4 Corners

Paris Diaries
by Priti Bakalkar

Sometime around end of last year I moved to Pondicherry to work with a theatre group there called “Indianostrum Théâtre”. The theatre group has produced and performed about 12 plays in last ten years since it was formed in the year 2007.
In December 2015 a three week long theatre workshop “Ecole Nomade” was conducted by Ariane Mnouchkine in Indianostrum Théâtre. More than 100 theatre practitioners across India and all over the world were gathered in Pondicherry and stayed together in a Government guest house- the atmosphere of Pondicherry then was like a theatre village. Post the workshop a team of 80 actors and technicians of Théâtre du Soleil arrived in Pondicherry  to train for a month and half in “Therukoothu” for their new production “Une Chambre en Inde” under  guidance of Kalalimamani P. K. Sambandham. This collaboration resulted in invitation for Indianostrum to perform for two months in Paris at TDS.

Alluring and encouraging as this invitation was for this small theatre group, it was not an easy task. A year passed by in thinking of the plays that would be performed, the team and the preparation phase details and the biggest hurdle in the way i.e. generation of funds. Although TDS was going to take care of all our expenses, technical support, publicity in Paris, we had to raise funds for accommodation, food, travel, fees for a team of twelve comprising of nine actors, one musician, a director and an administrative support during the three months of intense rehearsals. With a lot of struggle and the support of individual donors through crowdfunding & direct donations, French Embassy, and Tourism department, we managed to achieve this herculean task.

The tour was an adventure right from the moment we decided to go for it. We were carrying 40 pieces of baggage weighing more than 600kg. To add to this “excitement”, we were carrying two swords and shields and a mallakhamb which is part of set and properties of our play Kunti Karna. However, when the Airport staff came to know that we were travelling for a theatre tour, everyone- right from the Airport manager to the Customs Officers, tried to make things easier for us.  As our artistic director Koumarane Valavane says, the theatre gods were watching over us.
TDS is located in La Cartoucherie, which used to be an armament factory. In 1970 when Ariane Mnouchkine was looking for a theatre space for TDS, she got a tip off about the factory shutting down. She reached there with her team and as she says they just squatted in there. The rest is history. Today this space hosts four theatres apart from TDS. Each day (except Mondays) a turn-out of at least 1000 audience members is seen in LC shared between these five theatres.

TDS is a commune. They work, eat, live together. They have a team of 80 people including actors, technicians, and administrative staff. Each member of the troupe is paid the same amount –no matter how senior you are or the type of work you do.  Having said that they all are present in theatre 1pm onwards. Each of them, including the senior most actors is responsible to clean the stage and theatre, cook for audiences, clean the utensils, attend to the wear and tear of the costumes, set and property, serve the audience before the show, do their warm up and get on the stage to give an impeccable performance in a high energy four hour long play. Madame Mnouchkine herself stands at the theatre entrance to greet each audience member and collect ticket stubs even at age of 76 years!

In olden times the whole team used to stay on the premises but now except Madame Mnouchkine (after she sold her house to pay off debts of the theatre) and a few members of theatre and the guests, most of the people have moved out to live in nearby areas.  

Almost half the people at the theatre are refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Tibet and politically unstable countries. Madame Mnouchkine has opened doors of her theatre to all these people and offered jobs to them as per their expertise or willingness to learn a particular craft be it on stage or off stage. Eg. their expert set designer and carpenter used to be a Mathematician back home. The hardships these people have gone through to reach a safe and start all over again are unbelievable but true.  And therefore it cast an additional responsibility on us as performers when we did a special show of our play Land of Ashes (which has background of Sri Lankan civil war) for them.  The pin drop silence of ten minutes at the end of the show was worth all the troubles and struggles we had to go through to make this tour happen. 

If anyone asks me what are the two best that happened for me at personal level then I would say -watching Madame Mnouchkine at work. It is an experience of life time. The second best thing that happened was – my on stage debut in Land of Ashes. It was a very small role but nonetheless I can now boast that I performed at Theatre du Soleil!!

Despite their hectic schedule, entire TDS team ensured that we were comfortable in bone breaking cold weather. They opened their wardrobes to get us warm clothing and proper footwear and ensured that we did not fall sick during this tour. Their technical team worked overtime to attend to our technical requirements, while they were getting ready to recreate the stage of UCEI for their TDS’s two week tour to Montepellier.

In Kunti Karna, there is a watertank built on the stage. One hour before the inaugural show of the play and the tour, somehow the tank developed a leak and water started seeping out. Since most of the action takes place in this tank it was imperative that this tank had to be fully functional. We were almost ready to tell the audience that we have to cancel the show but the technical team forbade us to do that and they all rushed to the venue to rectify the problem and saved us from the sticky situation of cancelling the inaugural show.
The two months at La Cartoucherie was a big learning experience for me as a theatre practioner- not just for performing three plays for an audience which does not speak language of the play or be on stage but also to learn practices from other theatre spaces there. How they all share the resources and support each other. Eg. when TDS team was touring in Montpellier, they opened the space for young actors of other theatres to create their own performance pieces. They could come to the theatre and rehearse entire day for free of cost. These groups are also mentored by some of the senior actors, so there is handholding and transfer of knowledge of craft.

This generosity is also extended by the audiences. For Land of Ashes, we had to defer the opening show by two days because of technical issues of our set structure. We had to inform all the audiences who had booked in advance and offer them change of show or return of money (most of them preferred change of date to refund of money). While we informed all of them, one person was missed out and she reached the venue for the show. That evening we were doing our technical run with some missing elements of the set at the original show time. I explained the situation and apologized for not being able to inform her earlier. She said to me, “you are doing a run, I am here. If it is not inconvenient for you, let me watch the run.” And we performed the show for one member of audience! The lady came back for the rescheduled opening show, with a box of chocolates and letter thanking us for letting her to be a part of our process.  I think it is one of the most memorable experiences of theatre that I would ever have.

In the third play, Karuppu which is a nonverbal, theatre dance play, the lead female actor Ruchi, pulled hamstring muscle during the second show. The play is intensely physical and involves a lot of pushing and pulling. The only way to recover was to give it a rest, which was not an option. So for two weeks she kept popping heavy painkillers and performed. Rest of the time she would lay flat on the floor of our mobile home when we all went out.

For more fun Paris tales, stay tuned!

London Calling
by Bhagirathi Raman

“There is that smaller world which is the stage, and the larger stage that is the world.”
Issac Goldberg

Travel is a wonderful way to remind oneself that the stage goes beyond the circumference of one’s spotlight. The intention then is to discover its expanse, picking up elements that make sense in the present narrative, letting go of those that have fulfilled their purpose, and facilitating stage directions towards the multitude of characters that inhabit other parts of the stage. In the same heartbeat, to me theatre is at the core of any metaphor for soul-replenishment that can be used. 
This March, the two came together in London, in a brief casual encounter causing permanently seared imprints. 

Yet, somewhat predictably it began with an old acquaintance: Shakespeare. 
And this story in three parts begins with him.

Perhaps it’s the hangover of the celebrations and commissions from the 450th birth anniversary (2014) and the 400th death anniversary (2016) of the storyteller. Perhaps the drinking itself has just not stopped, and doesn’t look like it will. Shakespeare. Was. Everywhere.
Smug in Leicester square. In the tube. In the Old Vic through the eyes of Stoppard. In the Young Vic. In conversation. In the East. In Islington. On t-shirts. In street art. In walking tours. At the Globe of course. Everywhere. Omnipresent. But perhaps not so benevolent. 

At first I sulked, wanting desperately to not revisit the old words, plots, and characters but meet with the refreshing, the novel, the exciting, the yet unheard and unexperienced. Unfortunately, much like with such encounters in ‘real’ life, it boiled down to timing. I’d landed in London between the winter and summer theatre season and most productions had either closed the week before or were going to open a few weeks thence. 
From the platter available, I picked A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream at the Young Vic, more for the heartbeat in the space than any love for the text. And two performances that alluded to Hamlet: for the allusions (and of course the text!), and in one instance the performer.

As a text, this one has always struck different chords at different moments in time and lent compelling perspectives with each watching or read. So when a friend put Robert Icke’s production of Hamlet at Almeida Theatre on a must-do list, I had to stalk the other two proper nouns that were shamefully unfamiliar. Robert Icke is an Olivier Award winning director, touted as one of the most important forces in theatre in the UK, and currently Associate Director at Almeida Theatre. Almeida Theatre in Islington deserves a 4 corners article by itself so watch out for the next parts of this story.

You know that searing mostly unnecessary pain of “it might’ve been” encounters, the especially pinching ones cause you know you really tried? Yes, that happened. With Hamlet. The production sounded so fascinating and the snug, 325 seater in Islington stole so much of my heart that the trek across the city early in the morning to queue up for day tickets (more on this later) to watch Hamlet was undertaken twice, and both times they were sold to people a few places ahead of me. To at least catch some performance there, I settled for ‘Re-member Me’ where the same stage and set as Hamlet were used, by another performer: a lip-synch artist. 
Facepalm for theatre imitating life moments.
Except, this was no settlement. In any way.

Dickie Beau’s Re-member Me was a stupefying experience. It called on ghosts of Hamlets past, through audio recordings of historical performances of Hamlet, including that of Sir Ian McKellen, whilst on stage Dickie Beau addresses his own failed quest to perform that role, his journey and the many distractions. All this on the stage and set of Icke’s Hamlet.  Whatever knee-jerk reaction there was to question the integrity of performance when hit by a live performance with recorded sound and a lip-synching performer dissipated in a puff of smoke when the simplicity of the idea unravelled in an exquisite, gut-wrenching performance. The haunting quality of theatre because of its ephemerality when coupled with past recordings brought the absent into the present, only for us as the audience to make new meaning from what was their present, and remains in our past. All this against the backdrop of Hamlet. Literally. Where Beau jogged around in running shorts, moving and changing the set to construct a story of memory, failure, death, and competition within ourselves and as is experienced, especially when looked at as an actor chasing a coveted role he’ll always probably never get. It would be safe to go out on a limb and say almost everyone was left winded and the palpable un-labelable energy in the room found resonance in the pit of my gut. Hamlet had never felt so personal and real; being there, without ever coming on stage. 

Which brings me to another play written against the background of Hamlet: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, directed by David Leveaux, and performed by Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig at the Old Vic. I enjoyed reading this play, with Stoppard’s craft constantly generating happy sparks of endorphins in one’s brain. Knowing this, and definitely wanting to tick a box by watching something at the Old Vic, cheap tickets were scrounged for (more on this later!), and found. The play had premiered at the Old Vic a half century back, after which Stoppard shot to fame, and the current production was commissioned as a celebration. Unfortunately, whatever the cause might be, to experience the play as a performance was for me far less exciting than its reading. The action and movement took away from the delicious way Stoppard caused connections through words. Instead, I chose to focus on the visual almost entirely, drinking in the opulence of the theatre matched against the bare set with its dark curtains and centrepiece ship; the lighting design that changed the depth and width of the stage; the performers reflecting the absurd madness of Stoppard’s style. A handful of moments presented themselves when a just delivered line regurgitated its actual meaning as was remembered when the play was read. And I wanted to tie to her chair, the woman sitting in front of me, who just wouldn’t sit still.

The rest of the audience though, made me believe I was at a JBT in another country. A majority of the audience comprised those that jangled their bangles, as the Beatles would say, quite comfortably in the 40+ demographic with a sprinkling of those in their mid-30s. What a stark difference from a theatre down the street.

The Young Vic
The Young Vic began its life as an offshoot of the Old Vic under Laurence Olivier. 'Here', Olivier said, 'we think to develop plays for young audiences, an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers.'
And it does just that. The demographic sat comfortably in the late teens to late twenties with a handful of those in their 30s perhaps even early 40s. But more than the actual demographic was the fact that the ‘vibe’ was absorbing, zany, warm, generous, and you want to come in early and stay later for beers. Yet it was Shakespeare again, to perhaps balance all the edgy new stuff that I clearly wasn’t fated to watch, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

The production is directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins where the dreamy idea of foolhardy love and romance is presented as a freakish nightmare and gave new wonderful meaning to a play for which I care very little. Against a stormy backdrop, with a stage made of wet messy mud and matched by pen-umbric lighting, the honeysuckle sick lines were delivered in a manner of weariness by performers you don’t even want to like, let alone identify with. 
You know that shimmering butterfly feeling at the start of something that always has a plot twist that lands you face down in mud? That literally happened on stage. And looking around the room at what was clearly a high school/college crowd, seeing the same resonance of ironic humour in their faces towards a story of perhaps lust and love presented much like the dark twisted chaotic mania it usually is, was simultaneously comforting and saddening. Another shout-out to when theatre imitates life. Way to go Young Vic, for an old Shakespeare in a tongue closer to home. 

Thus began the brief casual encounter in London where a known acquaintance was revisited with changed eyes in another time, place and context, and wonder found in old streets with new names. 

Anuvad: The Translation Festival in Silachar

Honestly, I don’t actually know a whole lot about Assam or of the north east of India.  Other than they make good tea and I saw a lot of cane in the products sold.  

Making a piece of performance art in a new city is always going to be an interesting experience and being in India in general has been a major influence on how I produce performance material.  Whether it be dance or theatre, the general vibe of a place is going to play a part in the content and process of creating.  However, this particular place didn’t really influence what and how I made my work, but just lent itself to letting me make whatever I wanted and in whatever form.  The festival gave me the biggest spectrum of creative freedom I’ve ever experienced in a festival or when making something in general, which I was surprised by, especially because this was a residency as well.  

I often found myself being taken out for midnight field trips to other parts of the city where we would hang up posters and banners and spray graffiti around the city as a way of promoting the festival.  I was both intimidated by these trips, but also excited by them as it was a new experience that I had not had the opportunity of being a part of before.  

At the Anuvad arts and literature festival I was the only performing artist resident and this was a little intimidating at first actually, but I stuck to it and managed to make it through these blocks. I came out with a short one person theatre script, which I performed twice.  The piece was based on the concept of the Human Condition. A short fringe style work is not something that is seen very often in Silchar often, if at all, so I thought it a good chance to experiment.  

The other residents at the festival all came form backgrounds of linguistics, translation and poetry.  Which was a very interesting atmosphere to be around.  There was one man from the USA, who currently lives in Shanghai, a poet, who I found very interesting to discuss concepts and ideas with as well.  The other two residents were a man from Bangladesh, who was a translator and poet, and a woman from Gujarat, who is a linguist.  

 If I were to collaborate with any of the residents or workshop instructors, I would love to work along side a man named Julian.  He is a Canadian comic artist, who specialises in creating comic art for poetry, which I found fascinating to say the least, and he had some very interesting thoughts and concepts that I would love to explore more myself as well.  

Over all, Anuvad is a festival that I would consider revisiting or potentially recreating. However I feel as though because it is only in it’s second year there is much that they can consider for their future festivals.  

Overall, the Anuvad festival in Silchar was a magnificent experience as I was given the opportunity to create in a way that I had not delved into before and it has given me the urge to try and create in this way again.

When Your Scene Partner Is A Complete Stranger
by Rory de Brouwer

Imagine you're a performer, waiting for your entrance. Your entrance is directly after your scene partner enters. Your dilemma: you've never seen your partner before. Not only that, but you are performing in a living street and there are many other strangers milling about.

How did I get here? For the past several years I have been working with a company called DLT, or DopoLavoroTeatrale. DLT began in Florence, Italy and I joined when its artistic director, Daniele Bartolini, brought it to Canada in 2013. As a company DLT has been particularly interested in exploring the role of the audience in theatre.

I first met Daniele, in an art installation. We were performing together for several hours in a Nuit Blanche piece, 'And When I Look into His Eyes, It's not His Eyes That I See.' We never spoke, but we definitely shared several moments of silence. Later that night, in the wee hours of the morning I was  taking down the installation and I realized Daniele had left.

A few weeks later he contacted me and asked if we could meet up to discuss a new project. Daniele introduced himself over beers at the Fringe Tent. In Toronto, Canada, the fringe tent has been, for several years, in a parking area behind Honest Eds, a landmark establishment of the Toronto scene. Honest Ed was a businessman and theatre impresario that had helped make Toronto a major theatre centre while also offering basement bargain deals on household items like spatulas and rubber boots. It has become a quintessential part of Toronto's identity. Sadly this year, Honest Ed's will breathe it's last before being demolished and replaced by more, nondescript, glass condominiums.

Daniele was very engaging. He spoke passionately about theatre and continued to relight a rolly cigarette whenever he paused, only to have it go out again as some new thought would come to him. He told me how he was mostly a director and he had an idea for a new type of play. He wanted to offer audiences a format that would move beyond 'participatory' theatre, which he said was more of a marketing ploy, to something that was truly immersive. It was similar in some ways to an installation, in that audiences would move through a piece. However it was quite innovative in that he proposed to give audiences a role and an autonomous voice within a narrative. In a sense, the audience would become a main character of a show, and actors would be required to play supporting roles, facilitating the audience on a journey that they would help to shape. I was intrigued, but how would it work?

The show would be designed for just a single audience member. This meant that it would be repeated 10 times a day and performed 120 times in total. It would be a challenging project for performers because they would be required to learn a scene, and also to be flexible enough to improvise and incorporate the audiences responses into something unique. While I wasn't sure about the marathon nature of the performances I was very curious and agreed to do it nonetheless. The rest is sort of history.

Since joining the company I have done some of the most challenging and rewarding theatre in my life. I have watched people weep, I have wept, I have embraced some of these strangers, shared a smoke with others, had drunks stumble into scenes, had audiences run away from scenes and even found myself suddenly transformed into audience when a particularly special person would take over completely, as I listened in silence, covered in goosebumps.

In film, they say the camera never lies. In work like this, with such proximity, the performance style, in some ways becomes similar to the on screen closeup. Trying to illustrate, or manufacture any kind of experience is immediately exposed for it's artificiality. This creates a unique and wonderful challenge. The key of what we like to call 'audience specific' theatre is finding truth and connection in the moment. Sometimes your stranger scene partner is open, responsive and up for anything. Other times they are cautious, uncomfortable, or downright skeptical. In these moments the actor requires an excellent ability to read people and situations while remaining flexible. At times the 'script' itself must go entirely out the window in favour of something the audience has proposed, which no longer jives with what you had in mind. 

It's both an alienating and bridge building experience in the sense that, in between scenes you stand alone in an alleyway. Then you find yourself working to make a genuine connection with a complete stranger in the space of a few minutes before bidding them farewell and perhaps never seeing them again. The cycle is then repeated, dozens and dozens of times.

Since that first meeting in the fringe tent I've helped to create and perform in six new shows and performed alongside more than 800 strangers. This past year I had the opportunity to take the work to New Delhi, India where DLT had a residency at Khoj International Artists Association. Showing the work throughout various cities and cultures we have found that there is a great desire for this type of experience. Modern life and technology, as we all know have had an isolating effect on humanity.
We are seeking to provide a space, a moment for a much needed human connection in an ever divided and lonely world. 

Like all theatre, and like Honest Ed's this work is a transitory experience. It exists only in a moment and particularly with this work, it exists only between two people. Generally other strangers on the street are completely unaware that a 'show' is unfolding next to them. Most of the audiences I have met will remain strangers to me forever. But in one moment, during a crazy show we shared a fleeting moment of humanity and connection amidst the mad dash of an ever shifting and depersonalized world.

The Motherfucker With the Hat: A Review
by Matthew Wasser

Stephen Andy Guirgis’ The Motherfucker with the Hat is a love story and black comedy that investigates the breakdown of moral and ethical lines and disjunction in close relationships.  As Jackie (Ricardo Chavira), an ex-drug dealer newly home from prison, tries to make sense of his connections to his girlfriend Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez), his AA sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman), and his cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez), he discovers that none of his relationships are what he thinks they are.
For his 2015 production on the Lyttleton stage at the National Theatre, director Indhu Rubasingham focuses on the moral relativism of and the disconnection between the characters’ worldviews that leaves Jackie floundering between three people and three homes. “Your… what do you call it?... worldview. It ain’t mine,” he remarks to

Ralph, and that’s true for Veronica and Julio as well. Each has his own worldview and he neither fits well into any of theirs nor understands well his own.

At the beginning of the play, Jackie returns to his girlfriend Veronica bringing gifts and plans and promises of starting a new, clean, respectable life. His efforts easily charm her, but he soon makes a startling discovery -- a hat, sitting on a chair in the apartment, that he does not recognize. He conducts a brief investigation, sniffing out the scents of “Aqua Velva and dick” on Veronica’s pillow and sheets respectively, confronts Veronica, and sets off in search of the “motherfucker” to whom the hat belongs.

The owner of the hat, as we eventually discover, is Ralph, Jackie’s AA sponsor and good friend -- or so he thinks. Manipulative, vaguely sociopathic, and with a habit of marginalizing all his meaningful relationships, his sobriety is his only redeeming quality. His friendship with Jackie is false -- “just a date and a time,” as he admits -- and he uses his position as a spiritual and moral advisor to take advantage of him, exploiting his visits to Jackie in prison as an opportunity to carry out an affair with Veronica.
Jackie seeks Ralph out for guidance, and true to form he exacerbates the issue and manipulates Jackie to separate them and try to avoid being found out. Though he does try and calm Jackie down a bit, his attempt is insincere and Jackie takes the hat to confront his neighbor and suspected “motherfucker with the hat,” and shoots the hat in the man’s apartment.

