After meeting Shoosha, we managed to wring some time out of TMK, one of the other actors in The 39 steps essaying more than 40 roles! He balances a full time IT job with an even fuller passion for acting that sees him don the greasepaint both on stage and on screen, apart from conducting workshops as well. Lets cut right to the man!
Us: How are rehearsals going? Shoosha said it was very tiring!
TMK: I agree completely. It’s going on very well, and it’s very intense. I’m exhausted at the end of every session.
Us: As an actor, what’s your perspective on ‘39 Steps’?
TMK: It’s definitely a tough gig. I’d have to say that this isn’t really an actor’s play as such.
Us: What do you mean?
TMK: I mean, this is more of a performer’s play. As an actor, you’re expected to “get into” the character and bring him to life on the stage. That’s what I and we are doing here, but there’s no time to get into a character. Shoosha is playing 40 characters, I’m portraying about 30 to 35. So, it’s only acting in a very limited sense, what I’m really doing is performing. Bringing these varied characters to life in a very short amount of time.
Us: How do you go about doing that?
TMK: See, the challenge lies in the fact that it’s only us 4. So, whatever new character you come out as in order to move the play forward, the audience knows it’s you. That serves as a challenge. It’s a combination of many things ; costume, body language, tonality and such. How you use these elements to allow the audience to suspend it’s disbelief and invest in your new character in as short a time as possible, is an exciting challenge.
Us: Have you seen the original production?
Us: You’re well into rehearsals now. How do you react to the script and the play on a purely objective level. As an audience member, say.
TMK: ‘39 Steps’ is unique, because it’s not a script driven play. It relies on the quality of the characterization on stage, the sheer physicality and the timing. So, if you read the script, it won’t strike you as an amazing script, like some scripts do. It’s only if you see it on play, if you’re audience, or when you start doing full run throughs in rehearsal, if you’re an actor, that you can sense the magic. So that’s the situation I’m in right now. I’m the type of actor who can’t a good emotional grab on a play, until I’m actually performing it in front of an audience.
Us: Shoosha made a point of saying that this play was different from previous Evam productions. Your thoughts?
TMK: I agree. Not only Evam, but the vast majority of plays staged in India are what I call ‘linear plays’, meaning they move neatly from A to Z. So, a play like ‘39 Steps’ which is not linear, is difficult. It’s similar to ‘Hamlet’ which we performed some time back, in that sense. In ‘Hamlet’, though, there a little bit of license to screw up, because it was that sort of a play, with that tinge of randomness. There’s nothing random about 39 steps, though. It’s very meticulous. Another challenge for an actor is that the pace of this play is so high. You can come and watch me, and you won’t see a single scene of me sitting down and just talking. I’m running, jumping, standing on my head. Never standing still, basically.
Us: How was it like working with the team? You go back a long way.
TMK: It’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve always maintained that working with Evam is different from working with other theater groups, because at Evam, you’re meeting the same people again and again, regardless of the production. You can’t help but develop a close bond. There’s a definite emotional connect, that you don’t get with other theater groups. If I’m working with another group, I would need to know who the director is, in order to determine if I have worked with him before, and hence will I have a comfortable working relationship. It’s not like that in Evam, it almost doesn’t matter who directs, because it will essentially be the same team. In addition to acting in their productions, I have a very multifaceted relationship with the company, so I have a personal relationship with a lot of the people there. That definitely increases the comfort level, and contributed to the enjoyment.
Us: The team is a little different this time around.
TMK: Evam has a distinct style of working that is present, regardless if the team is somewhat new. I’ve acted with Shoosha for a long time, obviously. Naveen, not as much, but still substantial. Renu, of course is new. A first time director as well. So, it’s a nice mix of the old and new. It still feels comfortable though.
Us: A couple of quick personal questions. How do manage to find the time?
TMK: That’s probably the most exhausting part of the production! My office is in Perungudi, so, sometimes I have to attend rehearsals, and then make the long drive back to get some work done. It’s a hassle, but definitely worth it!