worked together on 4 poems, 3 of which are villanelles, written by Uma Narayan, Chair of Department of Philosophy at Vassar College, New York. Together they comprised an hour long performance. The theme was the environment and its eminent bleak future in the absence of intervention from all.

No, none of us were environmentalists walking in. Of course we loved our nature walks, but didn’t think about it beyond that. But staying at the foothills of the Ghats changed that somehow, the afternoon river bathing sessions, midnight walks with the fireflies lighting the way, quiet evenings at the far away bench under the stars where no one but the dogs would spot you, the peace of Tony’s place even at midnight, the sound of the rain approaching us through the thick wild forests before it actually came to us, plucking fruits from the tree when we wanted juice, the joy of jumping into any water body without a care in the world, knowing that the centipede really wouldn’t crawl into our ear despite the horrendous stories from our parents! Yes, staying at the Ghats changed our outlook a. From our first tentative steps into the gushing river that first day, we’d come a long way. We now trusted nature and cared about it.

With that came the realization that what we were saying through the poems we performed was more than real. The fight against mining that made bare pits out of the tall hills became more real. When we got lost in our trek with the children, and found ourselves in the middle of an abandoned mine, the stark contrast of the thick green forest, slashed directly into the barren hill spoke of things to come and made it hit home. What sort of world will we leave to our children, to those who are not even born. Our theatre had a cause. A cause we understood more and more with every day that we stayed at the farm. This understanding fuelled our acting and lent us focus. We strove to be messengers to the audience to take action ‘For Mother Earth’.

Our month in Goa became a month and a half as we took our message to the youth through our performances. We performed at 20 odd places, took theatre out of the public auditoriums and into schools, colleges, churches, youth groups, peoples’ dining tables even, reached out to more than 4000 people. We stared into the eyes of the cyclist club of twelve people, strove to reach out to the last person in the 300plus audience at Manovikas School, and struggled to change our performance while on stage and not smile into the eyes of the 3 year olds while performing at the Chowgle Alternative School. We started a campaign to save the Western Ghats through a petition to save the Ghats that is gathering signatures even right now. But most importantly, we learned to care about the nature a little more than we did earlier, and used that in our theatre. And yeah, we earned some money while at it!

As I look back the month and half in Goa, I know I’ve grown as an actor. What’s more is that the hunger to act and learn more has grown even more. At the beginning of this experience, Hartman had told us that his purpose for this residency was to try and ‘corrupt’ us. I think he succeeded, and has left us hungry for more.