This, of course, violates Jackie’s parole, and he and Ralph ask the help of Jackie’s cousin Julio to hide the gun. Jackie and Julio do not have a very strong relationship -- and in the scene where all three discuss the issue of the gun, Julio and Ralph seem to have a much closer connection, despite the fact that they’ve never seen one another before in their lives. Julio has a deep commitment to family, especially Jackie’s mother, and agrees to help him -- first with hiding the gun, and then later, when Jackie realizes the truth, accompanies him to confront Ralph, promising a “Van Damme” performance if things should turn violent.

It is Ralph’s unhappy and neglected wife Victoria that tells Jackie the truth. She gives him receipts for a dinner and an abortion that Ralph paid for, and then tries to have sex with him. Jackie refuses, and later confronts Ralph, whereupon they start a fight that turns into futile, awkward wrestling on the floor and the destruction of Ralph’s coffee table.

The play focuses on shifting ethical lines, and portrays a moral relativism both in the   characters and in the mise-en-scene. Jackie is defined in terms of three different relationships -- that with Veronica, with Ralph, and with Julio. Jackie has been in love with Veronica since they were kids, and though he tries to stay faithful to her, he runs into situations where he can’t manage to. He justifies his infidelities with varying degrees of coherence, and never sees himself as responsible.

Jackie thinks very highly of his friendship with Ralph, whereas in reality Ralph doesn’t care at all for Jackie beyond his professional obligation, and their relationship does not have much substance. In contrast, he doesn’t consider himself friend with Julio, whereas Julio himself actually cares very much for Jackie. Jackie has misperceptions about all three of these major relationships, and his worldview does not well line up with either Veronica, Ralph, or Julio’s.

The actors each played to these contrasts -- Newman, Vazquez, and Perez all emphasize the difference in their worldviews and the ways that their characters interact with Jackie, and each tries to persuade him to interact with the world in his or her own way. Perez’s Veronica is especially powerful when she tries to convince Jackie to go with her to talk things through at a pie shop. Newman consistently emphasizes Ralph’s attempts to control how Jackie thinks about the word and behaves towards him and others. Vazquez’s Julio is dominated by his differences with Jackie and the disjunction that his commitment to Jackie implies in light of those differences. Jackie himself seems to occupy a malleable, in-between state where he is pulled by each of these perspectives and neither settles into one nor firmly establishes his own. Chavira, fittingly, plays to Jackie’s uncertainty -- acting on impulse and fluctuating in his relationships with the other characters. 

In all of their cases, their conversations are passionate and honest. Newman’s platitudes and musings are enraging, and he portrays in Ralph a deep reliance on his misguided views. Vazquez’s Julio is consistently committed to family, and in one moment, when he recalls a moment from his childhood, he shows the depth of his connection to Jackie and reveals a tender side to both characters. Perez juggles Veronica’s lack of self-control and powerful love, playing to each simultaneously and showing herself as both redeemable and despicable, as a victim as well as a wrongdoer.

Robert Jones’ design also reflects Jackie’s isolation and the vastly different worldviews and relationships he runs into. There are three main settings, corresponding to Veronica, Ralph, and Julio, and each is it’s own entity that slides in and out with no connection to the other two. Both Jones’ design and Oliver Fenwick’s lighting design conspire together to give each location a unique look and feel, setting them very far apart from one another; the only common element in each setting are a set of hanging fire-escape stairs that never leave the stage, seeming to provide an analogue to Jackie’s own transient state. 

Jones’ design calls for drastic physical changes to take place between each scene, and he and Flight Director Kev McCurdy handle the copious scene changes with brute force. For each, the floor of the set slides onstage and protrudes through the proscenium arch as the walls fly in from above and the floating, red fire-escape stairs spin in choreographed circles. Though visually impressive, they are each of them identical, and the sheer number of scene changes leave them feeling tiresome and uninteresting by the end of the show. The music played during these transitions is uncomfortably loud, and though they function very well as a Brechtian element in their capacity to remove us from the world of the play, the effect might have been just as well accomplished at a less painful volume level.

Rubasingham's The Motherfucker with the Hat leaves a strong impression, and handles the disjointed, close-but-far relationships that the characters have with cleverness and attention to detail.

That Ugly Mess
by Daniele Bartolini, Maggie Hunter and Nicole Dufoe
Daniele Bartolini is the founding member of DLT Teatro, a theatre company based in Canada

That Ugly Mess seems at first difficult to describe: audience members embark on a 72 hour immersive journey throughout downtown St. Catharines, Ontario in search of a "missing person" named Lily. The experience takes each audience member through a labyrinth of clues and misinformation while they play the role of a 'detective.' In The Stranger [The Stranger has been presented in Toronto, Vancouver and Mumbai], lone audience members interacted with various actors in the city centre over the course of an hour and half; That Ugly Mess marks the next step for DLT Teatro, as the experience is integrated into participants’ lives for three full days. 
In That Ugly Mess, single audience members encounter an eclectic mix of characters who they are invited to interact with to gather information about Lily. These encounters range from a coffee date with a stranger or a game hide and seek in the park, to more surreal experiences such as a disembodied voice and shadow figure in an abandoned apartment. What is paramount, though, is that the choice lies with the audience to decide how much they will engage, and whether they trust the characters they meet and the information they receive. 

The St. Catharines production of That Ugly Mess began with audience members being divided into two groups, or "tracks." Unbeknownst to them, each track would encounter different characters and be given different- often conflicting- information about Lily. This created an experience where it was impossible for the audience to decipher a single, concrete understanding of who Lily was and why she was missing. Each character had a different understanding of who Lily was, why she vanished, and whether she existed at all. The concept of multiple narratives was vital to the development of Lily as a character and the concept of the show as a whole. The audience never actually encounters the real Lily, nor is it possible to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Instead, they were invited to begin to question the ways that they identify with Lily and concept of what it means to disappear, and their own ideas of identity, place and human connection. 

In the first encounter of the show, the audience was brought into a seemingly abandoned office building where a surreal secretary figure lead them into various empty rooms as they waited for a mysterious Mr.eks. Mr. eks, they were told, is unavailable to meet with them, but instead they were left to listen to his instructions via audio track. They had entered the world of That Ugly Mess. 

On the second day, the audience was invited to travel around the city in search of various characters, from fortune tellers to real estate agents, who all claimed to have information about Lily. That night, all audience members were given instructions to go to an abandoned apartment building at individually scheduled times. Inside was a surreal world of chaotic lighting and unworldly sounds. They were led into a room where a disembodied voice spoke questioned what was “behind the door” where a shadow was visible pacing behind the glass. After leaving the apartment, the audience was led back to the empty office where the show began; characters they had met that day lay asleep on the floor. They were guided through the sleeping figures by the secretary into a back room where three women performed a symbolic ritual with music and water that ended the day. 

The final day began with the audience being sent a story about loss, before being asked to dress as if attending a funeral. They then arrived individually at a location in the outskirts of the city, where they followed a path over a bridge and into the forest. Along the path each of the characters stood in stillness and solemn silence, allowing space for the audience to contemplate their own role within the show and the concept of saying goodbye and letting go. 

In addition to theatrical encounters, their was continual online interaction with audience members throughout the entirety of the show  including Facebook messages from fake accounts, emails with stories of Lily’s life, phone calls, text messages and audio tracks. The audience chose to interact with these elements as much or as little as desired with the understanding that engagement helped to determine the level of involvement with the narrative of the show. The objective of this communication was to ensure that the audience was constantly able to interact with the world of That Ugly Mess throughout the entire three days. 

DLT worked closely with community partners at every stage of development in order to fully integrate That Ugly Mess into the local community. Many of the scenes were developed in response to specific locations and were created to be site specific. During the rehearsal process, we partnered with business owners, local artists, students and other members of the St. Catharines community to create a show that truly reflected the city. While much of the production team was not from the St. Catharines, the majority of performers were residents of the city, and helped to provide the show with an in depth knowledge of the community. 

Over the course of the three days, the audience's ‘real life’ became deeply intertwined with the world of That Ugly Mess. Their familiar environment was disrupted by very unfamiliar interactions and events, and from this grew a new perspective on the city and themselves. By the end of the experience, That Ugly Mess was so melded into the city that its presence continues to be felt after the show has officially finished; while the audience is no longer able to relate to the performers, they continue to interact with the spaces they encountered during the show and the emotions the experience incited within them. When the audience is the protagonist, the show never ends. 

May, 2016

Howard Barker: A Welcomed Challenge and Confrontation
by Glenn Hayden
Glenn Hayden

Theatre for me has always been a cultural and human experience and in order to achieve an understanding of a play-text (and to remain in honour of its playwright), immersion in the human experience has been essential. This is very Chekhovian of me, I know.

Never before have my beliefs, methods and practices of theatre making and the theories I have engaged in my work been challenged as they are at the moment. In two weeks time, I will be commencing rehearsals with the second year acting students of the WA Academy of Performing Arts and I am suitably full, fueled and wonderfully frustrated at the prospect.

The Potomac Theatre Project NYC production
of 'Victory-Choices in Reaction'
The play I am consumed by and the source of my most-welcomed anxiety is Howard Barker’s ‘Victory – Choices in Reaction’ and if anyone reading this ‘musing’ knows the writer and/or the play, they will be shuddering gleefully at their core, goose-bumps will be raising the hairs of their arms, legs and any other hirsute inch of their body with joy and their heart will have increased its thump, thump, thump against the chest - for this is a writer and a play that requires us to question our traditional western approaches to making theatre and confronts our experience of making theatre. It is a play that demands respect and practise of the imagination and requires a release from the Stanislavskian shackles of aims, objectives and motivations.To say the least, it is challenging. EXCELLENT!!!!

Barker has been revered as ‘England’s greatest living dramatist’ and as ‘the Shakespeare of our age’. His writing is enthralling and startlingly original in its form and structure and he is celebrated, deservedly, as a writer and poet, director AND designer for creating an aesthetic and an experience which he terms Theatre of Catastrophe.This in itself is a delight to re-visit.We looked at the texts of Barker in my actors’ training but we did not delve into the depths of this man’s work as you must do when looking to stage the work and I can honestly say that this has been the most enjoyable research period of a play that I have ever undertaken.I am more than happy to pronounce myself a fledgling ‘Barkerphille’.  

Barker works to fragment response, forcing each viewer to wrestle with the play alone, rejecting the widespread notion that an audience should share a single response to the events onstage.  This is the first statement about Barker and his work that I read on day 1, hour 1 of my research for the production (I confess that Wikipedia is ALWAYS my first port of call).  I was immediately intrigued by the 2nd part of the statement ‘forcing each viewer to wrestle with the play alone’ as I have always espoused the notion of the theatre being that of a ‘community’ or ‘collective’ experience but with unique and personal reaction. I like(d) this idea.  It has always warmed me and inspired me in my pursuit of delivering story.  

I have, however, now been inspired ten-fold by Barkers theory of theatre as a potentially lonely experience; certainly an uncomfortable one. He speaks stunningly about the Art of Theatre as opposed to The Theatre whose mission is to entertain, and that the (art of) theatre is beautiful because it is a secret, and that secrets seduce us.  What a gift this is for a theatre maker. It has inspired my imaginative strategizing for telling a play’s story more than I have ever indulged or enjoyed before and has joyously confronted my practice the way a child is confronted when taking its first steps, and I am thrilled.

There is a magnificent release from the responsibility to an audience that occurs when staging Barker. This is not to be confused with any notion of ignoring an audience or distancing an audience with an impenetrable experience. If anything, Barker has more respect for an audience than many of his contemporaries. Barker himself has said “It's time we started taking our audiences more seriously, and stop telling them stories they can understand.” What a liberating statement.  
Howard Barker

As this production will be with students who are mid-way through their professional training, I am approaching Victory in absolute and heightened respect, regard and reverence to Barker, even more so than I would with a professional production. They will experience a Barker, not learn a Barker….and I’m jealous.  My hope is not to produce 24 students who abandon all other writers, form or method but I do want 24 students to emerge with a reiterated understanding that theatre, or the Art of Theatre, is an enormous and important playground that is full of differing artists, past and present, who investigate, probe, formulate, postulate, debate, gestate and create amazing things.

I’m not an academic, but every day I thank the ‘powers to be’ who gave me the gift of theatre and that I am clever enough and driven enough to realize, each day, the importance of our eclectic craft.  

If my word count was not so restricted, I would be taking great pleasure in talking endlessly about this ‘Barker’ journey I have started but alas, I am already over the limit and risk an edit. Never mind, I will be back in India in July and I am sure I could be coerced to talk endlessly on the subject over a cup of tea. Thanks for reading my musing and I look forward to being in my other ‘home’ soon.

April, 2015

The Silver Lining Of Being Overstretched And Underprepared
by Sébastien Heins

It was 2011. It was theatre school. It was King Lear.

I was in my second year at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS). NTS is the Canadian version of Juilliard. It’s in Montreal, Québec. They take 12 actors a year, work you like a dog, 6 days a week, for 3 years, and put you in a room with some of the greatest masters of the dramatic arts. It’s Canadian Hogwarts for actors. And our director on King Lear, David Latham, is Dumbledore. Actually, David is Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. Nay, David is Obi Wan Kenobi as played by Sir Alec Guinness. He’s all the best things about your grandfather that you aspire to be. David Latham is wise and helpful and caring. There’s a picture of him in the encyclopedia under “A truly lovely man.” He also loves the craft of theatre more than just about anything, and for that reason, he’s next to Christopher Plummer and Robert Lepage on my list of inspirational people in the theatre.
National Theatre School of Canada

Anyway, so I’m playing Edgar in Lear, and at the same time, I was applying to the SummerWorks Festival with this show called Origami Airplane. SummerWorks is a “really-hard-to-get-into” theatre festival in Toronto. That’s all you need to know about SummerWorks. Origami Airplane was the devised show we got into SummerWorks with. That’s all you’ll ever need to know about Origami Airplane (It was not good). And it was up to me to get our team’s application out the door. So on the same day that the application had to be sent off to SummerWorks’ offices in Toronto, we had our first big off-book, lines-memorized run for King Lear. Thing is, I’ve been spending all my time writing this application and getting letters of reference for the SummerWorks package. Dumb? I know. So that lunch, I’m printing pages, stuffing a manila envelope with bios, letters, everything, and my classmates go off to warm up for Lear. I run upstairs, ask one of the school staff to mail the package to Toronto and finally, the thing gets sent and I’m able to go off to rehearsal. 
Backstage in theatre school. It wasn't all smiles.

Getting in there, I thought I knew a bunch of my lines. Wrong. I get in there, and I know almost none of them. Like, even the lines I thought I knew, I’m still yelling “LINE.” And I’ve got a lot of lines. And I’m saying “LINE” for almost all of them. I say “LINE,” and the stage manager says the line, and then I say the line, and then I pause and I think “f*ck me, what’s my next line?”, and then I call “LINE.” And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. All night long. The coup de grace - the cherry on top - is that I have one of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare to say, at the very end of the play. That sucker is supposed to go:

The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

It’s a rhyming couplet. Young. Long. You can’t get it wrong. Or else you fail at Shakespeare. I’m out there, with one of the worst runs on record behind me, with a chance to redeem myself, in the bottom of the 9th, and I get out:

“The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,
Shall never live so long, nor …nor… 

I’m thinking, “What’s that effing word that rhymes with ‘young’? Oh, of course! It’s ‘long’! ‘Long’! Wait! I just SAID ‘long’! F*ck! What’s my next line?!”





Stage Manager: “Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”


“Shall never see so much, nor live so long...”

F*ck me.

After every rehearsal, we would go up on stage and David would stand in front of us to give notes. I’m sitting there  while he’s giving everyone else their notes. David gets to me and quietly says, “Sébastien, I don’t have any notes for you today. Do you know why?”
I look at the floor and say something like, “Because I didn’t know my lines.”
David says, “And what happened when you didn’t know your lines?”
I say, “I couldn’t work. And I let myself down.”
David looks at me and says, “No. You didn’t let yourself down. You let your cast down.”

You carry your class on your back. Sometimes literally.
And he was right. I had. I totally had. Then he wasn’t mean about it. He just left it there.

So I go to one of the practice rooms that night, lay my script out on the floor, and scene by scene, I drill every piece of prose, soliloquy, and verse again and again and again. It takes hours and hours, and when the security guard finally kicks me out, I go do the same thing at home. I’ve got the pages laid out on my bed, and I’m whispering the lines so I won’t wake up my roommate.

I wake up the next morning, covered in pages, and do the same thing in the school gym until I’m evicted by the Francophone Aerobics class. Then at lunch, I go back to the gym, where Colin, my best buddy, goes over my lines with me again and again, especially the Gloucester-Edgar scene on the cliff when my father’s trying to commit suicide. Great scene. We run lines together until the end of lunch, because that’s when the whole cast has another off-book, lines-memorized run of King Lear.

And by God, I get most of those damn lines right.

After the run, I have this feeling. It’s sort of embarrassed and sort of good and sort of strange. I’m wading through a swamp of mixed feelings as I walk out of the rehearsal hall. It’s nighttime by now. I’m in the gym. The lights are off, and I’m collecting my stuff from the corner. Then David Latham appears at the door. There’s light pouring in from the hallway behind him. He’s just silhouetted in this door frame, like that scene from Orson Welles’ The Third Man, and he calls my name.

I walk over with my stuff. I know I got most of my lines right, but I feel no pride. I apologize to him for the run the night before. The next few moments are foggy, but I’m pretty sure he said, “You must always give yourself a second chance.” And then I hugged him and sobbed into his shoulder, and said thank you to him. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and held me out, and gave me this big, toothy grin, like I was a mud-soaked champion.

David signed my copy of
Shakespeare's Words after Lear.
I get to use it in Stratford now.
It’s hard to sum up the moral of this story. It actually just sticks me with more questions. Why did I bother with that application? Why didn’t I just focus on Lear? I was chastised by the head of the school. It wasn’t worth it, was it?

While I should have just stuck with doing King Lear, theatre school eventually revealed my split personality. I spent half my time doing scripted productions, and half my time creating my own projects, writing grants to tour my own work until seven in the morning, and running around Montréal networking. And that hasn’t changed. Right now, I’m spend my days in rehearsal at the Stratford Festival, doing Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV: Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V in a conflagration called Breath of Kings, and in my off-time, planning a tour of my work to India, writing new plays, and experimenting with new entertainment technology.

The difference between 2011 and 2016 is that I’m learning how to focus my energy on one thing at a time. I’m finding enjoyment is the balance between my excitement to create and my curiosity for traditional text. I’m starting to believe that it’s alright to spend half your time reading the book, and half your time ripping it up. 

What’s important, I think, is that you give yourself the time and the energy to do your very best work on one. thing. at. a. time. Doing many things at once can make you feel busy, but it can be shallow work. You owe it to yourself to dig deeper. All the gold on the surface has already been found. Digging deep is scary, because the risk for failure rises with every shovel stroke. I guarantee you will fail, countless times, though hopefully you won’t call “LINE” all night. Regardless of your failures, however, you should always give yourself a second chance.

“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

March, 2016

A review by Saatvika Kantamneni (London)

Presented by the Barbican

I watched an education matinee and therefore was surrounded by a very loud gaggle of school girls. But I cannot lie, when the lights started to dim and the safety curtain started to open, there was a rush of excitement in me to finally see the much talked about performance. Also, it was my first play in the Barbican theatre so I was curious as to what the space looked like and what the experience would be. 
Cumberbatch as Hamlet is very impressive. Not for one second did I see Sherlock on stage, as I initially feared. But he looked constrained, not by the dilemmas faced by the character, but by the direction. I do think the rest of the play suffered the same fate. 

I believe that one cannot talk about Hamlet without mentioning the soliloquies. The first, “O this too too sullied flesh would melt” was striking as Cumberbatch jumps on to the beautiful banquet table to deliver it, as all the guests move into slow motion and a striking projection of decay and distortion is seen on the palace walls. And yet, the most popular, “To be or not to be”, placed before the arrival of the Players, does not impress. My favourite, “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” which I believe is the most important soliloquy as it expresses his true conflict and the flip-flop of character that defines Hamlet, is presented in the same manner as the others and therefore just seems like a repetition of devices, rather than really being about Cumberbatch sharing his anguish with the audience. 
Lyndsey Turner is known to take a text and make it her own, which she has done with Hamlet as well. This contemporary adaptation was successful in many departments, even though the script was a hit and miss. The contemporary aristocratic costume design by Katrina Lindsay seemed like a very good choice to make the play more relevant. Es Devlin’s set design is outstanding. When it is revealed at the top of the show, the sight is truly breath-taking. Elsinore is fit inside a permanent set of the palace interiors and various scenes are played out in different parts of two levelled set, with set elements like tables, tents, chandeliers etc moving in and out to define the scenes. It is a decadent set that for the second half is covered in piles of soil to define Claudius’ failing domination, a sight that was, again, breath-taking. Yet the large, grandiose expanse perhaps did not serve well for the intimate scenes that ended up seeming empty. 

