Of Ramayana, Theatre Lab etc

20th July 2010
Thus I came to the end of C.Rajagopalachari’s translation of the Ramayana this morning and I wish I were back at the beginning. In his preface to the third edition he writes about the stories contained in the Ramayana “They are the records of the mind and spirit of our forefathers who cared for the good, ever so much more than for the pleasant and who saw more of the mystery of life than we can do in our interminable pursuit for petty and illusory achievements in the material plane.”

…for the good ever so much more than for the pleasant.

I gave my copy to Marcelo Diaz, the director of Schnawwl’s Ramayana and wrote inside – So your journey to India has begun. I didn’t add that either way, love it or hate it, oh boy, yours will not be an aloof experience. And you’ll wonder how it got beneath your skin and why it lodged yourself in your heart.

28th July 2010
I’m back in Bangalore now. This morning I was at a workshop by Tuida – a Korean theatre company. www.tuida.com/tuida_e/shadow_intro.htm
The intention of the workshop was to separate the Body and the Spirit. So you can look upon your own body as an object, of sorts. And make it do things and view the same dispassionately. They read us two lines of a Korean poem. Roughly paraphrased:

Mountain birds flying so sorrowfully,
while women’s hair falls likes tears in the temple courtyard.

They asked us to create a physical/movement response to this, either in the form of a direct image or something abstract. Take about 1 minute to create this and be aware of your movements. The next step was to translate, verbatim, the movement into one arm. Try this exercise, you might like it! But remember the challenge is not to create a new version, but to merely translate, with verisimilitude, full-body movements to a single arm. It’s a lesson in reductionism. And you might discover something new, like an emotional elbow or vulnerable fingertips.

Another interesting exercise for actors offered by Tuida. Take an object, any object – a key, a ball, a belt, a shoe – and make it come alive. But not by acting or developing a situation around it, but by simply examining the innate nature of the object and moving it. That’s it. One actor, Amjad Prawej, so nailed the exercise. He used a belt. The belt had a green and black check design and two metal prongs on the buckle. Visualizing the prongs as antennae, he created a crazy, suspicious snake or centipede that appeared over the edge of a bench, disappeared and then appeared again. Another actor, Vinod Ravindran, used a phone charger to hilarious effect. And so on.


Being in a lab situation is, for me, one of the most fulfilling experiences of being an actor. I grab every chance I get to be in someone else’s class or lab, so I can renew experiences, feel wonder, take chances and fail. There’s no end to the journey and the fun to be had….I’d never give this up. About failure I learned a lot from watching a fantastic Basque actor called Unai Lopez de Armentia of The New International Encounter (NIE Company). He is, as water, utterly transparent. And turns failure into high comedy. What do I mean? OK, get this. There’s a group of actors in lab. Certain directions are offered. Most actors work at perfecting the action or drawing laughs or winning or getting to the end first. Unai goes for bust, no kidding around, but then…he might fail at it. And in that crystalline moment is the genesis of comedy.


OK, let me just grab the bull by the horns.
An observation about Indian actors: We don’t necessarily hear/interpret directions accurately and therefore, in lab, often end up playing to the gallery. We're energetic and clever, so we get laughs. But only rarely is the movement felt or organic. It, largely, falls back on 5000 years of tradition and manages to fool most people most of the time. But to me it feels hollow. I would love to do a movement clinic for our actors and just empower their existing form and offer them new vocabularies and physical choices.


And by that yardstick! Ha! How utterly privileged I am to be part of this mad Indian fabric or continuum or whatever you’d call it. This landmass that has fostered ideas, such as those in the Ramayana, for 5000 years. I’ve all along treated the Ramayana so lightly, as a bunch of stories that everyone knows by osmosis, tales my grandmothers told us children while feeding us dinner. But in my little garret in Germany, the Ramayana came alive for me every night. And I felt so deeply the pain of Dasharatha, the selflessness of Rama and Bharatha, the grandeur of sacrifice and love. And I now better understand Valmiki. And am not in such a quandary about his reaction to Sita, post Lanka.


A life with all this in it.
Tonight feels like some kind of wonderful.

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