Our stories make us who we are. The ability to pause and look at our life moments as stories make us storytellers. When we perform these stories, they change us in someway. They make us see things that we probably dint quite think about earlier, or if we did, it makes us see the same moment differently.
After our two day workshop (STORYFLECT) on personal narratives, I would like to share with you 5 insights that I picked up and would like to make part of my work. I am very grateful to the participants who willingly shared their life stories and enabled shared discoveries.
1. YOUR STORY IS YOURS YET IT DRAWS ME
Personal stories have ways in which people can magically connect their own lives and circumstances to what you've gone through. This makes your story personal for them too.
2. YOUR STORY COMES FROM YOUR CORE
The core muscle is the body's centre and ensures our stability. Similarly, our stories make up our core, mental and emotional. These moments get etched into our memories, some obvious, some distant. When we encounter them, there is great joy in having discovered something that we thought was lost, but it was always there, waiting to be found.
3. PERSONAL STORIES MAKE YOU A RISK TAKER
You need the guts to be able to tell your story. You've chosen to put yourself out there though your story and this is already empowering.
4. PERFORMING THE PERSONAL ENRICHES THE NARRATIVE
Simple ways of performing a story can enrich the way the audience connect with you and your life. Using the body to perform the story can have significantly higher impact on the performer and the audience.
5. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GETTING PERSONAL
Sometimes I hear people say that they are scared of sharing personal stories or they wonder if it would be relevant. I think there is value in every story, whether it's from a folktale or from your own tale. So, if you find yourself thinking about whether or not you should share your personal story, just stop thinking, go ahead and share it.
The STORYFLECT workshop is scheduled for the 4th of December at Lahe Lahe in Indiranagar. You can register for the workshop on bookmyshow or on our website.
Creating the banks of the river Sarayu or Nallappa's Mango grove and other landscapes of Malgudi based on R.K. Narayan's imagination can be quite a complex task when the medium of expression is theatre. Packing R.K. Narayan's imagination onto a stage space can be quite challenging.
As part of the stage adaptation of Swami and Friends, R.K. Narayan's first novel, we've tried to recreate Malgudi spatially through levels, colours and by embracing the moods of the landscapes through lighting and costume. A few weeks ago, I met Arundhati Nag at Rangashankara and was telling her about the adaptation process. Ver early into the conversation, she said "If you start creating every detail of Malgudi through its props and objects, you will get lost! Just try and get the colors, moods and patterns right" This thought was motivating, given that the process had begun in trying to capture the essence of Malgudi, its colours spaces and landscapes through the body in the space.
Each of us have a unique interpretation of what Malgudi means to us. The fact that Narayan created a fictional town was so that it could be personal to the reader based on their own upbringing and childhood times. That's what still keeps Malgudi alive for us, in different ways. Narayan's writing transports us into another world, into another time and he manages to do so effortlessly. That's also what makes Malgudi so memorable.
Swami and Friends will be staged at the Jagriti Season this year, starting Oct 2nd. We invite you to come experience Malgudi.
We will be presenting R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends as part of the Jagriti Season this year.
Oct 2 - October 11, 2015 at Jagriti Theatre, Bangalore.
About Swami and Friends
Swami and Friends is the story of a young lad named Swami and his escapades with his two close friends, Rajam and Mani. Set in late preindependence India, the story takes us through the world of charming, boyish innocence of Swami in Malgudi. With remarkable characterisation and a wonderful sense of humour, Narayan’s Swami and Friends is a delight for the old and the young.
Step into an old world charm… Step into pre-independent India… savour the experience of a small town in South India… come see a friendship like no other!
One of Narayan’s greatest achievements was to create the fictional semi-urban town of Malgudi. He created the town in September 1930, on Vijayadashami, an auspicious day to start new efforts and thus chosen for him by his grandmother. In his mind, he first saw a railway station, and slowly the name ‘Malgudi’ came to him. Step into Narayan’s Malgudi in this theatrical adaptation.
Watch this space for more. We will be sharing performance snippets and our process of performance creation.
The unexamined life is not worth living - Socrates
“When you think of moments that shaped you, you question them in different ways. This introspection is important to process memories in a way that you get comfortable with them. We cannot change what has happened, but we can only revisit them in different ways and look at them through different lenses”
“Going back to an event over and over again can be rather monotonous – But there is a discovery in the repetition. You are able to spend time in the moment, in detail and you are able to convert thought into a visual language. Now you are able to understand the memory through your body”
“Remember that you are looking at your past based on where you are today. So a memory is a reflection of the past from this very moment. So we are already filtering the memory through the concept of time. This brings in what I call necessary bias and gives us the possibility of having a conversation with the memory”
“We’re all made up of memories, which we convert to stories.”