The sound design adds to the sense of decay, with ambient noises and orchestral hums also adding a touch of grandiose and filling the space at necessary moments. The light design, although very effective, did not amplify anything in the production. 
The use of video projection, which has become so commonplace in the theatre here, seemed more like a “cool effect” than like it was serving a purpose, beyond the first soliloquy, when it became repetitive. Another arresting effect was the close of the first half with a strong gust of wind, leaves, soil that entered Elsinore from all sides. Claudius is left alone centre stage to deliver his monologue and as the lights start to dim, all the doors into the set are blown open to allow the strong gusts of material to fly in, as the safety curtain shuts on this powerful sight. 
Although there were many big things happening in the play, the crux of it still lies in the story and the characters. It cannot be a successful tragedy unless you feel for the characters. Even if you feel annoyed at Hamlet for being a whiny brat, at least that is a feeling. Here we were left emotionless, except perhaps for moments when Ophelia was on stage. When Hamlet accuses Gertrude, you don’t feel like she deserves it or that Hamlet is being too rude to his mother, because she just seems like a two-dimensional character existing in the space rather than adding to it. I unfortunately did not even feel for Ophelia at her death, even though it attempted to be a poetic moment. Except for the final sequence, all the other deaths also seemed like they happened in passing thought. 
There were moments of humour and irony injected in the play through the dialogue delivery, which for me was very ‘British’, and I did laugh at those moments, but they were so few and so far out that they did not fit the rest of the world that Turner was attempting to create. 
Although it was a memorable afternoon, Turner left much to be desired and was perhaps disappointing because the piece showed promise.

October, 2015

Going Viral in Edinburgh
by Daniel Bye

The Edinburgh Fringe has to be seen to be believed. Trying to describe it to a group of students recently, I asked them to imagine a really big arts festival. How many shows are there in the festival  you're imagining, I asked? The highest answer was four hundred.

There were more than three thousand shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, and it's just one of several festivals that take over the city of Edinburgh for the month of August every year. The population of Edinburgh more than doubles for the month. It's huge, intense and overwhelming. I love it.

I love it because it's been good to me.  This was my tenth show at the festival since 2000 and of those shows many have gone on to future lives touring the UK and beyond. One of those shows, The Price of Everything, was what brought me to India for the first time and led to me meeting my friends at QTP.

I also hate it. With so many shows, the competition for audiences, reviews and attention is incredibly intense. Without support it can cost a small fortune to bring work to the Fringe, but artists and companies look at the potential rewards and decide the risks are worth taking. One good review from the Guardian can be enough to make a tour viable. Every promoter in the country will be in town for a week or two. Every other year, every promoter in the world descends on Edinburgh for the British Council showcase. We work in a wonderfully collegial industry where peer-to-peer support is given without question, but with so much riding on it it's hardly surprising that people get a bit more self-focused.

The Edinburgh Fringe is like a microcosm of the whole capitalist system, where a small number of people get very rich, bankrolled by a large number of foolhardy optimists. Just enough of those optimists have their hopes realised for the whole system to maintain its facade of a level playing field.

It's really easy for me to say all of this, because this year the festival went really well. I was there with a new show, Going Viral, part of which was developed in India earlier this year, with work-in-progress showings at Prithvi House and the British Council in Bombay. It's a show which uses the spread of disease and other forms of contagion in order to look at certain aspects of global inequality and privilege. I thought it was probably my most difficult show yet - certainly that was true of the process of making it.

It was incredibly well-received. Enthusiastic reviews in all of the major newspapers and a coveted Fringe First award to top it. Audiences were large and enthusiastic. The aim of making a darker, more challenging show with a real emotional core had really come off, without compromising the heart of my work, which is in a warm and genuine relationship with the audience. I couldn't have been happier.

But it's still a long haul, and I was glad to burst out of that bubble of hyper-intensity at the end of the month. The show's now touring the UK - and I hope to bring it to India in late 2016. A section of the show is set in India and part of it was made there, so I really hope we can make this happen.

June, 2015

Foreign Collaborations in Theatre
by Saskia Price

The average price of a round trip ticket from India to the UK is INR40,000, taking 10 hours to travel each way. For Germany it’s INR45,000, taking 9 hours. For Canada it’s INR70,000, taking 16 hours. These figures can never come close to fathoming the endless, aching minutes spent staring at an airplane ceiling, or sleeplessly watching a foreign city’s skyline, or working through a kind of tired only completely understood through the experience of working on the stage of a theatre far away from any definition of home. The price of a play ticket will never come close to fathoming the endless hours of work, time, and passion poured into international productions. Theatre is a universal art, effortlessly transcending cultural and language barriers. However, nothing quite compares to Theatre done with International Collaboration: the touching and passing of cultures and ideas and art to then be displayed on the world stage. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, commissioned by the British Council, directed by British born Timothy Supple, acted by Sri Lankan and Indian artists, took the world by storm from 2006 to 2008. The production first toured India, then the UK, Australia, Canada, and the United States: not in that order and not just once. Wherever it traveled, Midsummer commanded attention with its rich beauty, color, and choreography. The use of 6 different Indian languages and limitless artistic movements captivated audiences as actors – fairies – burst forth through the paper back drop and spun, suspended, around and above the stage in lush tapestries of fabric. When language failed for some members of the audience, the expressions and movements of the actors kept them entranced and understanding of the story before them. Without the collaboration of Timothy Supple, the British Council, and the many Indian and Sri Lankan artists, designers and technicians, Midsummer never would have been what it was, never would have toured the world, and never would have burst through the paper veil that was East and West theatre arts. 

Midsummer was not the first and will obviously never be the last of these phenomenal theatrical collaborations. In 2013, India’s novelist Kiran Nagarkar’s book God’s Little Soldier was brought to life as a play in Germany. The Bollywood-themed production featured 20 actors and 30 dancers along with an astonishing array of European and Indian instruments. The 7-year long project was entirely choreographed by British-born and Indian trained dancer Aakash Odedra, founder of the Aakash Odedra Dance Company. The Indian music and dance design, executed by British and German artists, was so astounding that even author Nagarkar sat in awe of his own story. Discussions are still in the process of bringing the play and its designs as a nation-wide tour through India. It is assumed that the original crew, directors, and choreographer will remain with the project to make it a true German-Indian collaboration.

This past fall, NJ Art’s FEST 14 was held in London by Bollywood’s own Ustad Taufiq Qureshi, along with Geetika Varde, Lativia’s Reinis Zarins, Pakistan’s Saira Peter, America’s Stephen Smith, and a legion more of international artists. They joined together to craft soul-touching performances geared towards endorsing art in East London. The goal of the festival this year was to build bridges between artists and communities, enriching underprivileged artists to create, and based on many glowing reviews it’s safe to say they’ve succeeded. Performers from the UK, Australia, Spain, Sri Lanka, India, Latvia and the United States came together to craft this mind blowing and perspective altering festival. At the end of it all, Ustad Taufiq Qureshi was so impressed by Saira Peters that he requested for her and her musician ensemble to travel to India for a yet another musical collaboration to showcase nationally.

This year in Thespo, we had an internationally collaborative Fringe performance piece featuring Canadian Gillian Clark, her work focusing on Sexual Violence against women in India and Canada. There were also two main-stage international collaboration pieces. The first performance piece was Sri Lanka’s Walking Path. The second was UK company Clerke and Joy performing Falls 2 – 11. Walking Path featured a handful of Bombay performers for their Thespo appearance, and Falls 2 - 11 featured equal parts Indian and British performers and musicians. 

Clerk and Joy have worked with Thespo before, and when asked about their experiences and thoughts on collaborating with Indian artists, they said, “We take any collaborative opportunities we’re given and we make the most of them. To come in and have this input from hugely different aspects is vital to our practice. We work as a unit, but we always collaborate with other people, it’s rarely just us. We’ve worked with volcanologists, pilots, performers, and artists, and even our audiences. The option to collaborate with an incredibly different culture is amazing, and we always grab at it. However, we truly enjoy collaborating here in India. There’s something exciting about the incredibly distinctive style of theatre. The different perspectives, the different styles, the different cultural experiences of everyone involved, and even the hindrances due to language barriers are a joy to work with, because they are exciting and new and they all come together to make this amazing piece of art. We’re making moments, living art, and we’re essentially combining two different styles and making them into something new and wonderful.”

To be part of international collaboration, especially in or involving India, is a true gift to behold. Nothing quite compares to the magic made when Eastern and Western art combine. No hour can define it, and no price can be placed on it. Thespo is proud to be listed as one of the many nurturing and encouraging international theatrical collaborations.

April, 2015


World Theatre Day was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI). It is celebrated annually on the 27th March by ITI Centres and the international theatre community. Various national and international theatre events are organized to mark this occasion. One of the most important of these is the circulation of the World Theatre Day International Message through which at the invitation of ITI, a figure of world stature shares his or her reflections on the theme of Theatre and a Culture of Peace. 
Krzysztof Warlikowski (born 26 May 1962) is a Polish theatre director. He is the creator and artistic director of Nowy Teatr (New Theatre) in Warsaw.
The true masters of the theater are most easily found far from the stage. And they generally have no interest in theater as a machine for replicating conventions and reproducing clichés. They search out the pulsing source, the living currents that tend to bypass performance halls and the throngs of people bent on copying some world or another. We copy instead of create worlds that are focused or even reliant on debate with an audience, on emotions that swell below the surface. And actually there is nothing that can reveal hidden passions better than the theater.  

Most often I turn to prose for guidance.  Day in and day out I find myself thinking about writers who nearly one hundred years ago described prophetically but also restrainedly the decline of the European gods, the twilight that plunged our civilization into a darkness that has yet to be illumined. I am thinking of Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. Today I would also count John Maxwell Coetzee among that group of prophets.

Their common sense of the inevitable end of the world—not of the planet but of the model of human relations—and of social order and upheaval, is poignantly current for us here and now. For us who live after the end of the world. Who live in the face of crimes and conflicts that daily flare in new places faster even than the ubiquitous media can keep up. These fires quickly grow boring and vanish from the press reports, never to return. And we feel helpless, horrified and hemmed in. We are no longer able to build towers, and the walls we stubbornly construct do not protect us from anything—on the contrary, they themselves demand protection and care that consumes a great part of our life energy. We no longer have the strength to try and glimpse what lies beyond the gate, behind the wall. And that’s exactly why theater should exist and where it should seek its strength. To peek inside where looking is forbidden.

 “The legend seeks to explain what cannot be explained. Because it is grounded in truth, it must end in the inexplicable”—this is how Kafka described the transformation of the Prometheus legend.  I feel strongly that the same words should describe the theater. And it is that kind of theater, one which is grounded in truth and which finds its end in the inexplicable that I wish for all its workers, those on the stage and those in the audience, and I wish that with all my heart.

March, 2015

Writers Bloke! 
by Shivam Sharma

To say things just fell in place would be underselling my good fortune. I had just finished writing and directing Secret Society: Children of Divorce when the applications for Writers Bloc 4 opened. Writers Bloc is a play writing program created by noted Mumbai based theatre company Rage Theatre Productions (Run by the tri-glorious Rajit Kapoor, Shernaz Patel, Rahul Da Cunha) in collaboration with the prestigious Royal Court Theatre, UK, which mentors selected playwrights (once every 4 years) in creating new work that’s showcased in a festival by the same name held in Mumbai. And it’s not uncommon for productions to travel across the country or be invited to The Royal Court itself for showcase.   

 I believe it’s only because of the considerable amount of time I spent writing the play that I was able to deliver the expected quality in my 16thdraft written over 8 months. To give you a sense of the legacy this program holds… Google Abhishek Majumdar, Iravati Karnik, Annie Zaidi if you don’t already know who these young stupendous playwrights are, and their work.

This was big!

But I felt rooted Day 1 on and through of our first week long workshop held in Humpi.

And in the very many bright and heated conversations, at every lesson in each session, while dinner and late night play reading sessions after, during swims and strolls to Kalaadham and around at the JSW city, in love or lust, on tea and cake when thunder struck and rain smashed against thatched roof of our working space, all this time in company of 19 of the most creative, well read, aware, and sensitive writers I have ever met…

I belonged and lost and found a writer for me.

But nobody can teach you to be a playwright. Carl Miller, Vivienne Franzmann and Richard Twyman of Royal Court Theatre taught us ways to write plays instead, laying all they have learnt and believed in through their journey as playwrights with the prefix ‘You are free to discard everything we tell you, but we suggest you remember, at least’. Solid methods, techniques, exercises, pointers, fascinating stories… no faff. And these weren’t just processes; they gave me an insight into the accumulated knowledge of centuries of play writing which as a writer who has never received any formal training, were far away from my reach otherwise.

Today I am able to look at my writing beyond my personal judgment, play with it using the tools provided rather than succumbing to it which is how I wrote before. Okay, I still write like a victim but at least I know about the opportunity and freedom that lies in controlling my craft… and that excites me!

If all the enlightenment lights up my first draft of the play I have to submit by January is yet to be seen, but I am ready looking forward to our second workshop in April where we get to collaborate with Actors and directors and see how are the drafts sailing! 

February, 2015

Music and Theatre 
by Neil Balthazar

Theatre, at its best, is a heady mix of sight and sound. The best plays succeed in combining these two integral components, in just the right proportions, to create an experience for the audience that transcends the ordinary. Getting those proportions right, however, is an art which demands a comprehensive understanding of what each of those components brings to the table.

The concept of music being an integral part of theatre isn’t one that’s recent. While scenes from Hello, Dolly! and other famous musicals are most often the immediate reference for musical theatre, the truth is that theatre and music have been inextricably linked since the days of The Bard. However, while Shakespeare’s works employed musical accompaniment throughout the performance to complement what was happening on stage, the Broadway shows of the 1800s -were a spectacle of music and dance designed to fill the audience with a sense of awe. These glitzy shows gave way to the more refined musicals – like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music – that employed music in a manner which had never been seen before – the songs were no longer incidental, but were suddenly integral to the process of character development and plot progression. As Indians, we are no strangers to this particular relationship between music and theatre. After all, our classical dances and folk art forms have wholly embraced this concept, preserving it through the centuries and delivering it to modern audiences. Gowri Ramnarayan’s Flame of the Forest – a modern adaptation of the Tamizh classic Sivakamiyin Sapatham – is a recent exponent of the school of thought that seeks to drive both character and plot progression via the use of musical passages interwoven with the play.

The natural progression of this ideology led to the evolution of musical storytelling into modern political and social commentary. A leading voice in this movement is Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat, whose award-winning compositions for Shivaji Underground in Bhimnagar Mohalla – a revolutionary effort to demystify and reclaim the legacy of Shivaji Maharaj from the political propaganda stemming from the myths woven around the great leader – thrust him into the national spotlight. A follower of Dr. Ambedkar and a major proponent of the Dalit movement, he firmly believes that a message of change can be effective only when delivered through a medium that is at once identifiable with the people you are trying to reach out to. 

It would be remiss, however, to claim that the purpose of music in theatre is limited to this one aspect. Apart from musical storytelling, incidental music plays a massive role in creating a truly multi-dimensional environment for theatre-goers. Just as no film is complete without an appropriate soundtrack designed to heighten the emotion in most scenes, such is the case in theatre as well. Music serves to draw the audience into the performance in ways far more effective, yet somehow more subtle, than any other component of theatre. When employed by someone gifted with complete mastery over it, music acts as an unseen character leading the audience by the hand through a myriad of complex emotions and manipulating them into becoming deeply involved with the characters on stage. Thespo 16 workshop conductor Kaizad Gherda is someone who believes that music and theatre are inseparable. As part of his workshop, on the 17th and 18th of December, participants learnt to deconstruct the music that goes into a great performance so that they may gain a better understanding of the use of music and its effect on the audience.

Given all that we know about the versatile application of sound in theatre, it may come as a surprise that designing a convincing soundscape is an oft-overlooked device. However, when executed correctly, it can result in an extremely rewarding experience for theatre-goers. The immersion of the audience is limited only by the lack of imagination and ingenuity of the director who fails to fully augment the play’s visual aspect with a soundscape that is truly representative of the space occupied by the performance. The sounds of rain falling, a train hurtling by, or even just the faint sounds of traffic rumbling in the background go unnoticed when present, but in their absence they are immediately conspicuous and attract criticism. Dialogue alone isn’t the sole element of sound in theatre; in fact, entire stories can be told through sound and movement, without ever having to rely on dialogue to convey meaning to the audience. 

This very concept was at the centre of Josephine Joy’s workshop for Thespo 16. One half of the performance duo Clerke and Joy, Josephine –  who returned to Thespo after her involvement in the festival last year – is a professional performer and deviser working in the UK. Progress cannot be made without pushing past traditional boundaries; this is the mantra that Josephine firmly believes in and she hopes to impart others with the tools to make this vision possible. Her workshop, on the 17th of December, educated participants on the use of sound and movement in unusual settings in order to tell a story sans dialogue.

Such is the bond between sound and theatre that an entire theatrical genre evolved to celebrate the union of the two. In the years since, constant innovation has been at the root of the onward march of the medium. As the new generation of theatre practitioners come into their own, we can expect the envelope to be pushed even further and, with the onset of technological advancements, the future of this exciting relationship between the mediums looks bright.

January, 2015

Street Theatre In the Capital
by Rohan Verma

There is something very egalitarian about the ‘street’.

Somehow the thin lines distinguishing status, caste, race, gender seem to get erased once everyone is on the street. It almost has a levelling tendency, such that each voice that emerges from the street will be heard in the same way as any other. It is this very equalizing nature of the ‘street’ which gave rise to the concept of ‘street theatre’ or what in India we call ‘Nukkad Natak’.

Delhi in this sense remains one of the biggest hotbeds for agitprop style street theatre; which is not only practiced prolifically but also with quality. Jan Natya Manch- A Delhi based left-wing street theatre group founded by Safdar Hashmi  in 1973 laid down the pillars for street theatre as a form of voicing anger and public opinion. In the aftermath of emergency, doing large plays was not possible. This ignited the need of devising play that were inexpensive, mobile, portable and most importantly effective. Their first play Machine depicting exploitation of industrial labour gained immense popularity after it was first performed on 15th October 1978. Their performance at the Boat Club in Delhi was witnessed by 1,60,000 workers while its regional reconstructions were performed across different languages and states. A plethora of socially and politically relevant plays, often against the prevailing authorities in power marked their identity. On 2nd January 1989, while performing their play Halla Bol, Safdar Hashmi was attacked and killed by political goons in Sahibabad; 20 kms away from the capital of the country. 

Street theatre however, until today remains a very culturally imbibed legacy in Delhi theatre circuit. Its huge significance , especially in campus theatre of Delhi University plays an important role in the promotion of this medium as a tool for change. Five years back, there were just five or six established campus groups such as The Players at Kirori Mal College, Shunya at Ramjas and the Shakespeare Society at St Stephen's who performed regularly. Theatre was almost perceived as an elitist activity. The last few years have seen off campus colleges such as Shivaji, Dayal Singh, Moti Lal Nehru and Shahid Bhagat Singh doing good productions. Initiatives like the Atelier Campus Theatre festival, popularly known as ACT, are effectively doing the job of catalyzing this movement. A 16 day long annual event that provides platform to impactful street plays  from different colleges of the university after a rigorous selection process. “If you want to do something radical, it is easiest on campus. Outside, bread and butter issues will overwhelm you.” says Kuljeet Singh— an English teacher at SGTB Khalsa College and a key member of Atelier Expressions, a theatre company in Mukherjee Nagar Today. At any point of time there are at least 30 active troupes in Delhi University. Not only do they perform  during  festivals but more importantly, protest all the year round. Most recently these groups were seen in action during the protests against violence on women and, corruption before that.

A strong motive behind the thriving impactful street theatre scenario, is the need to encourage freedom of speech, dialogue and discussion. Its use as a tool to highlight issues of  freedom, human rights struggles and social causes remains its  biggest identifier. It is a theatre practice, not supported from outside. Since there are no commercial gains or losses, and the space comes free, the focus is on propagating the agitation prevailing in the society. "For young actors specifically, the sheer frequency of our Nukkad Nataks is so much that the actor's socio-political understanding becomes really deep and he develops resources he can draw upon later to understand characters. If your resources are strong, you can always become a good actor" says Arvind Gaur, founder of Asmita Theatre Group- one of the pioneers of socially relevant theatre in contemporary times in the city. 

The presence of street theatre troupes in most protests and public outreach events in Delhi would pleasantly surprise most visitors to the Capital. With creative use of voice techniques, catchy songs, elements of humour, exaggerated expressions and a lot of music, street plays are being effectively used for educational purposes in the city. Seeing the popularity of this medium it is evident that when the youth comes out onto the streets to make a difference, their voices can be heard the loudest and the echoes can reach the furthest.
October, 2014

Three Plays in a Night. Twice.
by Himanshu Sitlani

Earlier this year while I was Toronto, I managed to catch a good number of theatre shows. A couple of which are already mentioned by Q in his Canadian Listings in his column, so I will now share with you about the others I saw. Somehow they ended up being watching three plays back to back in one night. And I did that twice. One was out of design the other was the love of theatre.

Let me start with the one out of design. So Ravi Jain and Why Not Theatre (who presented ‘Spent’ at Lit Live 2012) created a collaborative producing model, The Independent Creators Cooperative, that provided three independent producing companies with artistic and administrative mentorships with award-winning creators Theatre Smith-Gilmour (Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith, Co-Artistic Directors) and Why Not Theatre. The show was staged at a new theatre venue called ‘The Theatre Centre’.

