Performing my solo play, LET IT BE ART! & Teaching my Master Acting Workshop, “The Art of Transformation” in Kerala, New Delhi and Mumbai – 2010
by RONALD RAND
by RONALD RAND
In Thissur, Kerala, I attend the first day of the CPRACSIS International Conference on Body, Space, and Technology.
When I arrive at the Conference I soon meet Dr. C. S. Biju, Director of CPRACSIS (Centre for Performance Research and Cultural Studies in South Asia), and also other distinguished teachers, directors, performers and theatre practioners including Sri. G. P. Despande, Sri. Sadanand Menon, Boris Daussa-Pastor, Padmini Rangarajan, Satish Pawade, Sunil Kumar S., R. Prasanna Venkatesan, and K.C. Manavendranath (Research Director of the Ankanam Theatre Group in Thissur).
During the day, as well as the next day, I listen to different theatre practitioners and professors delivering their Papers on performance in India and America, technology, dance, puppetry, theater techniques, several different Indian performance rituals, and I also deliver a Paper on Harold Clurman and The Group Theatre.
Those in the audience ask me about Stella Adler and when she studied with Stanislavsky in Paris, what she had learned and brought back to The Group Theatre – a subject I know very well. On both days we’re served a most delicious Indian lunch. Every moment is very special.
On the way back to my hotel I pass a large black Brahmin cow lazily munching on the grass a few feet away from the busy bus station. Of course!!
The night before I am to perform, everyone gathers on the grounds of St. Thomas College to watch a Teyyam performance by Dr. Jayarajan V. In a brightly glowing pink costume, head-dress, bracelets, necklaces, gloves, and pointed shoes, he depicts a God as he dances. He is accompanied by two shirtless men playing large drums. A large bonfire on the ground is lit, and as the drumming grows louder, he dances across and through the flames several times, his movements in step with the music. I feel transported to another time and place when this ritual was necessary for the life of its village.
A Shadow Puppet performance is next, performed by Ramachandran Pulaivar. Several candles are very clear in the darkness, lit in a row behind a long screen. Singing is heard coming from a tape, as various thin puppets in the shape of Gandhi, different animals, people, and trees are raised behind the screen, re-enacting the story of Gandhi’s life.
The next night I perform LET IT BE ART! It is the first time in my ten years of performing the play, that I perform outside, under the stars, in a courtyard with tall trees behind me. This is my set! Plus a few chairs, tables and rugs are set up to create Harold Clurman’s living room. 50 to 60 chairs face me and they are soon filled by a most enthusiastic audience.
At curtain call, the audience is on their feet, which is most gratifying, and some of the professors come up to me telling me how glad they have had the opportunity of “meeting” Harold Clurman.
During a short talk-back, I’m asked what I have learned from continuing to perform the play so many times. I share how it’s always the “first time” as I never know what my set will be, that there is always a new audience, that I trust in the moment, had once written me in a letter: “We must raise our eyes up to see the wonder and beauty around us, to always remind ourselves to be human.”
By the time the taxi deposits me in the suburb of Karol Bugh, where my host, a very fine gentleman, Deepak Bonsal, is waiting for me, it was late in the evening. I am so glad to meet him as thick fog swirls around us, blanketing the houses and streets. He brings me to an efficiency apartment, near the R.K. Films & Media Academy where I will be performing and teaching over the next three days. It’s a chilly 44 degrees, and the room is also quite cool – a vast cry from the warmth of the south.
The next morning students from the Academy arrive to walk me to class. A splendid way to start the day!
R.K. Films & Media Academy was founded by N.C. Bansal in 1997. At the door I’m greeted by a large picture of Shiva, and stepping inside I see bright red and yellow walls and furnishings – very energizing.
Downstairs I quickly spring into action to set up for my matinee performance. While I arrange my set, the students set up lights and then we run a short tech rehearsal. The Chairman of the Academy attends the performance, and at the curtain call I receive a beautiful bouquet of roses! A young student introduces me, and I have a spirited question and answer with the students.
