4 Corners - Lessons from an England 'theatre trip'.

A Theatrical Education

Aakash Parekh, an IB Drama student from B.D. Somani school, shares a few insights from his experience at a devised theatre workshop in London and a few days with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Statford-Upon-Avon.

An enriching experience was on its way as I looked up at the edifice that held my seat for an exhilarating theatrical ride, scuttling through all sorts of genres and techniques, exercises and effective tools of the theatre that would broaden my outlook as an IB Theatre Arts candidate. I was at the American Church, Central London with over 130 young theatre enthusiasts from all over the world participating in the workshop organized by the International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA).

Focussed primarily on devised theatre, each day kicked off with exercises aimed at physicalising various situations, metamorphosis, creating montages with our bodies and having each one of these evolve through time by experimenting with different directorial choices. Working on improvisational exercises with people I hadn’t ever met before was exciting because no two people of the group had the same opinions or the same theoretical backgrounds. This led us to interpret and improvise simple situations like giving birth and marriage in entirely different theatrical styles. While some group-members chose to work with forms such as clowning and mime, the rest and I made suggestions of incorporating forms like puppetry and movement and even elements of dark humour. Heated arguments with people losing their cool and the impending dangers of catfights followed post which our supervisor annulled the session and made us do a whole bunch of conflict resolution theatre exercises! The most interesting revelation I attained from this session was that as student theatre practitioners, we have to be entirely convinced and honest about the interpretative directorial choices that we employ to suit our stimuli before we begin to devise performances. Appropriately enough, we were taken to watch two plays Warhorse and Raoul, the latter being a conglomeration of all the forms we as an ensemble were deliriously fighting over. Besides of course, the inherent opulence associated with theatre in London, I was amazed at how well Warhorse and Raoul broke the fourth wall and involved the audience - sometimes through technicals where pools of light spilled over the entire house and sometimes by actors moving through and interacting with groups of audience members, and yet fully retaining their characters. The audience reactions to these attempts were equally appreciative and encouraging!

My exploration of world theatre continued as I was exposed to the Elizabethan Theatre Scene at Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the greatest playwright the world has ever known – William Shakespeare. Having already seen As You Like It at the Globe Theatre in London, I went into the Courtyard Theatre of Stratford with surmounting expectations from the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Twelfth Night or What You Will directed by the eminent Gregory Doran. Looking through the production history of Twelfth Night, I was dumbfounded at how RSC directors in the past have chosen to interpret the setting and characters of the play. Some had employed extravagant and highly elaborate scenery while some chose to go with minimalist and metaphoric set-designs. This only boosted my excitement because I couldn’t wait to see what Gregory Doran had made of Twelfth Night this time around.

What I saw exceeded what I expected by far. An elegant Arabian scenery, controlled mood lighting and moreover, an exceedingly honest and convincing rendition of the music in Shakespeare’s words from the actors made it a fantastic evening. The special lighting effects to create a tempest using props on stage made the entire set come thunderously alive for that moment and shock the audience! It is exceedingly interesting to know in how many different ways, directors of the RSC have enlivened Shakespeare and yet with each new performance, the choices they employ seem way too perfect and fitting to have been anything else. Reflecting on what I derived from the performance, I participated in a post-performance discussion with an RSC executive Nick Walthon where I was given an opportunity to discern which elements of the play worked and didn’t. This exercise greatly catalysed perspective-building in me.

Post this brain-racking discussion, we had a Shakespearean make-up and wigs demonstration followed by a voice workshop wherein we were given a taste of what it took to be able to musically speak Shakespeare, pedantically adhering to the iambic pentameter he wrote in. Moreover, I also had the opportunity to direct two highly experienced Shakespearean actors on the basis of my interpretation of the stage-dynamics of a particular scene from Twelfth Night! That’s when I realised how difficult it was to block Shakespeare’s play and figure out intent an actor must have that best suits the performance. It was difficult because it could be absolutely anything! Convincing these actors of my choices and having them perform the scene the way I looked at it was even more exhilarating than having seen the same scene being performed in the play. It clearly explained the genius in Shakespeare’s writing and how it speaks differently to each one of us.

All in all, it has been an enthralling experience, one which is going to take a while to assimilate before I begin term in November. Equipped with a whole new bunch of theories, I look forward to applying them in future class-room situations and creating something spectacular to perform in various theatrical spaces as and when I am opportune in doing so with my fellow class-mates. Not only has it widened my horizons, but it has also made me a much more reflective and perceptive student of theatre and enthused me to pursue my passion for the same.

Aakash Parekh

Aakash is a student of B.D. Somani School, and is a budding theatre enthusiasts. He has worked as a technical assistant on two QTP plays, Project S.t.r.i.p. and Some Girl(s).