The first play, was Ahuri Theatre’s ‘Ralph + Lina’ performed by Dan Watson and Christina Serra. It tells the true story of Serra’s grandparents – two Italian lovers and their struggles to stay together in the face of World War Two.  This was physical theatre at its finest, integrating movement, dance, acrobatics and relying on minimal use of dialogue.  Watson and Serra, husband and wife in real life, play off each other wonderfully and a sweetness that is reminiscent of a Bharjatiya Movie.  Serra’s wide-eyed performance is adorable in the extreme, while Watson is extremely entertaining – especially where he flits back and forth between playing Ralph and a competing suitor of Lina’s. However this candy floss does have its moments of realism which shows us the complexities of war, the effects of being a prisoner and immigrating to a country you fought against. Thoroughly enjoyable overall and maybe...just maybe....you’ll see it at Lit Live 2015 (shhshh!!)

The second performance was my favourite of the night, probably because I like dark stories. It was Zou Theatre’s ‘Business as Usual’ and was performed by Viktor Lukawski, Nicolas Di Gaetano and Adam Paolozza (who was also in ‘Spent’). It was also the play that used lights the best. The set consisted of three panels with waist-high windows with blinds and equipped with fluorescent lights when needed.  These were moved in various configurations around a table and chairs to suggest different locations within the same office building. In one especially effective scene the three actors are moved in tight to make a box representing an elevator. Throughout this dark comedy, we are exposed to the seedy underbelly of workplace ladder-climbing: the backstabbing, the cocaine abuse, and the fake friendships the characters seem to develop with each other. The acting is simply outstanding and all give stellar performances. 

Now we get to the third piece of the night. Not a case of best for last. Play it again Productions ‘Death Married my Daughter’, performed by Nina Gilmour & Danya Buonastella, play grotesque, bouffon theatre inspired versions of Ophelia and Desdemona – so Ophelia plays Othello, strangling Desdemona while lip-synching to Verdi, then Desdemona manipulates a naked action-figure Hamlet atop the water-logged corpse of Ophelia while reciting “To be or not to be.” After this, the pair then move on to ridicule many unfair realities of today’s world including, sexism, patriotism, war and politics. Oh, and there’s one scene where the pair grill a set of baby dolls over a barbeque. Full marks to the performers and their energy, but the play starts to feel like a self indulgent exercise with many scenes feeling under thought out. 

But overall a great night of seeing independent work on a big stage that otherwide they wouldn’t have had access to. 

The next set of three plays as I mentioned was for the love of theatre. It was the Toronto Fringe Festival and unfortunately I had only one free day to catch as many shows as I could before starting an 11pm work night. So I packed in three plays for this particular day. 

First up was Lab Le Jeu Inc’s ‘Tikiva’s Orchestra’. A movement piece is not generally something I understand too much off, but this blew me away. It had a dreamlike quality. Tikva's Orchestra explores the trauma and ruthlessness of WWII through the eyes of a woman (Alisa Wakton) who tries to hide but cannot escape. One man playing several figures (Morgan Jones), and a woman, who employs the use of a bungee and hanging ropes, tell us a story filled with symbols and metaphor that show us fear, strength and hope. The music score is absolutely stunning. The original composition by David Mesiha is haunting and yet soothing. I left the theatre wanting to skip the other two plays because I just wanted to hold on to the feeling of having watched something beautiful throughout the day. But alas, I decided against not leaving (slow fade, to black).

(Light snap back on) Oh my good god. I’m glad I stayed on and watched the next play. The best play of the plays here...sorry guys...but I was just wowed by this!! The play is Pea Green Theatre Group’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ – an adaptation of the 1889 novel by Jerome K. Jerome. It was adapted to stage by Mark Brownell, Directed by Sue Miner and performed by Matt Pilipiak as Jay, Victor Pokinko as George and Scott Garland as Harris. The play tells us of three English gentlemen of leisure who decide to go on a boating trip down the Thames. Predictably, as none possess anything resembling useful skills, they run aground into disaster. The play was even selected as part of the Best of The Fringe 2014. But it’s the cast who deserve the most applause–and goodness knows they received it. With perfect comic timing and a zest for the silly, it’s impossible to find a single fault with any of them. And the good news is – you can see it at this year’s Tata Lit Live Festival, so don’t miss it!!

As was the case earlier, the third play was the weakest of the night - Good Old Neon’s ‘Potosi’. The issues at hand are highly relevant: colonialism, sexism, and greed and the three collide in explosions of rhetoric and gunfire in Potosi, Bolivia. Mr. Beamish has been there for years, overseeing mining operations at the behest of faraway Toronto bosses, the same bosses who have dispatched Ms. Leblanc to assist him in smoothing over countless incidents of gang rape perpetrated by their company’s security forces upon local (“Native, not local!” Beamish insists) women. And after the legal issue ignites violence and brutality, the Soldier arrives full of fury and unpleasant truths…and demands. The play won the Fringe New Play Contest, but I honestly wondered why. I was in the minority of people who were aghast by the multiple mentions of rape of the women by soldiers and it seeming to be a perfectly acceptable thing during times of violence. The performers Sean Sullivan and Nicole Wilson played their characters well with a good sense of timing between the two. However Craig Thomas who played the Bolivian solider was unassuming and showed no sense of command over the stereotyped ‘Black Bolivian man can’t speak proper English’.

Overall two exciting nights of theatre and am definitely hoping to do more of the same, and I’m so glad that some of it is coming to Bombay

September, 2014


Purva Naresh, writer of Ok Tata Bye Bye, which is a product of Writers’ Bloc 3 (2012) recently had the play produced as part of the Inside Out Festival at Curve Theatre, Leicester in April 2014.

Here she is in conversation with Saatvika Kantamneni about her experience, the process, actors, audience and more.

Q. Let’s start from the beginning, how did your play land up at Curve?

Ok Tata Bye Bye was performed as a rehearsed reading at the Royal Court theatre in November 2012, in association with Rage Theatre Mumbai and the British Council. Elyse Dodgson, head of the Writers Bloc from the Royal Court, forwarded some of the scripts that were read to Suba Das who is Artistic Director at Leicester’s Curve Theatre. He knew that he was going to do an India Week there. So he heard these readings or about them and asked for the scripts. He selected Ok Tata Bye Bye and Pereira’s Bakery at 76 Chapel Road (by Ayeesha Menon), mainly because he thought there were interesting women protagonists in both. He said that when Indian plays are put up by the community, they are mostly comedies about mothers taunting their daughters, or sons with foreign wives. He knew he was taking a risk by taking up a play such as Ok Tata Bye Bye, but the characters spoke to him.

Q. Did you have any concerns or reservations before agreeing to do this?

Shernaz Patel (one of the co-founders of Rage Theatre), Elyse and I had a conversation about this. Our only concern was that this performance would be a translation of the play in English. As this was a translation and not an adaption, the concern was if the milieu and the nature and environment that we are bringing alive on stage would be able to cross the cultural boundary, would people be able to connect with the text, the people, etc. People in India don’t know about the Bajra samaj, imagine doing it there.

Q. What was the process like, after Suba decided to pick up your play?

Unfortunately, they didn’t have the budget to have me over for the discussions with the director and actors. I couldn’t raise the funds either, but Suba and I exchanged a lot of emails and calls about the girls, the people. I shared all my research with him because I’d actually worked on a documentary on Bajra women. I sent him my photographs, interviews, transcripts and notes. He thought this was sufficient to provide the actors with the know-how of whom they were representing on stage.

Q. When did you finally get to see the play? What was it that struck you the most?

I got funding for a ticket from the British Council to attend the premiere. I’m happy that I went and not just because I was representing the play. I walked in directly for the show, as an audience member. I only met the cast after the performance. One thing that was very clear was that the text, in its plotline, shines through. Even if the milieu is not there in its complete honesty, the protagonists’ journey, that of the two women, comes through. That was the beauty of the moment.

Q. You mentioned that the ‘text shines through’ in the production you watched. Can you elaborate on that? Would you consider this a learning as a writer?

Such an experience helped me understand a lot more about being a writer. Watching the play after being removed from the process… it’s a double-edged sword. You’re cringing thinking I didn’t write this line this way but at the same time you realise that this line works no matter how you take it. I learnt that the moment that I’ve created is not dependent on the actor. It might be differently portrayed but what I wrote to create a certain reaction still held true. That was a great experience, because I felt very vulnerable as a writer. Writers’ Bloc and the Royal Court are beautiful for writers. They really protect them, respect them and you get used to a certain kind of treatment. For them, the writer is the king. This was a completely different experience where you have no interaction with the cast or the director and you just walk in to watch your text, which was written ‘seven seas away’, being performed to a mixed race audience, by actors who are alien to the culture they are representing.

For me, the interesting takeaway was that, as a writer you need to learn to let go some times. It’s not an experience you should have very often, but you should have it once in a while, just to see how your writing is being communicated. It’s not just communicating, but also evoking that reaction in whoever is reading it. That reaction could be controlled by their cultural conditioning, but within the nine rasas, you as a writer should know which one you’re going for.

Also, watching the play with an audience you don’t know was interesting. I watch every show of Ok Tata… in Bombay and Lucknow and it has become like a pilot laughter track – I know where people will laugh or be shocked. At Curve, I had no guide track. That nervousness was very good, it was really rejuvenating. I watching with new eyes and a new pair of ears, and that’s a good exercise. Even if the play has performed 50 packed shows, you should be vulnerable when you’re watching the show, which I had started to take for granted here. Though, I will still take the Royal Court treatment any day!

Q. Were there any changes to your original script in this production? If yes, were they discussed over rehearsals? What did you think about them?

The play has a sardar in it, a trucker. Sikh truckers mostly operate in the region where this play is based, so when I say that a sardar is a trucker, I don’t mean it as an insult to the community. But there they are very particular about respecting the community. So their sardar did not have a turban and they treated it as a name, and not as a community. When you take the naivety and honesty, that is representative of the Sikh community, away from a character, and he’s just a guy whose name is sardar, he needs to do something extra to bridge the gap between what he’s doing and saying. I didn’t like what this particular actor did. He was overtly physical and did things a trucker wouldn’t do. It’s a new learning for me that when you’re writing for an international audience, this kind of cultural dependence you either have to make clear in your notes or remove it entirely.

One thing that Suba did that I have a reservation about was that he edited some portions that I wasn’t aware of. That’s a liberty that I feel shouldn’t be taken with a writer, especially when the writer is available. Since I’m not a published writer and someone didn’t pick the play off the shelf, I need to be very careful about how my work is being represented and translated. I’ve noticed that in all my work, there is this magic moment that has nothing to do with the plot. It’s very fragile and sublime and it’s trying to evoke a reaction in you. The writing, the audience and the actors have to hurtle towards it so it can happen or it goes flat. I think Suba being an experienced director caught on to that and there were two moments in this play that he did away with. When I asked him why, he said, “Purva these are community theatre actors and to create those moments I need six months of rehearsal with them and I didn’t want to create a mockery, so I did away with them.” The text is connected in such a way that if you do away with something, you have to alter something else to justify it. So all that was also done and there was no conversation. This came as a surprise to me. I do remember feeling very bad about this, but later I realised if I'm a writer, I need to be open to letting go and be confident in whatever I’ve written. These were some things that we could have worked at in an interactive rehearsal session but I also think that there was a basic reluctance on the director’s part to involve the writer, which he may not agree with (smiles).

 Q. Were the rest of the actors true to the characters as you had written them?

They were community theatre actors, so there was some strong and weak acting. Most of them were hitting the right notes. The guy playing Mitch (Jonathan McLean) interpreted him to be very black and was therefore very aggressive, but I think that was him as an actor, and not a directorial call. Maybe I can take some blame for perhaps not making it clear enough. It’s something I will make a note of in my writing from now on. But it was interesting to see how the others managed to be the girls, despite their English accents and Western upbringing.

Q. I know this might be clichéd but are there any similarities or differences that you noticed between the actors in the UK and those in India?

Of course. The moment that Suba had edited, they referred to it as ‘the singing moment’. I think that they just don’t get singing and dancing because even in Ayeesha’s play when one of the actors has to dance, it becomes a problem for them. They think it’s one of those Bollywood moments. I can see why Suba struggled. I think they are very awkward with a bursting-into-song sentiment. That’s something that alienates them.

Q. You met the actors after the performance, was there anything special that someone said that stood out?

Well, they all applauded when I walked in and said that the text overwhelmed them. But I guess that’s what you say to a writer right after the performance. No one came up to me and said that they hated it! So that’s the truth, I guess – no one hated it enough to come up and tell me. Subika Anwar, who is also a writer, had heard the reading. When she found out about Suba mounting a production, she got in touch with him, asking to do production work on it, since she wasn’t an actor. She ended up being cast as Pooja, one of the main characters. She used to drive two hours every day to make it to rehearsals. She couldn’t meet me when I was around, and actually chased me down the street once I left the theatre. So there was one true fan- I mean, no one makes that kind of an effort!

Q. How were the houses for the show, who did the audience consist of and what did they have to say to you?

There were two shows for each play, all were housefull. Some of the audience had heard the reading at Royal Court and had driven down to Curve to see the production. But I think that’s what Curve is about – it’s for London audiences who can just drive down to Leicester on a weekend and catch a show. The fact that there were people who had bought a ticket in London and came down to Leicester to watch it again made me feel good. Suba said that he expected mostly Indians in the audience but he was pleasantly surprised.

People did walk up to me and say that they found the play very liberating. Especially the fact that an Indian playwright, and at that a woman, being so open with cursing. After the Royal Court reading, women had walked up to me and thanked me. I don’t know why. This is something I’ve heard Mahabano Kotwal say about The Vagina Monologues and I can see why women in India would find such a play liberating. I don’t think Ok Tata Bye Bye is as liberating about sexuality so it takes me by surprise. At least it tells me that the play is working.

Q. Are there any future plans for international shows?

Everyone tells me I should push it more aggressively because it’s got the Laadli Media Award, it’s gone abroad twice and it’s got great reviews. As a producer, I’m more creative and not someone who focuses on the commercial aspect but I should. I should actually be pushing it. I’ll get around to it (laughs).

August, 2014

Brand New Europe
by Barbara K. Anderlič

Twelve plays in eleven languages in ten days – and that's just the ones I had the chance to see. Indeed, the biennial theatre festival New Plays from Europe proved to be a veritable tower of Babel. For the duration of this year's festival Theatre Wiesbaden turned into a melting pot of playwrights, directors, and actors from all over Europe, presenting a string of new plays ranging from Europeana by Czech playwright Patrik Ouředník to Iz by Turkish playwright Ahmet Sami Özbudak.

Paul Auster once stated that translators were the shadow heroes of literature: In the case of New Plays from Europe the work and importance of translation is of particular significance. The way plays are usually selected for the festival is that each country's patron – the UK's for example being Mark Ravenhill and the Portuguese Vera San Payo – nominates a new play from their country that they wish to get seen internationally. The selected plays then get translated into German for the purpose of the festival and whilst the plays are showcased with its original cast and in its original languages simultaneous interpreters make sure the audience can understand what is said onstage.

But translation never happens in a vacuum and there's always a 'who' and a 'why' – the 'how' usually has to be worked out by the translator him/herself. The 'who' tends to be the money AKA the entity that wants the translation and the 'why' – well, that one can take on nefarious and dark undertones. The first translation of the Qur'an for example was commissioned by Peter the Venerable – it is no small wonder then that one could claim that the first Latin translation was not completely favourable. Even if a translation for a specific target audience is made in a more amiable spirit, the act of translation itself can shine light on the parties involved. As Rosemary Arrojo put it, “Any act of translation will inevitably be inscribed within the larger historical and political context which determines the space and the possibilities the two languages and cultures involved will be allowed to occupy and entertain, both at home and abroad.”

Unfortunately, the 'who' for New Plays from Europe is no longer willing to entertain its guests and to let them occupy space. The festival was called into existence in 1992 after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War to showcase new plays from all across the newly unified continent. Twenty-two years later Europe's future looks far bleaker and less hopeful. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then that for now, this was it. Cuts are happening everywhere in Europe and as it stands there won't be another edition of this festival in two years time. Meaning no new translations. Or less.

These changes were also noticeable in many of the plays at this – possibly last – edition of the festival. Many covered their countries history and were steeped and grounded in the exploration of the past and its consequences for the future. In some cases – as in the play Zoran Đinđić by Oliver Frljićsome of the subtitles of the play got lost on the foreign audience. Unfortunately, this also reflects the fact that the united Europe that was supposed to rise from the ashes of the Cold War never truly came into being. Many people in Europe, especially the West, were oblivious to the ravages and horrors that were unfolding in the former Yugoslavia in the 90s and the following decades. The fact that the ruthless assassination of a European Prime Minister in 2003 did not register in the overall European consciousness in any sort of way and that the majority wouldn't even recognise his name speaks volumes about how – in many ways – a united Europe has never truly materialised. If anything the play showcases even further how it is breaking into tinier and tinier pieces. As the Croatian writer Dubravka Ugrešić put it in her novel The Ministry of Pain, “Every language is a dialect behind which stands an army.“ Translators can only hope to negotiate a ceasefire.

But sometimes the powers that be run havoc in their own languages as well. Mundo Perfeito's Three Fingers Below the Knee (Drei Finger unterhalb des Knies, Portugal)

by Tiago Rodrigues explored in Brechtian-style Portugal's era of Salazar's dictatorship, which was known for its severe censorship. During his time everything from Hamlet's famous lines to words such as 'prisons, terror, weapons, strikes' and 'proving to me that I am but a pure and simple tool' were erased or changed in order to preserve calm and propriety among the Portuguese theatre audiences and society at large. No wonder then that the words 'vile son of a bitch' also got erased, perhaps they were meant for the dictator.

The changes in Europe also manifest themselves in Simona Semenič's play Nineteen Eighty-One. The Slovene playwright who has won various awards for her previous plays such as 5boys.si and 24hours depicts how the lives of several characters in the tiny city of Ajdovščina are changed over the course of thirty years – starting off in the year 1981 and providing glimpses into the characters' future in 2013. As in the Norwegian play Kill Them All where the main characters commit suicide, here the unfolding stories don't have a happy ending either. But then again, maybe one just needs to look at things from a different perspective, in a different light, and from a distance.

The Spanish production The Incredible Story of the Girl Who Finished Last (LA INCREÍBLE HISTORIA DE LA CHICA QUE LLEGÓ LA ÚLTIMA) by Carla Guimaraes tells the story of Somali athlete Samia Yusuf Omar who performed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, finishing last in the 200m female race. Samia Yusuf Omar died on the open Mediterranean Sea in 2012 while trying to reach Europe by boat – as so many other illegal immigrants – in order to find a coach and to prepare for the London Olympics. And to win a medal.

Because for some, no, many, Europe still holds the promise of a better future and a better life – never mind how little this projected image might still have to do with the current realities of today... In the meanwhile one thing is certain – there are European stories, stories are being told and retold and performed – the question is whether the big wild world is still willing to listen. And who will pay the translators.

For now the question remains unanswered.

More memorable snippets from this year's festival:

Both plays from Hungary – Dementia by Kornél Mundruczó and Our Secrets (Titkaink) by Béla Pintér – dealt with the country's communist past and its current nationalistic and neoliberal present and future. Dementia by focusing on a set of 4 patients who are bound to lose their livelihood due to a real estate shark and Our Secrets by exploring the root of Hungarian pride and nationalism through the sphere of folk dance and music. Both of the plays are heavy on the dancing and singing, but in both cases, the songs and dances are interwoven in a more than satisfactory fashion, moving along the performances.

Lippy by Bush Moukarzel and Mark O'Halloran focused on a tragedy that shocked Ireland when four women were found dead in a barricaded house in Leixlip in the year 2000. Later on it was discovered that all four of them, 3 sisters and their aunt starved themselves to death. Dead Centre's production handles the topic with care though not without humour, starting the play with an improvised Q&A about another supposedly just witnessed play about lip-reading while providing funny snippets from films such as Casino etc. It is a more than unconventional start to begin the story of four tragically deceased women, which one meets later on in the play before they vanish and one ends up staring into a quickly moving mouth – much in the fashion of Beckett's Not I. Yet the different sections of the play manage to fall into place and produce a memorable experience for the audience – albeit a very haunting one.

The trio in Kapelle Eidg. Moos by Ruedi Häusermann devote the entire play to the memory of the Swiss musician Kasi Geissers and the Swiss folk-dance Ländler, mixing traditional music with social commentary on the political state of Switzerland. The show has a quirky DIY charm to it, with the actors dismantling and rearranging the set throughout the show, using an over-head projector for their doodles etc., and slowly reclaiming 'traditional Swiss culture' for themselves and other people who do not prescribe to narrow, conservative ideologies with every word uttered.