The next two days I conducted my acting workshop, adapting Stanislavky’s chart of the “Method of Physical Actions” to the young students who are studying to be film directors, announcers, film editors, and camera operators. I share with them their responsibility in the creative process, to respect one another by being organized, on time, and informed of everything they need to know to accomplish their objectives. How important it is to read, and understanding what those before us have accomplished. One student, Shankey, takes it to heart, and tells me although he’s not used to reading, he wants a copy of my book and then immediately gets another book from the library. He’s also in charge of the sound studio and conducts a wonderful interview with me for his program on You Tube.
I visit the National School of Drama (and the Academy arranges for a student to go with me). I have the pleasure of meeting and talking with the Dean of Academics, Abhilash Pillai, in his office.
Once outside In the courtyard I notice a very distinguished gentleman, and begin a conversation with him. I tell him I travel around the world bringing Harold Clurman to many theatres and universities. He quickly replies: “Harold Clurman! He had the most dramatic influence on my work as an actor and as a director.” I tell him I will be performing in Mumbai. “I want to come. Please call me.” And gives me his card: Alyque Padamsee! (I soon learned he is the godfather of Indian advertising, patriarch of English theatre in India (the director who introduced “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” to India), and an extraordinary actor – he had played Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s film, “Gandhi” opposite Ben Kingsley – plus, and I had no idea, he is the father of the young director I will be staying with in Mumbai!! What an amazing coincidence!!
After landing I am so happy to meet a friend of Quasar, Harsha Khorana from Kolkotta. He is planning to work with Quasar and his exciting theater festival.
In the taxi, as we slowly move through the thick traffic, I can see modern-looking homes, very crowded hovels and dwellings among the modern apartment buildings.
I’m very glad to arrive at Quasar’s home (or Q as he is known), and we have a most engaging conversation. An enterprising young man, he is a director, co-founder of Q Theatre Productions, a playwright and a true man of the theatre. Quite well-known in India for his productions of “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” “All My Sons,” “Minorities,” “Acid,” and “Kindertransport,” he tells me about his experiences as the assistant director on a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which opened in India, and then toured to England, Italy, Australia, Canada and the United States.
His passion for the theatre clearly comes from having such illustrious parents as Dolly Thakore and Alyque Padamsee. Q also tells me about a ten-day theatre festival he created ten years ago, which showcases new plays and workshops called Thespo. (He now acts as its consultant). And an outgrowth of Thespo has been the formation of new theatre groups like Akvarious, Proscenium Theatre and the First Play Theatre in Mumbai, and it has brought to the public of India new artists: Ajay Krishman, Ram Ganesh, Akarsh Khurana, Nadir Khan, and Arghya Lahiri.
The next morning when I awake I can see a view between the apartment buildings of the Arabian Sea! I take a rickshaw to Anupam Kher’s prestigious Actor Prepares School for Actors in Santa Cruz. First, we have a tech rehearsal in the large performance space. Suraj Vyas and his kind students help me with my set, and I also meet the Dean of the School, Yashraj Jadhav.
When I return in the early evening, I perform to an over-flowing audience of enthusiastic students, including Anupam Kher and Alyque Padamsee.
At the end of the performance, during the Q and A, Anupam Kher praises my work and also shares his experiences as a young actor and how he, in bringing to life a man much older in years than himself, found a way to express great emotional pain. He tells us he drew upon his immediate reality: What if this film didn’t do well, his career would be over, and that brought the moment alive for him. Both Anupam and Alyque join me on stage for photos, and Anupam presents me with gifts.
The next two days I am fortunate to share my Workshop with the students at Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares School for Actors, as we work together on improvisations, movement and energy exercises, scenes (I gave three actresses a scene from Shaw’s St. Joan). It is a most enthusiastic and exciting experience.
My entire time in India made me aware of how easy it is to take what you have for granted. How one individual brought his fellow citizens forward through the belief in non-violence, and to never cease striving to make this world a more peaceful world to live in. And how much we can learn from one another.