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Fluke moments in Theatre

The amazing thing about the theatre is that it is a ‘live’ medium. The magic is in the moment and the circumstance. That particular performance can never be repeated. By that very nature, we are not always in control of the circumstances. Things can go spectacularly wrong, or something else might impede that particular performance beyond repair, like the Hidden Fires  show at the Bandra Amphitheatre where they were drowned out by a DJ at a wedding at the Taj Lands End.
But every so often, a magical moment happens. Unplanned, but is able to take the performance to even higher levels of appreciation. These are specific to THAT particular performance. So here goes my countdown – flukes that worked.  I was not witness to all these, so some of them are part of theatre legend. Unfortunately I couldn’t find ten, so here’s the seven I did find. If you know some more, please add.

1.    Chinese Junk
The play was Robert LePage’s Dragon Trilogy. Staged in a hangar in a harbour, the final scene called for the large hangar doors to be opened, so the audience could see the sun set on the water. On one particular evening, by some happenstance, a large Chinese Galleon was passing by at the precise moment that the hangar doors opened. The audience gasped at the beautifully fitting image, unknown that this was not actually part of the show.

2.    Bombs away!:
Yael Crishna tells me of a staging of Rage’s Two Steps Behind at Mysore Association during Diwali time. The theatre is not the most sound-proof of rooms, and the sound of the fire crackers engulfed the auditorium. But since the play takes place in an abandoned location where three people have been kidnapped by terrorist, the surrounding ‘gun fire’ added an extra dimension.

3.    Please keep you mobile phones ON:
An interrogation room. Already dimly lit. Two policemen are questioning a suspect. This was the scene of Confessions, when suddenly the electricity failed at Prithvi Theatre. While the producers and technicians scrambled to restore the power, the actors continued with the interrogation. First the audience thought it was part of the play, but soon they realised that the lights were not returning anytime soon. One by one members of the audience pulled out their mobile phones and shone it on the actors. Soon the entire seen was lit by the glow of the cellular devices. When the power returned there was applause all around. Truly it takes actors and audience to make theatre happen!

4.    Candle Light Vigil:
Another power failure story. This time on Opening Night. The play was Shikara. A packed Sophia Bhabha of invitees crowded expectantly into the theatre. Mid way through the show, the electricity failed. The panic was evident on the faces first time producers until someone suggested continuing with candles. Candles were borrowed from an audience member’s home and after a twenty minute delay the play resumed. When the lights finally did return, the cast were given a excellent round of applause.

5.    Expensive Set:
This one actually happened to us at QTP. Atul Kumar’s Company Theatre used to run a programme called “Theatre-at-Home”, where plays would be staged at someone house. Someone was moving into his new colony in Thane, and before he brought his furniture in, he thought it would be apt if he staged a play in the home as a house warming for all his neighbours. So our play Norm & Ahmed was to be part of a double bill, along with Voices.
  N&A  is set at a bus stop in Sydney where two strangers are taking shelter from the rain. We turned up at the house and quickly realised that the balcony would be the best place to stage this. What was amazing was just as the performance was about to start, the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengeance. So the two actors in the balcony (aka bus stop), appeared actually taking shelter from the rain with the spray hitting them. For a play made on a shoe string budget, this really was a welcome addition to the production design.

6.    Dancer stops traffic:
I know I wrote about this a few months ago. It happened during a Thespo platform piece called A.T.T.A.C.H.E.D.  A site specific performance during which dancers used all the various areas of the outside of Prithvi Theatre. One dancer was across the road at the footsteps of Prithvi House. At the appropriate moment she stepped out into the small lane that separates Prithvi Theatre from Prithvi House. Just as she took her first steps, a car pulled up to allow its passengers to alight. The driver showing great restraint and presence of mind. He simply paused. Didn’t honk. Didn’t reverse. Just waited. The result – the dancer was beautifully, spontaneously and unintentionally lit by the car’s headlights. This little moment lifted the entire experience of the site specific piece.

7.    Rodent Menace:
It is truly a rare moment when the presence of a rat actually adds to a performance than takes away from it. Most rat sighting are met with disgust and squeals. So you’d imagine the same thing, when the resident Prithvi rate decided to traipse across stage during a performance of Ends & Beginnings, a play derived from Beckett’s Endgame. Except in this case, the rat chose his timing perfectly, entering a minute after the lines, “There’s a rat in the kitchen.”