Three Days in Hell (Belarus) and its playwright Pavel Pryazhko try to remove themselves as far as possible from typical or worn-out structures of theatre. Audience members are  led into three tents that are sat up one next to each other in a big factory hall. The two male actors never speak a word and only perform very few menial tasks, mostly sticking to walking back and forth between the three tents while the audience listens to other actors over speakers. The play one could say is not a dialogue but a long short-story or collection of vignettes recounting the daily lives of different people living on the outskirts of Minsk. The barrage of words is broken off twice, only to then resume without comment. At the end of the play, on leaving the tents, the audience discovered several tables set up with plates and pans full of freshly prepared baked potatoes. Audience members with a good sense of smell noticed some special odours wafting through the tents during the performance...and one can guess that the potatoes carried by the actors ended up in the pans. A unique play and ending, indeed.

July, 2014

- by Sananda Mukhopadhyaya

An old railway station with big semi circle windows and conical roofs now houses the Helios Theatre at Hamm, Germany. Our hosts, Michael Lurse and Barbara Kölling are the artistic directors of the theatre. When I first met Barbara she was loading dishes in the dishwasher in their tiny kitchen space in the theatre. They run the theatre like a home; A small team, where everyone does everything (including technicals, which was very refreshing) And I mean everyone. Their son would often chauffeur people around from one venue to the next during the festival. So in a way, it was very much like home, very much like how I know the theatre to be. Which was good, because often travelling to the west can be very overwhelming and one tends to do an ‘us and them’ comparison - never a fair one as it usually tends to be a direct comparison of infrastructure.

For us at Tram Theatre, it was really fortunate that we could be part of this festival, we had the opportunity to see many works that were material and object based. Our exposure and familiarity with such work is limited and we are still discovering our practice in many ways. We are still figuring out how we negotiate our stories with objects, how we educate our audiences and groom them to watching material and object based works. 

Being at Hellwach, which is a Children’s theatre festival hosted by Helios Theatre, we got to see plays from Rwanda, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Poland. We observed that there is a trend for plays and theatre companies to hop around the festival circuit in Europe, so everyone kind-of-sort-of knew each other or had met at some point in a festival. 

There was significant curiosity from theaterewallas there about our work, working conditions, contemporary themes being explored in theatre in India, funding, theatre schools, theatre for the young... and also about rape! Yes, often in the midst of discussions on theatre there would be  the odd question about the “rape situation” in India. Sigh.

One of the most striking observation for us was the telling of stories in the plays, or rather, the lack of it. Especially while working with materials, these plays focus on moments, elements and materials while the story is implied or non existent. Much is implied in the theatre, it is perhaps what touches us the most, the intangible...but for the story itself to be an implication, the narrative to be sketchy or even seemingly incomplete, left to the imagination to join dots…this was new and this was exceedingly exciting!

It is usually a moment, only a single image that stays with you. Perhaps this is the moment when you are most present engaging with the performer, or a visual being created on stage. (As lighting designers we chase these moments, often even find them mid show, sometime even by accident and not by design) From the many plays we saw, one such moment for me was when the butler reached out to the wolf, which was in a cage that hung about fifteen feet off the the ground. The wolf, a black wooden cut out, about one foot long, motionless, with some parts that moved only when manipulated. The butler climbs on a chair, checks if anyone was in site, makes eye contact with the wolf (Yes the wooden cut out) stretches his hand, reaches inside the cage and pulls him out, his eyes glistening in the light, lighting only the cage and him...The Wolf Game by Teatrodistinto, a very physical piece from Italy with no words and only some toys. A play for 4 year olds and above, it explored aggression. Also, very refreshing, how there was no moral high ground on themes for the young. 

This was also the first time I was seeing work for the “allerkleinsten” meaning the youngest; for ages 0-5. Ki Di Gri was one such play, performed by Compagnie Jardins Insolites from France, it had one actor onstage, a few suitcases and some colour. Much of the visual design like the costume, the objects, were all grey, and only a few colours were discovered in the course of the play- red, yellow and blue, that too only tiny specks of it, like a feather or a ball. At first look it almost looked like an absurdist piece, with all that grey! Well the youngest would get that. I do believe they understand abstraction, much better that we do, without the conditioning of logic.
Each play had a pattern - it would begin in the waiting foyer area, with little interactions like showing the audience an image and asking a question. The audience was then led inside the theatre and the play would begin as soon as everyone was seated. And each play (especially material based) would open at the end to the audience, for little ones and their parents or anyone else to go mingle. During Spuren (meaning Traces) by Helios theatre a play for 2 years and above, at the end little children could twiddle onto stage and play with the sand on the floor, tracing things.

As a company, the entire experience has been vastly educational for us. But the most cherished has been the conversations, the little and the big ones with fellow object and material based practitioners. On the other side of the festival, there is much to mull over and many notes to go through... but most importantly, many dots to join.  

June, 2014

by Mithila Palkar

When on vacation in the USA, I was keen on learning something which I could take back home. I wanted this to be a different but challenging experience where I wanted to explore something I never have. That’s when I stumbled upon a workshop on ‘The Stella Adler Acting Technique’.

The workshop was to be 6 weeks long, led by Ron Burrus - an American theatre/film director and trainer who has prior experience of working with Stella Adler. Though I have done a couple of theatre workshops in India, this one was going to be my first one abroad. More so, it was my first encounter with method acting. 

Moreover, taking up this class also meant that I would get to meet new people which I always eagerly look forward to. I was lucky to have been a part of a class where we had people from almost every continent of the world. All of us came from a different place but with the same purpose-to learn acting. Apart from actors, we also had musicians from Germany, a casting director from Panama, a dancer from Venezuela and even a lawyer from Mexico, among us. Thus, the energy that everyone individually brought in was varied and vibrant.  In addition to making new friends, I knew that this novelty would also add to my pool of knowledge as an actor and I couldn’t wait to begin.

The Stella Adler acting technique, like most other techniques that I am aware of, is derived from Stanislavsky’s system. Thus there are some similarities between these techniques, especially between the ones developed by Michael Chekhov and Stella Adler. Both these techniques are a seamless amalgamation of imagination and reality.

To be honest, the first few lessons of my class were a little absurd for me until I discovered the purpose of those lessons as we went deeper into the study. For example, Ron started each day by asking us what we have learned from our observations. He stressed on the fact that it is very important to live in the present and not lose out on the specifics of your surroundings. We were asked to study the behavioural patterns of people around us without judging them. I knew these were very important life lessons but I was impatient to learn how these translated into acting. 

Ron always insisted on us being more perceptive as actors. The above mentioned exercises helped us build our own bank of characteristics which we later used to create our fictitious characters in the scenes we rehearsed. He impressed upon the idea that while acting, what your character believes transcends your belief as a person.

We also did set exercises where we had to move around the space while noticing the specifics of everything that the space comprised of. This taught us to seek comfort in the space we worked in as the 'characters' we played. He even taught us a rehearsal technique post a cold reading of a script where we gave the emotions (in the dialogue) an action/movement and the action the corresponding dialogue from the script.  It was very interesting to see how giving the emotion a physical movement helped the dialogue flow with ease. 

 When the scattered pieces of my puzzling lessons finally began to fit, I had one of those moments of immense clarity, where I could find a parallel between what I was learning in class, and my experiences with all the previous workshops I have attended. I discovered that, for me, the beauty of acting lies in the idea that you get to be a completely different person. It serves my curiosity of knowing 'how it is like to be in someone else's shoes'. Some find solace in only imagining it, but as actors, we also learn to live it! I realized that in order to make your acting believable, there are certain rules that you have to follow and technique defines those rules. That is when I came to a conclusion that learning a technique is like learning a language. My mentor, Quasar Thakore Padamsee, once told me that with a trained actor, the director gets a lot more material to work with. I understand now why he said that. My acting lessons will from now on, be built on a stronger foundation. I am evolving – as an actor, and as a person.

Though I developed a liking for Stella Adler's technique almost immediately, it would be unfair for me to judge the effectiveness of other techniques without experiencing them. There is a long way for me to go, and I've reserved those experiments for later.

For now, I shall delight in my first lessons of method acting."

May, 2014

The Drama School, Mumbai started by Theatre Professionals in 2013 is a One year certificate course in Acting and Theatre-Making is a formal programme of learning for 18 individuals each year, keen to pursue a career in Theatre and the related performing arts. Mikhail Sen, a student of the first batch, recounts his experience.

The Drama School, Mumbai experience has not only been a journey, it’s been a lot more. It’s changed my life. Jumping into a career in theatre is no easy task. During my eight months in this city of dreams, I’ve been amazed at the mind boggling number of plays and theatre festivals that take place in Bombay. Theatre seems to be a perennial part of the city’s life force despite the constant refrain that theatre doesn’t pay. What I’ve discovered though is that while theatre might not pay, it does sustain - in more ways than one.

Theatre is something that I’ve had the privilege of growing up with.  It’s something that I love. Which is why I took the plunge, and decided to devote a year of my life to training in theatre. Being a part of The Drama School has changed me. It has changed my perspectives, and in many ways, re- shaped my beliefs with regard to theatre and, in turn, life. 

It hasn’t for even a second been an easy process. There has been constant conflict, self-doubt and self –criticism. What has emerged at the end of the day, though, is a strong sense of belief in oneself and in one’s work. I’ve realized that there’s a lot which you discover when you’ve been forced out of your comfort zone. In the struggle there is discovery. If you’re aware you’ll start to find things you’ve never realized existed. New ways of seeing, new ways of feeling, you start opening up. Being open is integral. When you’re really listening, seeing and feeling, you stop acting… And there I go off on a tangent. (Clearly, I’m taking the ‘aware actor’ thing too seriously) The focus on being an ‘aware actor’ has made me aware that I sometimes think too much. 

Speaking of thinking too much, I sometimes find that when I don’t think and just do - it really works.  Of course there are several occasions where I’ve wound up looking pretty stupid. But that’s what’s so much fun. If I were scared of looking stupid I wouldn’t try, and if you don’t try you won’t ever know.

The course at the Drama School has been designed to encourage self-discovery and self-reliance. The multi dimensional approach has opened me up to different forms of theatre. Through the course, I was constantly being exposed to different styles of theatre - often being thrown into the deep end – where I had no choice but to learn how to swim. From learning Shakespeare, Stanislavsky, Commedia Dell Arte, Greek Chorus, Yoga, Thang Ta and Kalaripayattu (to mention a few forms) my mind and body was pushed to the maximum. As one professor said,‘ Only when you use all your energy will you find a new energy that exists within you.’ Comprehending so many different forms can also be confusing but soon I realized that they’re all different ways to achieving the same goal. Whether you’re doing Shakespeare or Commedia or any other kind of theatre the fundamental goal is truth.  While the Drama School has opened doors into different kinds of theatre, the onus is on me to follow through. Ultimately one might resonate with many different forms but it is how you use those forms to create your own method that is key. 

In its first year The Drama School has been more than a roller coaster ride for both its faculty and its students. There’s been a huge quantum of learning on both sides. The intense training, rigour and work ethic has been life changing. As an aspiring actor, director and theatre maker, I’ve learnt, unlearnt and relearnt … and am unlearning and relearning every day …That’s my honest truth.

April, 2014


World Theatre Day was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI). It is celebrated annually on the 27th March by ITI Centres and the international theatre community. Various national and international theatre events are organized to mark this occasion. One of the most important of these is the circulation of the World Theatre Day International Message through which at the invitation of ITI, a figure of world stature shares his or her reflections on the theme of Theatre and a Culture of Peace.

Brett Bailey is a South African playwright, designer, director, installation maker and the artistic director of THIRD WORLD BUNFIGHT. He has worked throughout South Africa, in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UK and Europe. 

His works have played across Europe, Australia and Africa, and have won several awards, including a gold medal for design at the Prague Quadrennial (2007). He headed the jury of the Prague Quadrennial in 2011, and was a juror of the International Theatre Institute’s ‘Music Theatre Now’ competition in March 2013. 

 He directed the opening show at the World Summit on Arts and Culture in Johannesburg (2009), and from 2006-2009 the opening shows at the Harare International Festival of the Arts. From 2008-2011 he was curator of South Africa’s only public arts festival, ‘Infecting the City’, in Cape Town. In 2014 he delivered the International Theatre Institute’s World Theatre Day message to UNESCO.

"Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests.

Under trees in tiny villages, and on high tech stages in global metropolis; in school halls and in fields and in temples; in slums, in urban plazas, community centres and inner-city basements, people are drawn together to commune in the ephemeral theatrical worlds that we create to express our human complexity, our diversity, our vulnerability, in living flesh, and breath, and voice.

We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine. To wonder at technical dexterity, and to incarnate gods. To catch our collective breath at our capacity for beauty and compassion and monstrosity. We come to be energized, and to be empowered. To celebrate the wealth of our various cultures, and to dissolve the boundaries that divide us. 

Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests. Born of community, it wears the masks and the costumes of our varied traditions. It harnesses our languages and rhythms and gestures, and clears a space in our midst. 

And we, the artists that work with this ancient spirit, feel compelled to channel it through our hearts, our ideas and our bodies to reveal our realities in all their mundanity and glittering mystery. 

But, in this era in which so many millions are struggling to survive, are suffering under oppressive regimes and predatory capitalism, are fleeing conflict and hardship; in which our privacy is invaded by secret services and our words are censored by intrusive governments; in which forests are being annihilated, species exterminated, and oceans poisoned: what do we feel compelled to reveal? 

In this world of unequal power, in which various hegemonic orders try to convince us that one nation, one race, one gender, one sexual preference, one religion, one ideology, one cultural framework is superior to all others, is it really defensible to insist that the arts should be unshackled from social agendas?

Are we, the artists of arenas and stages, conforming to the sanitized demands of the market, or seizing the power that we have: to clear a space in the hearts and minds of society, to gather people around us, to inspire, enchant and inform, and to create a world of hope and open-hearted collaboration?"

March, 2014

HeLa Tour: India 2014
by Adura Onashile

“The show is the most important thing”

I remember when I first read "the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, , I was heart broken by the story, by the seeming injustice, by the travesty that I had never heard of this woman. However 2 and a half years later, we have made the show and performed it in one guise or another over 30 times, and somehow it doesn't hurt in the same way. But there are always people who are new to the story and who have that visceral reaction.  And there has been no better example of this than touring HeLa to India.  There were many firsts for me and because this was the first time we had had post show discussions after every show. For the first time I was able to really interact with audiences about the issues that came up for them in the show.

It never fails to amaze me the different interpretations audiences brought to the show. Art is amazing like that. There must always be enough space for the viewer to enter with her own life and experiences and interpretations.

As we premiered the show in Bombay, I was really impressed by the number of young people involved in making “the show the most important thing”. Young people who seemed incredibly passionate about theatre, who engaged with the issues raised in the show and in all the requirements of making the show run smoothly, from welcoming audiences, documenting the process, marketing, security and not least making sure everybody was well fed. There are several big debates happening in British theatre at the moment about how to get young people committed to the arts. Through QTP I felt this was not an issue in Bombay.

The space in Delhi was a proscenium arch stage in a small theatre of about 200 seats in the British council building. It’s the first time that we have performed the show in this setting.  I was concerned that the show would not feel as intimate as it has done before, perhaps I had forgotten that everything I do on stage in this show in particular is about communicating with the audience in the room. How have I managed to be an actor for so long without being conscious of this moment to moment? I know this isn't the nature of every show but I want it to be the nature of all the work I do. It allows me not to take myself too seriously, the story is always bigger than me. And there is no greater example of this than in telling the story of Henrietta Lacks. In the post show discussion, I was asked why I had chosen to do a solo show. The truth is it hadn't occurred to me to do anything else…This was a story of a woman who has come to exist in various distortions, be that in terms of memory, her cells or what history has chosen to remember of her. I kept wanting to explore her absence in all of this. It seemed the only way to do this effectively was to explore my solitary attempt to bring her back to life.

The Jagriti theatre in Bengaluru is owned by Mr and Mrs Raja, a theatre director wife and husband.. This small intimate 200 seater was a gorgeous space, the foyer of glass and white walls has posters of all the productions they have directed, from a hand drawn one back in the day, of everything from Indian Classics to Dream and the Glass menagerie. A theatre in a block of flats? What a scoop. The post show discussions in Jagriti took another leap forwards as we had prominent scientists in one post show discussion and the honour of having Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the head of Biocon in another.

It seemed to me that the theatre community in India , is strong, dynamic and passionate. Audiences continually offered insights and opinions that made me feel we had achieved what we had chosen to do with this show. But I was also made aware of things that I had not considered. Audiences bringing their own unique interpretations to the piece. The show was able to generate debate about the past and America and the present and india and the nature of ethics.

I feel like the show took huge leaps forwards because of the theatre environment it encountered in India. Everybody was passionate about making the show a success and the audience interaction proved that it really resonated with audiences. As an artist, this is all I want to achieve, a piece of work that is well done and that speaks to people. I will be forever grateful for the process of bringing HeLa to India.

February, 2014

Chalo Gori – Ek Do, Ek Do!
by Barbara Anderlic

There's a Muslim woman, a Jewish woman, and a Christian woman. Together they go to a talk on contemporary Indian theatre in China. - And? - They all become atheists. - What? - And one of them ends up at Thespo 15.

Just as unconventional – and unfunny – as the above joke might seem, as unusual it is to have a Slovenian thespian perform on a November night at Bandra Base, talking about food – especially Indian food. But all roads lead to Thespo as this edition's festival motto would have it, and indeed, after having attended the above-mentioned talk by Quasar Thakore Padamsee in Shanghai the first step had been taken in the direction of Mumbai, Thespo, and my overall theatrical journey through India.

The Food Tales performance in Bandra turned out to be the very first of many theatre experiences to come. Just over a week into my stay in Mumbai, I had the opportunity to perform alongside Dilnaz Irani, Himanshu Sitlani, Karan Makhija, and Tariq Vasudeva at the special reading, which served as a preview event for TATA Literature Live!. Apart from being handed the chance to work with Indian actors for the first time, the reading also introduced me to the writings of Khushwant Singh, Agha Shahid Ali, and many others. Funnily enough, I got to read an excerpt out of Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things – a book that I had read more than a decade earlier lying on my bed in Ljubljana, thousands of miles away from Bandra, and a novel that I had just recently rediscovered after visiting South Asia for the first time in the winter of 2012. Of course, I also talked about curry, and the reading, an intimate and casual affair, made sure that all attendees left with a whetted appetite for food – and literature.

Five days later saw the start of TATA Literature Live!, the fourth edition of the Mumbai International Literary Festival. On top of a long list of well-established authors and newcomers, the festival featured a strong performance programme that included a string of Indian and international productions, such as The Price of Everything. Written and performed by Daniel Bye, audiences discovered the price – and consequences – of unexpected and unaccepted kindness, the price of milk, and the price of Gareth Bale. Martin Kiszko, Britain's green poet, enlightened children and adults alike about 'poo power' and the travails of hedgehogs, and Zdenka Fantlová's true story of hope, despair, and the power of a simple tin ring found its voice in Jane Arnfield, which echoed through the Sunken Garden at the NCPA.

For me personally though, as one can imagine, the Indian productions were of much more interest. Ranging from The Killing of Dussasana, which combined flamenco and khatakali in the retelling of the epic poem Mahabharata, over A Tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto, directed and performed by Naseeruddin Sha and Ratna Pathak Shah, to Mister Jeejeebhoy and the Birds, these productions offered me a glimpse into the vast world of Indian theatre. Then there was Perch and Rafiki's production How to Skin a Giraffe. Based on Leonce and Lena by German playwright Georg Büchner, the play achieved a wonderful combination of inventive staging, singing, acting, and overall boundless imagination that ensured that the audience was enthralled throughout the performance. And I didn't understand half of it! But great theatre transcends language barriers and there is no greater joy than watching actors having fun onstage. If there is one image that will stay with me, it is the main character rocking himself to sleep; playing with the tennis ball that he attached to a string, our hero slowly falls asleep while the ball twirls around and descends down on him – just like nightfall. Simple – and effortlessly beautiful.

One thing that did surprise me when watching plays in Mumbai was the audience's loud enthusiastic feedback in the form of hoots and loud clapping during the performances when it found something particularly funny or a certain scene well-executed. Maybe I'm just being very Central European about this. I come from a place where we are taught as children to be very quiet inside museums, in the theatre, and at the opera –  and any other possible place where sacred 'art' is being celebrated. Or perhaps it is just me, but I'm not a big fan of the applause at the end of the curtain call – it's obligatory, it's a gesture, it's an acknowledgment of a witnessed act of performing, not a true measure of the merit of a performance in itself. Because rarely do we as actors walk offstage completely satisfied, with no doubts lingering in the back of one's mind about what was good and what could be done better. So in some sense the applause mid-way through the performances seemed out of place, as if the audience was goading the actors to ham it up and truly bring it on. And vain, fickle beings that actors are, who wouldn't – with a twinkle in his or her eye – play it up? I still believe it takes more away from the theatre experience than it adds to it though. Of course, certain plays literally invite one to play with the audience –  as one should.  And the audience is out there, a breathing, homogenous beast, hiding in the dark, preying on the actors' every move – an opponent that should be reckoned with – but it would be good to remember that we, the actors are in charge of the game. The audience should be hanging onto every word we utter from our lips, it shouldn't be us chasing after their constant acknowledgment.

