Theatrical Adventures of the Non-Adventurous
Time has passed. Most notably, we are now in the throes of a new year – titled by the number 2010. Sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Especially if you cannot hope to live each day from the comfort of your bed. Stepping out into the big bad world seems inevitable. My instincts are geared towards laziness and I enjoy nothing more than lounging around in my pajamas, sipping on various beverages, preferably alcoholic.
But, as citizens of this climate-changing world we do have responsibilities and duties – to do something relatively worthwhile, like doing your laundry at least once a week.
But, this is the theatre, and a world governed by inadequacies of the monetary kind, so it isn’t always possible to wash your sweaty costumes for the second, or even third show of the day. So, that leaves only one actual plausible goal – to search for new avenues so that you can get the chance to share your passion for performance in front of a crowd of people and hope to be applauded for it. Regardless of the stench emanating from your sweat glands; a smell that is appropriately disguised by an unusually large amount of cheap deodorant.
Veering from the topic of this article is not just easy, it is expected. When Mr. X (name hidden to prevent identity theft) asked me to write this article, he didn’t realize that he was handing me the keys to unadulterated BS (go figure).
Recently I worked on two plays. The first was an adaptation of “John Gabriel Borkman” written by the erstwhile Henrik Ibsen. This was an entirely new style of performance for me. I had no defined character in the play, but had to think through moments of the play as a different character in each section. There were no scenes or black outs or set changes. We performed in a seminar hall that was transformed into a theatre space. The audience sat on two opposite sides of the performance that was separated by a transparent sheet of fiber glass.
My longest monologue in the play was on a microphone facing the audience that was sitting literally two inches from my feet. For days I struggled with my monologue – first with trying to find right amount of movement and then deciding to perform the monologue solely on the microphone. The challenge was to understand the sound quality of my voice on the microphone and still have enough variation in my voice to keep the audience interested. The voice is so amplified on a microphone that there was no running away from clearly differentiating between one thought and the next. I had a tough time trying to find the right balance of volume and intonation due to the lovable microphone!
At various moments in the play, I thought through the text as John Gabriel Borkman and later as his son, Erhart Borkman. It was amazing to not enact the play as written, but to render the act of thinking through the text only within specific moments. Initially, we had removed a large chunk of the play to try and keep the play within 60 minutes. This was very difficult because Ibsen writes a minimum of 3 acts per play and conversations between his characters go on endlessly.
The finale of this play included snowfall. Without doubt, this was the show-stealing moment of the play for me. I had to go half-naked (yes, the tragedy) and then change into regal Norwegian attire right before the snow begins to fall. The snow enveloped all the actors on stage and during many rehearsals, I swallowed multiple tiny pieces of thermacol. I developed a love-hate relationship with the thermacol, and I highly recommend that all actors must one day work with some type of thermacol. It will teach you many a lesson about identifying the drift pattern of thermacol which can be very unpredictable when fed through a wind tunnel. You will learn to say your lines despite choking on it in the middle of your performance! In addition to thermacol-eating, I also learned how to free fall flat on my face without fear that I would squash my nose into pulp. Time well spent, I say!
My next escapade took me to Bangalore for a play called “Robinson and Crusoe”. It’s intended for children above 8 years, but we hope to endear adults to the worldly themes of love and friendship that exist in this play. For me, this play was a huge jump from anything I had ever done. There is stick-fighting in this play. Do I need to say any more? I’m not a fitness freak by any stretch of the imagination, and I love my burgers, fries and coca-cola. I was asked to perform for 80 minutes on a sloping roof in military gear, and indulge in physical, manly behaviour. It was a bit unrealistic, but somehow, after 30 grueling days and lots of running and stretching I managed to eke out a performance that didn’t look like I was trying to imitate Mr. Bean on a rooftop.
The physical nature of “Robinson and Crusoe” has given me a lot of insight into the dedication an actor needs to their own bodies. I fell sick many times during the course of rehearsals and was on painkillers and antibiotics through the performances of this play. I had bruises all over by the end of it and it took me a good two-three weeks to fully recover. I remember rehearsing in complete fear of my co-actors (all of whom are very fit and have a regular routine geared towards stage combat). It was a slow process to develop confidence and finally to come to terms with one’s own physical limitations. And to find ways to maximize your strengths and neutralize your weaknesses. (Yes, I know I sound like Napoleon trying to motivate his troops).
Some philosophical jargon seems apt for the conclusion of this article, so here goes - I am quickly realizing that the eventual performance of a play may or may not be exceptional, but the rehearsal period has to be an intense and honest effort from all involved. As an actor, I should be able to take away something tangible from each production, rather than hope to receive accolades for the final performance. We can never control whether people like or dislike a play. What we can control is the ability to push ourselves to create a transformation in ourselves – as actors and as human beings. I get the feeling that a whole lot of selflessness is necessary to give yourself completely to the rehearsal process. And to accomplish that is definitely not a walk in the park.
On that ‘Gandhian’ note, I shall conclude this rambling article with a daunting quote from Oscar Wilde - “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”.