Alex is a standup comedian and an actor. Besides this, he has strong interests in Tamil, Music and Yoga. In this article, he writes about why we should get involved in theatre at the minimum as an audience.
I grew up in a village watching dramas. Naadagams, as they are called in tamil, are folk style, song-and-dance filled overnight extravaganzas. Over time, movies took over and we hired big screens from the towns and played movies for local festivals. This was the age before television and Tasmac took over Tamil Nadu. The Naadagams/dramas usually narrated traditional stories. The drama actors were brilliant in singing, dancing, cracking jokes (especially those type of jokes you never forget) and shouting out their dialogs and playing the characters big with their eyes, face and the body. They are full-fledged actors. Even the last bunch of audience sitting in the paddy field that has now turned into the drama venue would be engrossed. The drama actors were heroes. The drama’s promo material, ‘Drama notice’, as it used to be called, will carry the faces of these veterans.
Time moved me around to Chennai, abroad and back to Chennai. I bumped into artistes who called themselves theatre artistes. Theatre always meant ‘cinema theatre’ to me. I asked “You mean, you act in movies that are in the theatres?”. “No, we do stage plays”. “Ah, You are a drama actor? Say that no! What is wrong?”. A decade later, now I am used to this term ‘theatre’, referring to drama. But I have come to realize that theatre denotes something deeper than drama. Basically, theatre would have theatrical elements; the elements that you will find in a good theatre work. (See, don’t I now sound like a theatre person?)
Yes, theatre is deep. Years ago when I was living in Bangalore, I was watching plays regularly. The plays were often abstract. It took a while for me to start appreciating theatre. At one point, I was coming to this conclusion: ‘If you are not able to understand or withstand what’s going on, you are experiencing theatre’. I once watched a 60 minute play. A lady came, stood in one place, looked at one section of the audience and spoke long sentences for about five minutes. Good long sentences like the ‘The Hindu’ editorial types. I was sure that at some point she would finish the introduction and get the play started. I was wrong. After the good long five minutes, she turned to other section of the audiences and continued the editorial. Every ten minutes, she moved around very slowly; probably to keep herself awake. After about thirty minutes which felt like forever, she suddenly raised her voice waking up the Tabla player who was playing very softly all this while. I was sure that the next actor will now enter the stage and bring in some color. I was wrong. She went on and on. After about 70 minutes, she walked off stage and the audience left. No one spoke to anyone, except a few saying ‘Nice work, sir’ to one gentleman. Later I learnt that he is the writer and the director. Next day, the local paper wrote, how deep, real and natural the solo act was!
I have also watched plays like ‘Mahadev Bhai’. That was one of the first solo acts I watched. I could not believe that one guy can come on stage, perform over an hour and bring alive a complex story of a nation, a leader and a big struggle. I was beginning to understand theatre. Thanks to the vibrant theatre activities in Chennai with annual theatre festivals, I had opportunities to watch plays of all forms and types. Some plays would wow me and some would produce yawns. The most interesting are the ones where you think that they are doing something just to be unique, but soon you understand what is going on and feel a ‘wow’. For example, during the theatre fest last year, there was this play where the backstage actions were done on the stage. The actors were changing costumes and doing chit-chat etc. right on the stage on the sides. Later on, I realized it is bringing in a new dimension to the narration.
Theatre (modern theatre) breaks the rules (especially that fourth wall) and pushes the limits. Only to make a deeper connection with the audience and to leave them with a unique experience. On a given day, what may be an experience for one person, might be experimental for another. Hence, do not sign off watching theatre based on one experience. Go with an open mind and let theatre embrace you.
Come this July, all the cities theatre artistes and enthusiasts will come together at the Short and Sweet Theatre festival. This would be a great entry into the world of theatre. Even to be an actor/writer/director, this would be great start. You can chat with the artistes, writers, directors and start your journey.
Finally, here is the most important thing I wanted to tell today. Becoming a theatre artiste is an ultimate soul cleansing experience. When you are a sincere theatre artiste, you are performing Karma Yoga. (Karma yoga is one of the four paths of Yoga. The exercise yoga aka the Raja Yoga is one of the four). Karma Yoga is doing your duty selflessly. (Remember Karnan in Mahabharata). Karma Yoga is proven to elevate your soul and take you towards the blissful state (read God realization). Being in theatre will do that. I am serious. When you are in it, you are in it for not money or fame but for the pure pleasure of producing art. You will realize the art is so very bigger than you or any great artiste. Artistes come and go. Art lives forever. You will sense that deeply. If you quit for any reason, you lose, not the art. Stick around. You keep on climbing that big mountain, the views are brilliant. Looking down, thinking how far you have come, will only be limiting. Looking up, you will be thrilled that one life is not enough to scale the heights ahead.
To produce a good theatre experience, it takes creativity and months and months of rigor. If you are solely focused on the show day and get disappointed with poor turn out or over excited about some good review, you are limiting the scope of what theatre can do to you. Every time you walk into the rehearsal space, the yoga time starts. You are dealing with multiple other people, the actors, writer, director etc. All of them have to come together in tune to produce that good symphony. There is no money, hierarchy and corporate like authority playing roles here. It calls for your inner strength to deal with different personalities and let go of everything with the sole aim of producing a great piece of art. You do theatre for yourself first. Every rehearsal is an intense Karma yoga practice session. Every rehearsal run is an experience. It is as much worth as the show day run. The show day attention, reviews and potential movie/money opportunities are by-products. In every rehearsal you pour out the energy and make the best use of your instruments (the mind and body), you grow as an actor and a human. Sometimes, the energy and inputs you offer are rejected and that too not in a pleasant way, that is when you are growing even stronger. Be there like a karma yogi and let theatre take over you!
If you have really come this far into this blog, please put a word or two in the feedback below or on Facebook. We really want to know how many read through this! Genuine feedback is good. Leaving feedback does not get you much, but then, this is all karma yoga, I mean, theatre! So, do it! May yoga be with you!