The other feature of some of the plays I've seen was the ubiquitous and prolific use of music. Not simple sound effects or short musical cues but full-on melodic extravaganzas. Alright, the word 'extravaganzas' might be over-egging it, but so was the music in Rashomon Blues. It was the first play I saw at Prithvi and I was over-whelmed by the noise-level inside the auditorium. Again, this might reflect more my own tastes than any universal truth about Indian theatre. Music is a powerful ally when it comes to putting together a play, but in my view it can also be a mean manipulator that is quickly able to shout down the other parts of a theatre production. This does not mean that a play heavy on the music needs to be bad. As show-cased by Perch and Rafiki in How to Skin a Giraffe, balance is everything. Another point that struck me are the different acting styles. There seems to be quite a distinct generational gap or change. Watching some of the actors during rehearsals and the performance of Anouilh's Antigone I was struck by how 'actorly' they embodied their characters. Here, one was watching actors perform, whereas with other productions, I would get to observe a more 'natural', or 'realistic' characterisation of the people in the play. It would be interesting to find out why that is, but I guess acting styles and fashions come and go.

Overall though, I found that theatre in Indian is conducted very much like anywhere else. With a lot of enthusiasm, minimum budgets, and a lot of hard work. I wasn't 'pleasantly surprised' – since I hadn't made any assumptions – but just generally happy to see that a lot of people backstage and behind the scenes were women. I'm writing this because someone asked me what I thought about Indian women, as if there were one answer to it. I am generally the worst anthropologist since I usually try to only judge the people I meet and not their entire species but I guess the only thing I could say about the women I've worked with in Mumbai is, “Girls know how to get shit done”.

So, once LitLive! wrapped up it was time to focus on the project that I came to Mumbai for in the first place: Thespo 15 and conducting a workshop on contemporary Spanish theatre, which would culminate in a Fringe performance. The one-acts around which I based the workshop were Borges and I'd rather Goya robbed me of sleep than some arsehole, both by Rodrigo García, and Ramón by Sergi Belbel.

A memorable moment during auditions was one actress' slip of the tongue. She had arrived in high heels, a short skirt, and was beautifully done up. It was also early in the morning and the last thing I expected was for people to come in looking like a million bucks. After the actress had performed her  monologue for the first time I asked her to relax, to make herself comfortable, and to give it another go. I asked her to take off her heels too, so she could stand properly. It was then that she blurted out that she had thought dressing up might help, might improve her chances. I was slightly taken aback although not fully surprised. I was here to do 'theatre', to tackle García's and Borges' short-plays, and in my mind people who came to try out for a spot in my workshop were interested in improving their acting and in sweating blood and tears to get into character. It would have never crossed my mind to dress up for an audition for a workshop I wanted to be in. But Mumbai is the heart of Bollywood and so not everyone is necessarily in it for the art, for the pain, for the moments when you are the character. In defense of the the actress though, I must say that she was rather good and quite lovely. It is just a shame to think that high heels and short skirts is what it sometimes comes down to.

From the initial table-readings (or floor-readings) of the short-plays, over the dissection of Borges' character, the merit of Goya's paintings and the inner lives of our anti-heroes, to the tea-fuelled full run-throughs, and the final main fringe performance – it was a huge honour to be able to work with the final group of seven actors and to introduce them and the audience to some new and different material. If I could, I'd shout: Once again from the top!

There's probably nothing more nerve-wrecking than being a director on opening night. Once the lights go down there's nothing else one can do than hope that the actors take care of their character and each other. Watching my cast, I jumped on the inside when I saw them doing well and turned anxious when I noticed them struggling and their nerves getting the better of them. But in the end one could see that the work had paid off. Now if only they learn to be on time they will be all set for their glorious future. And although not always on time – I once ran the play with only two actors – their overall commitment cannot be under-estimated. Any director takes off their hat in front of an actor who performs with malaria.

But conducting the two-week long workshop with my seven participants was only half of the fun. The situation reached fever pitch with the official start of Thespo 15, which brought to the Mumbai stage the best of Indian youth theatre. Out of more than 120 plays, The E.Q., Kabadi – Uncut, 786, Mi...Ghalib, and Norway. Today had made the cut to perform at Prithvi. In addition to the shenanigans on the main stage audiences also got treated to a sling of fringe, platform, and music performances: Chidiya Ki Kahani, a street play about patriarchy, struck me as particularly memorable. And for the more adventurous there was another set of workshops to attend during the festival itself.

Among the 5 main plays I would have to single out Kabadi – Uncut. Even though I do not speak a word of Marathi I was able to follow the play and for the most part I could tell exactly what the characters on stage were talking about that very instant. It is a well-researched, well-written and well-crafted play, which was staged with ingenuity and whose actors were constantly loyal to each of their characters' fibs and quirks.

It did struck me that among the five plays, two were centred around the lives of two men, Einstein and Ghalib respectively. Mi Ghalib was the one play it was the hardest for me to watch, seeing as the script relied heavily on the beauty of Ghalib's language and there was not much physical action to speak of. A cruel honest trailer for it could perhaps be 'Important men talking to each other and singing each others' praises. Oh, and it features Ghalib's wife. And his mistress. No, the play doesn't pass the Bechdel test'. The E.Q. or 'One important man talking to himself at different ages' did not fall into this trap (or not as deep) due to a bigger cast and more lively and playful direction. Again, this is one reason why Kabadi – Uncut stuck out in my opinion, it had fully developed male and female characters, where both genders were equally represented. The only criticism that could be levelled against the play is that perhaps at a certain point the eventual outcome of the story becomes too foreseeable but this does not take away from the performance.

On the whole it must be said that the cast and crew of all the five plays showed a work ethic and professionalism that belies their young age and that makes one excited to see what these ingenues come up with in the near and distant future.

During the final leg of my stay in Mumbai I briefly travelled around the south of India. Of course, with theatre on my mind. In Pondicherry I was able to visit Adishakti Repertory and in Bangalore I was fortunate enough to meet up with one of the founding members of Yours Truly Theatre. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to see Jagriti Theatre, Rangashankara, or Nityagram, but hopefully I will get a chance to explore more of these places in the future. 

And so, the journey that started on Line 10 in Shanghai on a humid summer night in July has come to an end for now. It has been an incredible (excuse the pun) experience that allowed me to get a fuller and better picture of Indian theatre today – from the traditional to the modern, the Hindi to the English  – and its bright future – thinking back to the plays and the enthusiasm I witnessed during Thespo 15. At a viable dieable age for Thespo standards I say thank you to QTP for having me, and allowing me to be part of their team for two months – and for the small things. They are what really count in the end:

Pluto the dog or the philosopher,

the word 'shop' in Schopenhauer,

countless containers of apparently addictive milk powder,

Old Monks and Bandra churches,

missed lines, forgotten beats, odd rhymes,

exits, entries, and good byes,

and above all – raita.

The map is wet

in her palms: Bombay,

sticky at her fingertips,

its street names still dusty on her lips.

January, 2014

Actor’s workshop at Adishakti
by Aishwarya Mahesh

We all have our bucket lists, things to do over 20, things to do under 30, things to do before you have a baby and so on. No matter what else is on it, make sure to add the actor’s workshop at Adishakti to that list. When I heard about it for the first time; “Source of performance energy (workshop for actors)”, it struck me as both odd and abstract. Acting was not some sort of extreme sport that required you to build muscle strength and energy….  And also wasn’t performance all about talent? I got answers to both questions through the course of my workshop.

Before I tell you what I did at my 11 day workshop, a quick paragraph on the company itself. Adishakti, originally established as a theatre company in Mumbai in 1981 by Veenapani Chawla went on to become the Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Art Research in the early nineties. It was also around this time that the foundation began its research into the use of breath, voice and rhythm for performance. What does that mean? When an actor moves and emotes on stage, there’s a rhythm/pattern that his body language adheres to, and the emotion typically stems from a memory/experience. At Adishakti, they teach how to control your body language by mastering the rhythm that governs it. And reproduce an emotion purely through physiological stimulation. Meaning, if you have to demonstrate rage on stage, you can produce it through a particular breath pattern that causes your face to become red, eyes to bulge and the veins on your neck to pop out; all of these without having to recall the bully who made your high school hell. 

So this is what we tried to learn.  I use the word “try” because the concept of using breath and rhythm to perform in itself was a discovery that took a while to sink in. And while we, our batch of 23, learnt and practiced diligently over 11 days in the idyllic premises of Adishakti just outside of Pondicherry, the transformation to our bodies, voices and movement was phenomenal. I kept a diary of my stay there and this is what pretty much the grind for all of those 11 days, save a break day in between

630 am – Wake up and enjoy a quiet coffee with biscuits in the most picturesque setting – the premises is like a mini nature park 

700 am – Head to Kalari class- Kalaripayattu is a particular form of marital arts that originated in Kerala

800 am –Eye exercises and activating the centers (or chakras)of the body

900 am – Break - Shower and breakfast

1000 am – Voice exercises

1200 pm – Break - Coffee and bananas

1215 pm – Stimulating breath to produce an emotion – learning the “navarasas”

230 pm – Break - Lunch

330 pm – Drumming class – learning rhythm and beat

500 pm – Swimming – voice exercises under water

630 pm – Practicing rhythm and applying it to performance

830 pm – Dinner

So was the workshop rigorous?
 Intensely! There were days when dinner was had at 10.30 instead of 8.30 and there were days when classes went on to almost midnight post an early dinner.

Were the first couple of days abstract and difficult to assimilate both mentally and physically?
Oh so tiresome! The kalaripayattu that we learnt was a diabolical combination of squats and lunges. Took me half an hour to climb 5 steps after day 2, and there were only like a gazillion doubts on why we were doing what we were doing and how practical was it going to be to apply this in a 1 minute audition in real life.

Was staying away from the madness of a metro city for 2 weeks difficult?
Actually no for me, on this one. Though I know that it was hard on few of the others. We didn’t have TVs in our rooms; there was no network coverage in most places and the food was predominantly south Indian vegetarian.

So what was so brilliant about this module that almost everyone I know who has attended it (and me of course) vouches for it as a life-transforming must-do experience, especially for actors? This why -

Vinay Kumar and Nimmy Raphael are without a doubt the most prolific teachers I have had. Their knowledge and mastery of the subject and the passion with which they impart it to you is the heart and soul of the course.  

The discovery of breath and rhythm was a surreal experience. Yes, they are indeed amazing sources from which you can draw upon energy to perform. And yes performing is exhausting, it needs abundant energy; you need to strengthen that core and work on that diaphragm as much as a marathon runner would, if you want your voice to project and your body language to be fluid.  

And yes, if you have talent, you’re undoubtedly blessed, but acquiring a skill is not something outside of your reach, provided you work that posterior off. It is in fact on this basis that Adishakti accepts participants into its training module; anyone can act as long as you’re committed.

The actor’s workshop at Adishakti is by far the most holistic theatre trainings I have attended. About a week into it, when you connect the dots and realize how the martial arts assists the breathing, and the drumming the body movement and the voice exercises the breathing and the breathing back to movement, it’s quite wondrous . And when you amalgamate them and create a tiny performance, even if it is for half a minute, you can’t help feeling like the king of the world.

Adishakti is yet to put out its schedule of workshops for 2014, you can find more details on the same at http://adishaktitheatrearts.com/

December, 2013

All the World's a Stage...but You're Out of the Light
by Barbara Anderlic

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.

And yet, even though the world's a stage, when we are talking about the global theatre world some parts of the stage are constantly in the spotlight – maybe even over-exposed – whilst others remain barely lit or completely dark – confined to the fringes to the left and right, always upstage'd, far away from the enthusiastic theatre crowd.

Nowadays it is mainly English-speaking plays, either from the US or the UK, that make it big internationally. Once a play establishes itself on Broadway or reaps success at the Old Vic, it is bound to spawn translations and productions in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the reverse rarely holds true. Triumphant performances of home-grown productions and plays from Peru, Estonia, or South Africa don't guarantee international exposure and dissemination. International theatre festivals around the world are trying to promote cooperation and collaboration between theatre groups from all corners of the world and to expose their audiences to different theatrical experiences and cultures, and some plays do transcend their national and linguistic borders, but as stated earlier on, they remain in the minority.

What is even more interesting is that there is an odd assumption that certain countries talk only about certain subjects. During a meet-up of playwrights from New York and Slovenia in Ljubljana in the winter of 2006, the artistic director of New York City's Soho Rep, Sarah Benson, professed her surprise at the themes Slovenian playwrights were tackling in their plays. “I found writers viewing themselves much more as part of a larger and aggressively contemporary tradition – and not exclusively about Slovenian concerns.” Saška Rakef, whose plays have been performed in Slovenia and abroad lamented the fact that “there are expectations about what we should write about based on a geopolitical key that is pre-established (…) In England, my play Home was interpreted to be talking about the genocide in Kosovo – which by no means was my theme!”

Back in 2007 Time magazine caused a storm with their cover story about the death of French culture. The article asked what had happened to la grand nation, which had governed literary and cultural tastes for centuries. In his commentary on the article in the Guardian, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy claimed that it revealed more about US Americans than the actual death of French culture. Only a year later the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy at that time, Horace Engdahl, said that, “the US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.” Whether one agrees with these statements and this also holds true for theatre, is up to debate.

Hailing from Slovenia I've grown up perceiving my own culture in the context of a wider web of different cultures, social backgrounds, and influences. Having other cultures serve as reference points – I believe – contributes to one's understanding that someone's “own culture” – if there truly is such a thing – is not always the only thing relevant, happening, or out there. It's a reminder to look out for the unknown, the hidden, and the unexpected. The following pieces – none of which are from the UK or US – have captured my attention because of their ingenuity and originality, be it due to their content, staging, or both.

First, Mandićstroj (Mandićmachine), performed by one of today's most versatile Slovenian actors, Marko Mandić. The performance is a head-on deconstruction of the essence of the actor, and thereby, human beings. In the one-hour performance Mandić the actor – the machine – or the acting machine, reenacts and performs parts of all the characters he has played throughout his entire career up to today. The different characters – there are over thirty of them – are mashed up into one coherent theatrical piece. The production works on many different levels: As a play in itself, it  seamlessly weaves together bits and pieces from plays such as Hanif Kureishi's Outskirts, Ivan Cankar's Romantic Souls, Sophocles' Antigone, and Janusz Głowacki's The Fourth Sister. On the other hand, the show also works as a wonderful illustration of what it means to be an actor, showcasing Mandić's versatility and command on stage, while trying to get to the core of what it means to be and act.

Sanja Mitrović, originally from Serbia but now living and working in the Netherlands, is the founder of Stand Up Tall Productions. In her works she tackles her own past as well as current issues, such as poverty and the economic slump in Europe and the world in general. Will You Ever Be Happy Again?, for example, is focusing on her own life to tell the story of the war in Yugoslavia, the bombing of Belgrade, and her new life in Amsterdam. Taking pieces of her personal experiences  as the basis of the play, she explores the topics of belonging, exile, and loss, and gives them a universal dimension.

Similarly, Argentinian writer, director, and actor, Lola Arias, structures her theatrical performances around real historic events and biographies to create a very distinct style of documentary theatre. The production Mi Vida Después explores the lives of a group of people that have been shaped by the military dictatorship in Argentina, creating a nuanced patchwork of victims, perpetrators, and a society in flux. Both Arias and Mitrović works draw heavily on their own specific geopolitical background but they aren't restricted by it. If done well, or so we hope, good plays transcend the place where they come from and can speak to a broader audience. Luckily enough, both plays had the chance to tour to different countries as part of festivals or on their own.

The last performance I'd like to mention is Lu Xun Blossoms, which I had the fortune to see at the Shanghai International Contemporary Theatre Festival (ACT) in 2011. A Sino-Canadian co-production between the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre and Canada's Theatre Smith-Gilmour, the play – based on short-stories by the Chinese writer Lu Xun – illustrated beautifully the benefits of international collaboration and exchange to create a wonderful piece of theatre.

These four performances point to the wealth of possibility that lies in exploring and discovering new and different productions from around the globe. It might not always be easy, finding one's way in the dark, but it surely is worth the effort. In the end, English, today's lingua franca, and the internet can be our allies, if we want them to be. So next time you or your friends are thinking about reading a new play or need some food for thought, look up what's happening on the stages of Helsinki, Cairo, and Buenos Aires, find out what shows are being staged in Lebanon, or what plays are drawing crowds in Seoul.

Then, perhaps, all actors will be lit and can exit with a raucous round of applause.

November, 2013

Behind the Play: Colourblind, So Many Socks make it a good September!

My name is Shivam S and I am 24 year old Actor. 

‘Colourblind’ is my third stage production as an Actor after ‘So Many Socks’ with Q (My First!) and ‘Limbo’ with Manish Gandhi.

’Colourblind’ is a play Directed by Manav Kaul, comes to Mumbai on December 5th at the 
NCPA and Prithvi theatre on 27th, 28th, 29th December. 

The play opened in Kolkata in September and has Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore as its central character.  


Everyone is Colourblind, they just don’t know.

Manav always says this play is not about Tagore.

He is in there, somewhere. In the shadows, mostly behind the words, between all the doubt and pain… hovering. An occasional flow of light from stage left to right, more resonant in the wings, like a dot of courage on the forehead, sometimes sticking playfully to the blinds between the villa and the café. He is in there somewhere. He… as in Tagore.

What do I tell you about the shows!

I still remember the gigantic sigh I exhaled at the end of our premiering show at Tollygunje Club, Kolkata. Over 3 months of work coming to life (6 months and more for the rest of the team, for I joined in late.) It felt really really good, I’ll say that. Loaded faces bursting into liberated smiles backstage after the show, smiles of victory and acknowledgement… Priceless! That sweaty night in Kolkata. 

When Satyajit stands up from his chair for the first time, and the lights turn red. The silence of that minute… it is a very special silence. And we realized that during our last show in Shantiniketan.

A huge part of the audiences that came to watch the show were youngsters, students, and understandably they were a bit overzealous about watching Kalki on stage. So there was a lot of noise and banter, hell… even hooting, such was the energy. Everyone was a bit anxious about the show and how it will be performed and received in such an environment. This wasn’t the Shantiniketan of our dreams, a place living in that golden past, tucked away from the world… This was Chitra theatre straight from the first show of a Rajni film!

The show began, and the first scene was a war for us actors. We fought to be heard, to be understood, to be felt… Swanand, Kalki, Ajitesh, Amrita and I.

And then Satya stands up, turns to face the audience. The lights become red against a backwash of blue.   

The songs have been one of the most astounding part of the journey for us all. Avantika, Amrita, Chitrangada, Ajitesh, Neha, so many rehearsals have been spent listening to the tunes they would dig up from Tagore’s endless work and sing. In search of the last song… a search still on in full swing.

‘The song of the play’… Swanand, hope you’re listening… I mean writing! :D

I have passed that phase where I would blush and get lost every time Kalki spoke to me at rehearsal, or just plain spoke. I have still got to learn to control my merriment at her and Satya’s café conversations during the play.

That, and to not lose my mind ‘every’ time Chitragada enters the last scene. The rhythm of that walk, the way her ‘pallu’ drags on the stage. It’s so hard to stand still and not watch. Kill me!  

Coming Home!

I was feeling a bit empty on the way back from Kolkata, we theatricians always do when a play tour ends, and then Padma said to me… It’s going to be alright, we are going Home.

Yes… Yes!

We were… straight to the Socks rehearsals the very next day, where QTP keeps us so well fed there is no space for any kind of emptiness. I always tell Q, our food bill can fund one full play. 

Actually, just Sid and Saha’s food bill could fund one more play!

We knew right from the beginning this show was going be special. It was quite predictable. We were performing at the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an open air venue set against the backdrop of the magnificent Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad.

On the evening of ‘2nd October’ (The most relevant date for this play after August 15th), in the presence of Mallika Sarabhai herself!

We were ‘prepared’ for SPECIAL.

Or so we thought… because we reached Ahmedabad to be told it has been raining very frequently and heavily there… and if it rains mid-show, the show will be ‘paused’ to be shifted in to an indoor hall in the academy.

Pause. A live performance. Right.

But the good part is our Socks ‘gang’ is proficient at gulping down worries with the tons of food we eat. So by the time the show began, everything was alright! I went outside and looked.  And 
the show began as usual … full, free, under the caring light of the after-dusk.

The wind was blowing excitedly right from the beginning, but as soon as Ama began telling Tashi about her visit to the border… out of nowhere, the clouds gathered in to listen.

The wind was so strong it could blow away a young calf. And the clouds, well those rowdy bastards just couldn’t control themselves at ‘Lo ji… Dilli waale nikle’. And they burst out laughing. Loud, Heavy, hiccupping laughter.  

I can understand Q not stopping the show. That is the Q I know.

But the audience… not a single soul got up. They sat through pouring rain, without a care for their gadgets, or clothes, or an engagement after… and they let us walk all over them. Hands, feet, toes on toes, heart, mind, all drenched… in our story. And by Our I mean ‘us and them’. 

That is the nature of the show.    

I won’t speak for the audience. But it hit us, that show. Hit us good and wet.

April, 2013

Message of World Theatre Day 2013

We are proud to announce that the message author of World Theatre day 2013 is the playwright, author and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo!

Dario Fo's Message:

A long time ago, Power resolved the intolerance against Commedia dell’Arte actors by chasing them out of the country.

Today, actors and theatre companies have difficulties finding public stages, theatres and spectators, all because of the crisis.

Rulers are, therefore, no longer concerned with problems of control over those who express themselves with irony and sarcasm, since there is no place for actors, nor is there a public to address. 

On the contrary, during the Renaissance, in Italy those in power had to make a significant effort in order to hold the Commedianti at bay, since these enjoyed a large audience.

It is known that the great exodus of Commedia dell’Arte players happened in the century of the counter-Reformation, which decreed the dismantling of all theatre spaces, especially in Rome, where they were accused of offending the holy city. In 1697, Pope Innocent XII, under the pressure of insistent requests from the more conservative side of the bourgeoisie and of the major exponents of the clergy, ordered the demolition of Tordinona Theatre which, according to the moralists, had staged the greatest number of obscene displays.

At the time of the counter-Reformation, cardinal Carlo Borromeo, who was active in the North of Italy, had committed himself to the redemption of the “children of Milan”, establishing a clear distinction between art, as the highest form of spiritual education, and theatre, the manifestation of profanity and of vanity. In a letter addressed to his collaborators, which I quote off the cuff, he expresses himself more or less as follows: “Concerned with eradicating the evil weed, we have done our utmost to burn texts containing infamous speeches, to eradicate them from the memory of men, and at the same time to prosecute also those who divulged such texts in print. Evidently, however, while we were asleep, the devil labored with renewed cunning. How far more penetrating to the soul is what the eyes can see, than what can be read off such books! How far more devastating to the minds of adolescents and young girls is the spoken word and the appropriate gesture, than a dead word printed in books.  It is therefore urgent to rid our cities of theatre makers, as we do with unwanted souls”.

Thus the only solution to the crisis lies in the hope that a great expulsion is organized against us and especially against young people who wish to learn the art of theatre: a new diaspora of Commedianti, of theatre makers, who would, from such an imposition, doubtlessly draw unimaginable benefits for the sake of a new representation.

February, 2013

‘IGNORANCE’ IS BLISSby Himanshu Sitlani

My theatre watching in Toronto usually goes from nothing to watching multiple plays in a short period of time. The month of December 2012 was the latter – saw 3 plays over the Christmas Holiday season, but the one that stood out for me was the puppet show ‘Ignorance’ by Alberta based Old Trout Puppet Workshop at the Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre. 

Those who know the kind of plays I like or produce will tell you that ‘macabre’ is my thing. So when a play starts with, “Are you happy? Everybody should be happy.” – I was ready to leave. However as the first scene unfolded, we were informed that “…..by the time the show is over, 14 more North Americans will have jumped off bridges.” This was followed by a rather whimsical encounter between a puppet and a happy-face balloon that ends in gruesomely comic death. I was hooked!!!!

‘Ignorance’ is an exploration of how we come to understand happiness, how we seem to have lost it and how we might be able to find it again. It’s presented in documentary style, with a voiceover as the narrator. Kind of like those Disney cartoons that mostly starred Goofy.
The play itself follows the idea of the pursuit of happiness at two different times in human history. A prehistoric time where a caveman and cavewoman begin to understand new emotions of happiness and love, trying to survive, having sex and killing and chomping on a mammoth’s leg. Simultaneously, in the present day, people are struggling to find happiness. A happy face balloon taunts these people by floating just out of arm’s reach. In the first instance, the balloon plays with a boy, then slowly wraps its string around his neck and hangs him. Another episode involves a guy standing on the ledge of a skyscraper who jumps off to reach the balloon. However, at the nth moment the balloon floats away from him ever so gently as the man rushes to meet the ground.

I’m loving this!!!! (Yes, I’m twisted!!)

The key element to all this are the puppets and the puppeteers. Most of the pleasure ofIgnorance’ comes from a minimalistic but superb set design, which blends together the bodies of the puppeteers with inanimate objects.

The gibberish-spouting puppets (whose rendition of ‘My Heart will go on’ was just awesome) from the Stone Age have heads that look like they are made out of stones and hands from sticks; while their bodies are covered with a bit of fur draped across the operator’s arms. The present day dolls all look like middle-aged Charlie Browns. I was also amazed to see how the puppeteers created shifts in perspective using 2 sets of puppets. The audience zoomed in for close ups with life size puppets and then miniature dummies were used to give us the sense of a cinemascope view of the story!

The puppeteers - Nicolas Di Gaetano, Viktor Lukawski and Trevor Leigh (all with huge moustaches) used the puppets with ease and really breathed so much life into the puppet characters that after the first few minutes we forgot that the puppets weren’t real. At times they’d break the illusion of being puppeteers and were just having fun performing. The slapstick Chaplinesque interaction during these break away’s were priceless.

The only drawback, if I would call it that, was that the voiceover (given by the creator Judd Palmer) constantly subdued an otherwise over enthusiastic crowd and felt monotonous after a while. I would have preferred a live narrator as a recorded voice cannot respond to the emotions and moods of a live audience, which was sometimes forced to quiet down, even at the funniest bits.

All in all, ‘Ignorance’ was a truly memorable evening for me and one of the best performances I saw in 2012. A simple and fun 75 minute theatre experience. The play itself gave me a different perspective on the human race’s pursuit for happiness. Sometimes, happiness lies in the simplest of things, like carrying a balloon... even when the balloon can kill you! 

January, 2013

by Akash Mohimen

About 8 years ago, I stepped into Prithvi for the first time to watch Motley's Manto Ismat Haazir Hai. As I entered the hallowed theatre, there was a pleasant, uneasy feeling inside me as I absorbed the history and legacy of the place. 

My feelings on November 12th, 2012 were quite similar. As Elyse Dodgson, the associate director of the Royal Court and one of our mentors from the Writers' Bloc workshops took us on a tour through the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, she nonchalantly pointed to the stage and said, ‘This is where Sir Laurence Olivier opened his play The Entertainer in 1957’. That was when my heart jumped up, spun around in my throat, and dove into my intestines before resurfacing and finding its rightful place. Yes, Déjà vu indeed. 

Ayeesha Menon, Abhishek Majumdar, Purva Naresh, Sagar Deshmukh and myself had been selected by the Royal Court from the 12 writers whose plays had been produced as a part of the Writers' Bloc festival earlier in the year. There was to be a rehearsed reading of our plays under the program, NEW PLAYS FROM INDIA. We were accompanied by Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel, two-thirds of the Rage Trio, without whom all of this would have been a distant and blurry dream. 

This was the first time I was stepping outside of Mumbai with a play of mine, leave alone the country. And it was a happy co-incidence that the city was London. A place I have read the most about in literature, yes shamefully, even more than any Indian city. 

And when I finally landed up there I felt a bit like Noddy in Toyland. The paved streets, picturesque red bricked houses and ‘toy train set’-type tube stations. And at times it was quite similar to how I had felt when I first moved to Mumbai 9 years ago, when I recognised the famous locations from films and television.

And there was the Royal Court building in itself. An impressive building, with its name glowing in red neon at night, overlooking Sloane Square. Narrow corridors and small office spaces dominated the maze like blueprint of Royal Court. Friendly smiles and a misleading question ‘Are you all right?’ (A very English way of saying what’s up) greeted me in every lift ride.

Each play was assigned British directors, most of whom had received the script barely a month ago (Except in Majumdar’s case who had been working with Richard Twyman on Djinns for almost 2 years). The responsibility of Mahua, my play, fell upon Caitlin McLeod, a young British-American girl. To my pleasant surprise, Caitlin's homework was quite thorough. She asked me the right questions, understood the relationship dynamics between the characters and most importantly, understood the issue and had read up plenty on the subject. 

All the plays received a day and a half for rehearsals. Most of my cast members were second or third generation British Indians, who unfortunately had little understanding of the issue and culture depicted in Mahua. 

Having said that, once the rehearsals began, most of them caught on to the flow and timings instantly.  The only glitch being the 'Indian Accent' which, every now and then made me cringe, some times even widen my eyes and a couple of times crack up. 

But fortunately, the cast was receptive to ideas, and ‘the accent’ was toned down.  Some of the questions thrown at me were so unexpected that I didn't even know the play touched upon such issues. But I guess that is the beauty of sharing your text with an intelligent group of actors and understanding that there is not just one right way. So, by the time we were into our third reading, I sat back and let Caitlin take charge, just interrupting once in a while to add a couple of Hindi expletives and to give them a demonstration of a song.

And then, of course, there was show day, or in this case, the reading day. On a Wednesday, at 5pm in the evening, we had a full house. And this was not just for Mahua. All 5 plays received a packed house with few people left outside still asking for tickets. And this was just a reading. Oh, how I envy the theatre practitioners in the UK.

The week was rounded off by a panel discussion on Challenges of Writing New Plays in Contemporary India. And yet again, surprise-surprise, there was a full house. An audience eager to understand a country which even we Indians don’t understand, and a group of writers trying to explain that under no circumstances can the five of us claim to be representative of the diverse theatre culture of India.

And before I could absorb the frantic energy of the week, the curtains came down on our stay.  So there I was, a playwright barely 2 years into my writing career and still taking my baby steps into understanding theatre, having just presented my text on Britain’s most important venue for New Writing.  On the same stage where some of the modern greats of English Drama like Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Martin Crimp, Caryl Churchill and Martin McDonnagh have had their works produced. It had taken me 6 years since my first visit, to have a play produced at Prithvi. The optimist in me wakes up and can’t help but wonder if it will take the same time at the Royal Court.

December, 2012


They say that every seven years your world changes. So here I am, 7 years after my play premiered at Thespo 7. I was sitting in the same place Quasar and Aarti once sat and judged 'Tara'. It seems easy from the outside like Anton Ego says in Ratatouille "The job of a critic is easy." Only at the Thespo auditions do you weigh each word and monitor each expression (voluntary and involuntary). I came a week after the auditions started. Toral had seen the Nagpur and Kolkata leg of auditions since I couldn't be there. Kashin Shetty and I started judging in Mumbai with a warmhearted play "Bawlaa" -even though it didn't make through to the festival, the story has stayed with me. Kashin has been on the panel for the past 2 years. He is one of the most fun, chilled out and serious people I have known. Also if it wasn't for him I surely would've lost my way in all the cities we toured.

Our second stop was Pune. Pune has been stealing the festival for the past two years. I wasn't surprised to see why this was happening. Pune is the first perfect recipe for new and emerging talent in the country. They are a tablespoon full of raw talent mixed in bowl full of honesty and humility with a dash of eagerness to learn more. We found two of our festival plays in Pune - Natak Company's "Aparadhi Sugandh" and Bhushan Patil's "Naav". Next stop was Delhi. We started with a beauty-KMC's "Line" and after them were a whole bunch of fun Delhi college students putting their best foot forward. When we returned from Delhi, it was as if all of Mumbai's talent decided to take us by storm. We found our next two plays in this leg. Karan Shetty came back in full form with "Being Sartak Majumdar" and a true story "God=Father" by Anvay Ashtivkar. We headed to MICA, Ahmedabad. One of the most creative colleges in the country today, they showed it off and how! There was graffiti on the walls, students walking around in pajamas cribbing how less they've slept through their tired, nasty giggles. Ahmadabad was an all night event with six plays. Kashin and I were awake because of the plays and not the chai. Each show was power packed with energy and lovely performances. Unfortunately none of them made the 60-minute requirement for the festival. Next stop, Mumbai. When we came back, Kashin and I came across plays that needed help, work and a pat on the back in form of Thespo Fringe or lots more work to take them to Thespo at Prithvi.

I was warned over and over again about decision night, about how long it’s taken previously, the hours, the debating, and the negotiating. So thanks to Vidisha Thespo Kanchan's planning we started early and ended, well... earlier than the past few years. All in all, when you end a decision night with Sancha's ice cream, you know you've made good choices for the festival. So here it is - Thespo 1-4 All and All for One.

Apradhi Sugandh
Aparadhi Sugandh - This musical theatre-styled narrative talks about a couple who are arranged to meet for marriage under a Sandalwood tree. The tree becomes the focal point of the narrative when the couple finds out that will be cut down soon. The protagonist (Siddharth Menon) fights strong and hard to save the tree. So can he or can he not save the tree is left to be seen. The live music, beautiful songs and lighthearted dialogues is what makes this play a must watch. This is one story woven with fun, love and a thought to take home.

Naav - Subtlety at its best. Bhushan Patil and his actors stole our hearts. Their pace and stillness is what makes this simple tale a beautiful one. Set in a small village in Maharashtra, this story is about an illegitimate nine-year-old girl and her mother's struggle for her child's father's name. The mother wants to enroll the child in the village school but the registrar won't enroll her without her father's name. The mother asks the registrar to write his name in the place of the father’s since she doesn't want the biological father to be named. Chaos occurs when the registrar’s pregnant wife finds out about the incident. The story deals with a simple conflict of man vs. society. Who wins between the two is to be seen.

Line - Everyone wants to come first, be first and stay first. No matter where you are queuing up. Vinay Bhushan (Shardul Bhardwaj) has been standing in a queue since 4 a.m. As people trickle in, they dodge, manipulate, seduce, fight, and use all the arts of war to move up the line and stand first. Their tactics to get ahead is what will keep you in splits of laughter and wanting more.

Being Sartak Majumdar

Being Sartak Majumdar - Get ready to be taken down TV memory lane and one man’s struggle to understand himself. The play will have you rolling on the floor with its humour and spellbinding performances. Set in three parts, the protagonist takes you through his life, struggles and fun times, the only question here is, Is there a way out? 

God = Father
God = Father -  Anvay Ashtivkar brings to you a true story about a boy’s relationship with his father and God. It is Anvay's direction and clever devices that makes a simple conflict of man vs. man a beautiful play. The protagonist, his ex-girlfriend and best friend take you through the story of the protagonist's identity crisis. Is he really like his father, people around him never failing to tell him so, or does he have an identity of his own? The matter-of-fact humour is what keeps this play fresh and relatable.

Finding these five plays through one month of traveling to various cities has been an awesome experience. It is the people who came to pick us up and drop us at railway stations and airport at odd hours that I would like to thank. Every time we gave feedback I was taken back to my feedback session. I am here because Thespo gave me a chance seven years back and I am ever so grateful to QTP for it. All the youth theatre people that I have met through this journey have only kind words to say about Thespo and how it has made their journey in having a career in this industry that much easier.

'Bawraa man dekhne chala hai ik sapna...'

October, 2012

The KABIR KALA MANCH Defence Committee
According to official government figures, on an average, two Dalits are killed and three raped every day across India. All the more shocking is the fact that even in Maharashtra which gave birth to major social reformists and progressive thinkers like Jyotiba Phule and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the incidence of atrocities remains unacceptably high.

In this landscape it cannot be surprising that Dalit and Adivasi youth have begun to voice their protest more openly than before. After the police killings at Ramabai colony and later, the Khairlanji massacre many protests took place. Instead of bringing the guilty to book the State responded by branding the protesters as Naxalites. Later Dalit cultural activists like Sudhir Dhawle were jailed for “sedition”.

It is in this context that the story of KABIR KALA MANCH must be understood.

KABIR KALA MANCH is a Pune based cultural troupe mainly consisting of Dalit youth from the region. First coming together against the communal carnage in Gujarat, they have taken part in innumerable public interest causes like slum-dwellers rights, workers rights and sustainable development, but their special affinity has been fighting for the annihilation of caste to which end they led from the front by promoting and publicising inter-caste marriages within the group. As a cultural troupe and as songwriters they performed for and with movements led by Medha Patkar, Bhai Vaidya, as well as with groups from the working class movement.

In 2011, the state began to brand them as Naxalites. Today while Deepak Dengle and Siddharth Bhonsle are in prison, many other members including singer-poets Sheetal Sathe, Sagar Gorkhe and Sachin Mali have gone underground after threats from the police.  All are charged with being Naxalites and the ATS is using an uncritical media to plant regular allegations against the KKM. Even these allegations do not accuse the KKM of any violence, but are dependent mainly on guilt by association.

It is not so long ago that Dr Binayak Sen was similarly charged and jailed for close to three years before the Supreme Court intervened to grant him bail. Binayak Sen had by then become an international cause célèbre. It was hoped that his release on bail would put a brake on the targeting of innocent civilians for the mere “crime” of taking up the cause of the poor.

The targeting of KKM shows that this is not the case.

The KABIR KALA MANCH Defense Committee urges the government of Maharashtra to withdraw all false charges against members of the KABIR KALA MANCH, free cultural activists who are currently in prison and allow the KKM to perform in public again.

KABIR KALA MANCH Defense Committee is a group of citizens concerned with the erosion of the cultural space and the right to protest in India. It includes:

Anand Patwardhan, Bhai Vaidya, J V Pawar, Kamayani Mahabal, P A Sebastian, Prakash Reddy, Ramu Ramanathan, Ratna Pathak Shah, Sambhaji Bhagat, Simantini Dhuru, Sudhakar Suradkar, Sumedh Jadhav, Suneeta Rao, Teesta Setalvad, Vivek Sundara and many more.


Also find below the link to the petition to release the 2 members of the KABIR KALA MANCH:

September, 2012

My One Year in the Bombay Theatre

If I were to capture in one word, what I thought of the theatre scene in Bombay, back when I was a Chennai girl, it would be ‘intimidating’. And having spent a year in this city, watching more plays than I have seen in my entire lifetime, I’d say that the description still sticks. Like all other industries in Bombay, theatre too, draws the best of talent from across the country. I remember my first orientation meeting at a workshop where almost all of us had moved to the city in recent times, and a majority had moved in solely to build a career in theatre, without a back-up/day job. This has been a recurring feature in most workshops/readings/auditions I have attended. As is the awe-inspiring talent that the participants in these events come with.
So a year back, when I had moved to Bombay, without the slightest hint of how to kickstart my theatrical journey, I was told to get in touch with the following groups by random (very helpful) friends of  friends  – Aquarious/Akki-various productions, QTP and Ace. And while I did manage to make some contact with all of them, my first significant step came when Short and Sweet picked my play to be staged at NCPA. The Mumbai SnS festival directed by the ever so delightful Ira Dubey is nothing short of a godsend for newcomers to interact with, and understand the workings of the theatre fraternity. It is a forum where you get to see the work of both veteran groups/artistes such as A K Various (not akki or aq) Productions and Meetha Vashisht, and the hoping-to-make-it-big newcomers, in a uniform 10 minute format. And while the talent and energy are extremely daunting, the people themselves couldn’t be nicer.  With none of the airs that I had imagined they had, the Bombay theatre wallahs are more than forthcoming in terms of chatting over a chai or sharing a sutta. Getting them to cast you in a play though is a wholly different matter. 
Most of the active theatre groups in Bombay have a clearly defined set of actors that they work with, production after production. Hell, some of them even have a fixed set of understudies! And while they are generous in terms of sharing this pool of actors with each other, they are rather reserved about giving newbies a shot. I can say this with an unburdened conscience because in the last year, I have seen the same faces weekend after weekend, enthralling audiences at different performance venues. And while I have stated effusively enough that the talent in Bombay is top notch, the city makes sure even the best of the best struggle. There however seems to be one short-cut though. This one isn’t easy either, but if cracked, it sure is a super short route to the top. I am talking about the one event that has developed into a sort of cult-theatre-phenomenon here - “Thespo”
The city’s biggest and immensely popular youth theatre festival “Thespo” seems to have been the launch pad for, well everybody who is doing theatre in this city. Till SnS, where someone very graciously explained what it was all about, Thespo to me was a vague theatrical event, the format of which deluded me entirely. Following are a few random references I had heard (continue to hear) in the passing about it –
“Arrey yeh toh thespo 12 mein tha”
“Mere paas ek play hain, thespo 11 ke liye mere friend ne likha”
“That chick in Gangs of Wasseypur 2 – she is a thespo product”
“Can’t make it, have thespo auditions”
“Were you in thespo last year?”
No. No. No. I was not a part of any Thespo in any year. Because when I moved to Bombay, I was 26. My biggest grouse with its organizers, the festival is strictly for persons under the age of 25. So yes, Thespo torments me wherever go, making sure to rub it in my face that I missed it by a whisker. Speaking of Thespo brings me to the edifice that has come to be identified as the “mecca” of theatre, the ultimate destination for anyone seeking to perform – Prithvi.
Going to Prithvi for the first time to watch a play was something I had been building up for years. I was as fascinated by it as I was intimidated. But like all things heavily hyped that fall flat, Prithvi too disappointed a little. This was mostly because my mammoth expectations of the auditorium included a mammoth hall that could seat a million people. And scooching every five minutes to accommodate more people, whose limbs invaded my personal space (courtesy the absence of arm rests) was a far cry from what I had imagined. It is however impossible to not fall in love with this place; if the vibrancy of the people that frequent it does not work its charm on you, the iced tea and pav bhaji most definitely will. My fingers are still crossed in anticipation of the day that I’ll make my debut here. Till such time, I will continue dabbling with theatre; reviewing plays for the script, attending workshops organized by the Theatre Professionals (if you haven’t already enrolled, get to it right now!) and watching Thespo 14 (silently cursing its organizers and the universe).

May, 2012

The Road Virus Heads Further North

Somewhere around nine in the morning, in the heart of October last year, I sat on a railing outside Lucknow airport and contemplated the parking lot. The parking lot in question is very similar to the parking lot at Lucknow station, and that, in turn, is a smaller version of the parking lot at Howrah station. Coolies yell at each other across Taveras, passengers need a degree in physics to negotiate trolleys around barriers that have, ostensibly, been placed for their benefit, grim-looking drivers huddle and someone is always strapping a large suitcase onto the roof of a bus. It looks like a staging area before you head into unknown territory. Normal rules do not apply here. Even the cops stand off to one side.

           I had twenty minutes. Time to check in with the Girlfriend and go through the North India litany.

            No. I won’t get into any fights. Yes, yes I know that they all carry guns or are related to politicians, or both. Yes, I’ll tell the driver to be careful. No, we’re taking trains because it’ll help us get to places quicker. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, it’s dusty. Yes, I’m carrying my anti-allergy pills.

            A man on crutches plonked himself next to me on the pipe. I gave him a cursory glance- for a man who uses crutches, this wasn’t the most comfortable of seats. He looked slightly vacant, red-eyed, and he was muttering to himself with the precision of a long-time drunk. It takes one to know one. He looked like I felt.

            I had a moment of politically-incorrect uncertainty. The man was, maybe, not all there. But if I got up and left, hauling my two bags, while on the phone, it would have been impolite. It’s a free country, and this was a free pipe. I returned to my conversation. It was a matter of seconds.

            The man tapped me on the shoulder.
            “Come on. Let’s go. I’m ready to go home.”

            I frowned and looked at him. And gave him the benefit of doubt. Maybe he thought I was someone else when he came and sat down. I don’t know you, I said. I think you’ve got the wrong man. I smiled and nodded and got back to my phone call.
            “Who is it? Who are you talking to?”
            “It’s just a guy.”
            “What guy? I want you to move away.”
            “Look, I think he’s drunk or something-”
            On my right, the muttering continued. In my ear, the volume began to rise.
            “What if he has a knife?”
            “He’d be hard-pressed to use it,” I muttered, “he’s on crutches.”
            “Huh? Crutches?”
            Tap, tap, tap. A hand on my right shoulder. I turned to look at the man.
            “Let’s go. I’m ready to go home.” The same, serene, confidence.
            In my ear: “What’s going on? Is he talking to you again? What’s he saying?”
            “Just hang on.” This time I wasn’t as polite as the first time. “Look, my friend. I don’t know you. I’ve already told you that. Stop bothering me. Otherwise, I’ll tell them-” I nodded to a clump of cops a little way away.

            The man simply looked at me. Nothing in his gaze indicated that he had understood anything I had said to him. This isn’t over, I thought to myself.
            “What? What? Are you okay? Has he gone?”
            “No, he’s here.”
            “Why aren’t you moving?”
            “Well, it’s a little difficult moving, hauling two bags, if I’m talking to you, right?”
            “Fine. Hang up. Call me back after you’ve moved away.”
            “Look, it’s fine. I don’t think he’s right in the head.”
I’d been looking away, to my left. My bags were at my feet. Next to them, an empty coffee cup to be disposed of. It was already bright. It felt like noon. The sky was somewhere between white and blue; baked, faded, secondhand. There was faint static in the air. It builds and builds, this oppressive heat, for weeks on end, until an October storm breaks and we start again.

             I felt my backpack stir. I looked down and saw my companion’s hand fiddling through the side-pocket. As I watched, the hand emerged with a bottle of hand-sanitizer.
            “I’ll call you back,” I said and hung up. I grabbed the man’s hand.
            “What are you doing?”
            The man looked at me and nodded.
            “Attar,” he said. “I want some attar.”

            I’d had enough. I called out to the nearest cop. I don’t know this man, I said. He keeps telling me that he wants to go home and he’s going through my luggage.

            The cop, to his credit, was actually polite. He strolled up and asked the man what he was doing. None of the answers were satisfactory, but with every incoherent sentence, it seemed more and more likely that my new friend was on something. The cop now got stern. The order to move out got through. The man sat there for a few minutes in glum resignation, then got up and wandered away. He parked himself next to a senior policeman’s car and looked around for a bit. He didn’t find he was looking for, so he muttered to himself and then started bashing the cop car with his free hand. This time, the result was immediate. Three policemen escorted him off the parking lot. They weren’t rough, but they were firm. I watched him for a bit, bought a second cup of coffee, and then called the Girlfriend back.
            “Are you okay? What happened?”
            “Well, he was going through my bag-”  
            “-so I talked to a couple of cops and now he’s wandered off.”
            “But why? What was he doing?”
            “He said he was looking for attar.”
            “Huh? … Aahahahahahaha.” She paused. “But you tell him, huh, if you see him again or if he bothers you again, you tell him that I’m a lawyer and that I’ll sue his ass.”
            “Baby, he could cut me up into two hundred and fifty pieces and stick me in a gunny sack and there wouldn’t be a damned thing you could do about it… Okay. I’m going to go. I love you. Bye.”

            Faintly puzzling morning done, Toral Shah and Vijay Uncle picked me up five minutes later. Of course, had they been on time, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to add to my stock of strange travel stories. Sometimes, at the start of a trip, the Universe dishes you a hint. An experiential benchmark, if you will.

            The last I saw of the man on crutches, as we pulled out of the airport, he was sitting at the bus stop, talking to another man. I recognized the serene confidence on my friend’s face. I also recognized the bewilderment on the other man’s face.

            Recces are a strange business. The term was ‘Reconnaissance’ originally, bringing to mind satellite maps, cool blondes, and drop-boxes. And enemy territory. Bastardizing lingo is one of theatre’s great joys. Dry techs, wet techs [no, seriously], slam fades, chakris, zero shows, the lot. It’s insider knowledge, the final, invisible badge of belonging and we guard it jealously. Recces are also comparatively rare in the theatre. In the film business, they’re about logging locations, shots, possible parking spots for generator vans and fairly brutal drinking. We’re more used to getting there and getting the damned thing up before the audience walks in. Theatre’s about the actor, you see. Just don’t tell the tech guys that.  

            Toral and I were on a recce for a possible tour of three cities. Which meant that we were looking at specific kinds of venues. Which also meant that we were looking for hotels; and restaurants, and car-hire companies, and routes to the venue and to airports and railway stations. Early that morning in Lucknow, the whole enterprise had an air of preparing to march into Russia during winter.

            Vijay Uncle was Vijay Tiwari, a long, cool drink of water. Something of a theatre legend in Lucknow, he was our principal guide for the first two days of the trip. He is also one of the four or five people I’ve met who would be perfectly willing to cross the Sahara desert with a can of Diet Pepsi and a bicycle tyre. You know. The kind of person who listens to an absolutely crazy idea, smiles and nods and says “Sure.”

             By the time we finished, a week later, in Jaipur, both Toral and I were exhausted by the sheer range of venues we saw in those seven days. We worked through cities geographically, meaning that we would stumble through small, intimate spaces, walking through backstage areas covered in dust that hadn’t seen sunlight in decades and then move to auditoriums the size of stadiums shortly after. And then wedding halls run by associations of cycle manufacturers.  The people were kind, the people were bureaucratic, the people were suspicious. Government venues were either hostile or bored. We saw the exquisitely designed and maintained Bharatiya Natya Academy in Lucknow, tucked away in the heart of a residential area. Punjab Bhavan in Ludhiana, an outdoor amphitheatre of epic proportions- five thousand people at the very least, built like the Colosseum. Bali, an extraordinary labour of love, held together by belief alone. The massive three-auditorium Ravindra Manch in Jaipur [a studio, a proscenium and an outdoor amphitheatre], like the House of Usher, a permanent ruin, permanently under renovation. Everyone agreed that Ravindra Manch needed the restructuring. We saw the sheets of tarpaulin covering seats and equipment; under a gentle snow of cement dust everywhere, like powdered bone. Not a single person could tell us when the renovations would be done, or whether they had, in fact, begun.

            In Lucknow, Ravindralaya broke my heart. The weight of history, of performances past, whispers down the corridors backstage. The depth is crazy; a mid-curtain followed by another and then another, like layers through to the heart of something that once was. In those old venues, the men broke my heart. Men my father’s age, who put away their newspapers, pulled out their glasses, started machines and generators and lighting boards and showed me everything they had. It’s not much, they said, but we will help you. We will make your show work. And then they pulled me aside, a boy from Bombay with the fancy camera and a cap and safety boots, and they told me stories of better days and how they wanted those days back but managements, everywhere, would not let them. Sometimes, I struggled with their Hindi. Up North, they will even swear with the sophistication that makes you feel like a fraud. But I knew them and they knew me. We were speaking the same language.

            We went to auditoriums in schools, an insane spectrum of need filtered through ambition. The best, most loved venue in Jaipur is a school auditorium- the Maharana Pratap Auditorium, where I backed away in horror from a Darbari lighting desk, one of my earliest scars from the NCPA. We saw the Mahavir School Auditorium, a charming little two hundred seater. We saw the auditorium at the Tagore International School, opposite the only jet-black hospital I have ever seen in my life. Fifteen hundred seater, with no depth but enough height to host a U2 concert.

            Eventually, it became a blur, a long journey on a carpet of warm static. We saw, we recorded, we took photos and asked questions, but we didn’t really understand, didn’t really file it away until later. It happened on the first afternoon in our penultimate stop. That dust bowl town. That dead band song. Sweet home, Ludhiana. For me, it was chemically-induced. For Toral, the causes were far nobler. She had been driving the recce relentlessly, doing most of the work while I took photos and made sketches. But she was also riding a torrent of e-mails. In the distance, both Literature Live! and Thespo loomed. Split between three jobs, she spent most of her time on the laptop. Every time we got back into the car, she’d get online and the stack of ‘unread’ e-mails would have grown. In Delhi [stop#2, post-Lucknow], that growth had been geometric. We also had the least to do in Delhi. But most of the time, she’d be plugging through lists and invites and design calls with the grim concentration of Rafael Nadal hitting two and a half thousand backhands before lunch. We dismounted in Ludhiana, hired a rickshaw in imminent danger of falling apart, and I began sneezing. Later that day, as I dropped the first pill to fight the sneezing, the e-mails had exploded exponentially and we were well and truly inside the matrix. Toral spent the rest of the trip like a samurai on a kamikaze mission. Every direction she sliced, three more e-mails would pop up. The recce had turned into a kill-zone and by the time we got to Jaipur airport to fly back to Bombay, we had- in the words of the immortal Pushan Kripalani- ‘that end-of-world-tour feeling’.

            We had strapped ourselves onto the rocket and survived a silent detonation. It took a while for the pieces to fall into some sort of order.

            What do I say to you? That the Bataan death march is always, fundamentally, good for the soul? Yes. Yes, that would be it. Because, regardless of the splintering of four separate cities into one long haul though the North, things came home again. I’d spent a few years working the grind of traveling with and for the theatre. And, whenever I’ve needed it, the course has corrected itself. Sometimes, worrying about flight schedules and on-board entertainment systems, and the repetitive nature of buffets in five-star hotels will lull you into forgetting that that’s not quite why we got into the job to begin with. That people are fighting for a way of thinking all over the country; fighting with charm and grace and the tireless patience of true converts for the simple opportunity to let one person watch another person walk across an empty space. The whole deal is just that. A space. And something beginning to happen.

            Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that.
            And that the theatre is uniquely dependant on the kindness of strangers.

            Vijay Tiwari in Lucknow. Purva Naresh’s family in Lucknow, who took us in and made us part of their family. Neeraj Kadela in Jaipur, who became a friend, who we took saree-shopping with us and who sat with me while I tried to understand just what the hell a ‘bandhni’ was. Mr. Wadhwan of Modern in Delhi who heard that we were on our way to Ludhiana, called up his brother-in-law and basically told him to drive us around, even though we had met him twenty five minutes ago. And Mr. Ashwini Chaudhary in Ludhiana, who came with his son, and turned our recce into some sort of personal mission. Glints off a mosaic that is still under construction. But they made this trip a memorable one, and certainly more successful than it would have been had we gone for it on our own.

            The tour never did pan out. Instead, we were left with a bunch of stories. Which is really why I got into this business to begin with.

            So here’s a final one:
            On the first evening in Lucknow, our penultimate stop was the Scientific Convention Centre. It’s an impressive structure, in the mold of the crazy architecture that has come up all over Lucknow in the last few years. There’s a fantastic dome that they don’t allow anyone into because it houses a squadron of permanently shitting pigeons. We walked into the office and asked to see the venues. We were only interested in the four hundred seater because of the nature of the show. We were greeted with supreme indifference from two gutka-chewing men. They were either playing solitaire or they were surfing for pornography, we couldn’t tell. It was only later that Toral pointed out that there wasn’t a scrap of paper in the office. Not a file, a calendar, a cupboard, a sheaf of papers, nothing. Two men and computers. Grudgingly, with much rolling of the eyes and sighing, they allowed us to look at the hall. Twenty by twenty stage, with no infrastructure, a strange domed ceiling complete with a mural; sort of like a Michelangelo impersonator meets a dentists’ convention and together they build a hall of no use or consequence for bankers to hold meetings in. [Later, we were to find out that direct selling- Amway- has gripped the North. It’s the new heroin]. We sauntered back to the office and mumbled our thanks. The space was never going to work for us, so there was no point in running through the standard checklist. Toral, completely off-hand, and because she’s like that, asked about the rent.

            “Eighty four thousand,” the man said, pushing the words around the gutka.

            There was a moment of absolute silence. Bear in mind [I swear this is true] that this is four days before the NCPA took the Apple Mackintosh approach to rent. No USB, no 3G, looks good, can’t play games, won’t work with most things known to man, put down your dollars and gimme the skin off your back… Oh, marketing.
            “Eighty four thousand?” asked Toral.
            “Eighty four thousand,” the man agreed.
            We left in silence.

            Some things are the same no matter where in the country you are.

March, 2012

The Road Virus Heads North

[The title is stolen from a Stephen King short story (off 999, and then Everything’s eventual)about painting that comes to life and chases a writer across the country.]

The end of the world will look like an under-construction flyover on the NH25, somewhere on the outskirts of Kanpur. The two ends of the flyover eye each other across a bomb crater. And dust. Dust rises from the road like someone has just dropped a body to the ground. It’s like looking at the world through a continuously shifting scrim. From behind a window, during sunset, the scene has the terrible beauty of the apocalypse.

This was the detail: travel with Rage and One on One to IIT Kanpur. Two shows. Detach from the unit, join Toral Shah in Lucknow and set off on an eight day recce across the north. Lucknow, Delhi, Ludhiana, and Jaipur. Take some photos, make some notes, meet some vendors, cache some venues. The perks of being a lighting designer.

            I’ve been trying to retire from lighting theatre for about as long as I’ve been trying to quit smoking. I refuse to commit to an answer about how either effort is progressing. However, traveling as a technician is the least favourite part of my job. At least in Bombay and in Bangalore, I know what I’m in for. The rest of the country is a vast unknown. Language barriers [“No Hindi numbers, saar, say English”], dodgy equipment and a general sentiment along the lines of “well, there are three guys holding torches, right? So we can open the doors, right?”

            But IIT Kanpur is different. Genuinely. We’d been the year before, Nadir Khan and I, with Rage. It was fucking crazy. Great, considerate, polite volunteer corps. A jaw-dropping campus [they have their own airstrip]. The fastest internet connection in the country. Five thousand-seater auditorium. Outsourced equipment manufactured and maintained in a low-rent asylum. 

            I ended up operating off three lighting desks, occasionally pulling blackouts with the heel of my left foot. And Nadir was juggling lapel mics and equalizers like a man trying to hold off an army with a toothpick. We aged a few years, smoked too many cigarettes, agreed that Noises Off had been a joke compared to this and immediately said ‘yes’ when Rajit called the next year.

             IIT Kanpur isn’t a show. It’s a rite of passage. It’s the theatrical equivalent of whitewater rafting.

            [Come to think of it, I peeled off to Lucknow the year before as well, to join my merry charges on the Tata Aria launch. There’s a pattern here. And that’s… another article.]

            This trip began ominously enough. Post the apocalypse, we drove up to what seemed like a traffic jam at the end of the world. Nadir sprang out of the Scorpio. “I’ll go check it out”. [Solving stuff comes easy to Nadir. Toral once turned to me for help after we’d unpacked wrought iron furniture that looked like Salvador Dali had been at it. I shook my head and said “Nadir”. True story.] He was joined by a Nameless party, recently recovered from a bout of food poisoning. About forty two seconds later, the traffic jam takes off like the cars are at the start-line of a race. Nadir and Nameless are on the median strip, we’re in the left-most lane. The traffic shifts over to the other side of the highway. I spring out of the car and start dialing both numbers. The trekking crew is already five hundred meters behind us, on the NH25. “I’m standing by the side of the road,” I say, “waving my arms like mad.” “I see you,” says Nadir. I turn around and the Scorpio’s gone, unable to stay pulled over in face of the flood of traffic. My phone rings. “Where the hell are you?” asks Anu Menon. 

            Nadir, Nameless and I cross the Ganga on foot, looking over our right shoulders continually as traffic tries to avoid us, walking towards the first stop the driver could find, a few kilometers down the road. We are guided by an increasingly icy Anu Menon. There is a foot over-bridge for pedestrians, of course. We missed it, of course. It’s like the beginning of bloody The Two Towers, I think to myself. All in all, this is a promising start.

            The set-up at IIT Kanpur has an established procedure. Get dinner, go to the venue, draw up a plan, hand it over. The light guys work through the night; rigging, connecting, patching. Head back the next morning. Start focusing. And then watch the whole enterprise slowly start to unravel. Something, somewhere will trip up. One light, a single wire, three non-functional dimmers. This is not a knock on the guys. They are, for the most part, genuine and very hardworking. It’s just Kanpur. It’s ordained.

            This time, the deck had been re-cut before we got to Kanpur. Two new actors in the show. And the fashion show ramp, running from the edge of stage for about twenty feet, into the audience, pre-installed. Alright, then. The same guys from the previous year smiled nervously as I walked into the hall. We got new equipment, they said. Because of last year. Implicit in this statement is the following: we got new equipment because of you. It ties into my general reputation. There’s a story floating around the NCPA that they had to get new lighting boards because I’d destroyed the old ones. Both of them. Alone. And staff in other venues in Bombay will shuffle duty if they hear that I’m scheduled next. It’s a legend of sorts, I suppose.

            The next morning, I focus and program. Nadir sorts out the roster for the rotation of [new!] lapel mics. We argue about the bass output from the speakers. I think the music levels are too loud. He thinks I’m soft in the head. It’s a well-loved routine. Everyone worries about Kunaal Roy Kapur, in and as Anand Tiwari in Load Shedding [the one where he’s on the ladder, spouting Marathi and no, it’s not called Lamppost]. No one worries about KRK’s performance. Everyone worries about him getting up that damned ladder. This is an almost normal morning. We’ve turned Kanpur around.    

            Until the tech. 

Every submaster, halfway through a fade, starts to flicker. Every single one. Which means it will flicker on the way up and on the way down. There is a meeting. Then another one. First with the lighting grunts. Then with the lighting bosses. IITians are standing around anxiously. I’m getting louder. Nadir is offering ritual sacrifices of chickens for the general health of his lapel mics. This has suddenly reverted to par-for-course. We’re suspecting everything. The bomb squad drifts by [as they do before all shows at IIT Kanpur] accompanied by a very friendly German Shepherd. The dog is so friendly that its handler is resigned to people playing with the dog. The vendors are on the phone to Delhi, yelling at the guy they bought the new board from. We’re yelling at the vendors, offering suggestions for other things to yell at the guy in Delhi about. IITians are now wincing. Kanpur, baby.

            This is the pearl, quite literally, that emerges from the phone conversation: if you put more than four lights on a submaster, on a programmable desk, it’s bound to flicker. Tension dissipates immediately because we’re laughing so hard that we can barely stay upright. We shrug it off. We’ll figure a way through. Snap fades, y’all. On every cue. But before we agree to starting the show [or the preamble to the show, which is the ceremonial lighting of the lamp], we gently pull the vendors aside and inform them they’ve been gypped good. Not only is the board Chinese, it’s bad Chinese. It’s like bad Scotch. Nothing under the sun will mess you up that good, and that fast.

            The shows went well, all things considered. IIT Kanpur is a great crowd, the kind of crowd that leaves you feeling like you were part of The Beatles for one night. Until Preetika Chawla got onto stage. The sight of a talented, pretty, young actress in a dress that ends at her knees apparently brings out the tribal in a group of engineers. There was baying I hadn’t heard since I watched Omkara at the Pinky Theatre, next to Andheri [E] Station. The show stopped for thirty seconds, through the [snap] blackout at the end of the transition before Bash began, as the engineers fed the sight of a girl into their systems. She didn’t flinch. Just got on with her job. Down in the lighting pit, we could barely see the stage through the mist of pheromones. The baying necessitated a change of costume before the next show. It didn’t make the slightest fucking difference.

            Meanwhile, starting with the first showing of Bash, lights were exploding like it was gunnery practice. Sharp reports punctuated every other monologue. By the end of the second show, as another crack rang out through the auditorium, accompanied by a flash of blue and the smell of cooked metal, Nadir turned to me. We were both laughing hysterically.
            “What did you lose now?”
            “I don’t fucking know, man.” I waved my hands around weakly. And then we were laughing again.

            The next morning, I hitched a ride to the airport with Anu Menon. While I waited, someone tried to steal non-existent attar out of my bag [again, true story]. Two cups of coffee later, Toral Shah and Vijay Uncle picked me up. 

            And that’s where the real trip through the North began.