"All signs and sign systems should not produce equally strong signifiers all the time, or the spectator will experience sign overload and confusion. Some order of priority needs to be establidhed for literally every moment in the performance" (Whitmore:1994)
Whitmore, author of Directing Postmodern theatre and professor in theatre arts focuses on shaping signification in performance. He asks us to look at every gesture, sound, movement or text as communication of meaning to the audience. Through his book, he urges practitioners to push boundaries to explore new ways of signifying meaning.
Over the last few months, I have been exploring performance composition through workshops in Chennai and Bangalore, working specifically on aspects of space and shape, looking at how shapes within space generate meaning. The challenge was to look at these elements and vary them in size, intensity and scale to create compelling performance moments. From my experience of facilitating these workshops, I would like to share with you some of the ideas that emerged in the process of performance composition.
Looking at spatial extremities: Whitmore talks about space in four kinds of distances: intimate, personal, social and public. The distance between two bodies/objects in the space influences the relationship between them. While public distance will applicable when a politician is waving to the crowd, intimate distance would apply to a couple having a conversation in bed.
As part of the composition workshop, we explored how power structures can be communicated using spatiality. Expansion and contraction of physical space gave us an idea of performance intensity, depth and relationships. Complete contraction also meant coming into intimate and personal distances with one another. This triggered a bit of discomfort for the participants, pushing them to explore distance on a vertical axis, creating levels within a contracted physical space, converting intimate distance to personal distance.
In one of the workshop sketches, a duet about power struggles, the audience was located in a tiny corner of the room, seated really close to one another. The action took place right in front at a diagonally higher spatial position. The audience was consistently looking up at the action and were being spoken down to - a great spatial expression of power. The concept of proximity was coupled with expansion/contraction and that amplified the movements of the performers even though they were playing it subtle. When the performers were very close to the audience, even a small gesture seemed big.
This made me realise that one of the first decisions in composition would be to assess the distance between the audience and performance space. This distance will then dictate how much expansion is actually amplification and how small the contraction can potentially be. While the performers may have chosen to play an intimate distance, they must also be aware of what distance they are creating between themselves and the audience and for the audience from one another. Amongst the audience, I experienced a personal distance with the others, which made me conscious of my presence in the space and therefore influenced the way I interacted with the sketch.
Another very interesting aspect in the space was the use of smell. As the audience entered the performance space, a smell of musk enveloped the air, sending signals of heightened male energy. So gender engulfed the space through smell. Through the course of the performance, the smell of musk slowly faded, contracting space for the audience. It was wonderful to notice how multiple senses were engaged and how each of them could influence the audience’s perception of space.
Playing with shape and influencing space: Inspired by Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, the workshop explored expressive gesture as a way of creating shape. Participants used their bodies to create an idea, emotion and concept. The beauty of body based expressive shapes is that it is open and left to the interpretation of the audience. Shape allows the participant to respond to a stimulus through the body within a given space. For example, if an actor stands in an exaggerated shape really close to you, would that influence your body shape within the space? Depending on the narrative that you choose to communicate, triggered by the body, you will either decide to play and expanded or contracted shape.
When shapes come together, the scope of expanding/contracting increases. This way shape influences space and space inspires shape. When two or more bodies in the space do the same thing in a coordinated way, what happens to space? Does it give you a feeling of expanse or can it communicate proximity? Aural volume, pitch, tone and text also contribute to creating an illusion of space, by adding layers to the shape.
Repetition is another key to shape. If an action is performed 25 times instead of once, will it mean something different to the audience? Can it amplify the meaning because it was repeated so many times? Or does it become redundant?
What was a big revelation for me was that when you push participants to look at performance space differently, an element of immersion happens, bringing the audience into your work or constructing your work around them – the decision of where they are placed becomes critical.
Apart from Space and shape, we also looked at forced inclusions within performance composition, which I will be writing about in my next post.
Written by Manasi Subramaniam, this poem is being performed as part of A moment of memory
We have visually recreated a moment from the performer's life, where she was attacked on a dark cloudy night. Her fight for survival frames the narrative and "Take back the night" ushers in a new kind of hope to embrace.
A moment of memory - Jan 9,10,11 at Atta Galatta / Jan 23, 24, 25 at Shoonya Space, Bangalore
So what does it take to put your personal truths out in public space? You are sharing a story, a mood, a moment - through performance.
We are all made of stories. Stories of various kinds, multiple genres and different moods. In a way, our stories define who we are. The choices we make within our own plot, the characters that we choose to play through time, the different moods that we help create, our value systems, the multiple emotions that we go through - all these end up defining and constructing our personal narratives.
In August 2014 (Bangalore), I was in a workshop with 4 people- a theatre actor, a psychologist, a behavioral trainer and a nuero linguistic practitioner. I was already beginning to feel like we had a performance there. It Just sounded quite cool. Through the 2 day workshop where we worked on body, gesture, space, memory and audience relationships, we had created about 30 seconds of material per person - a combination of expressive gesture, sounds, movement and text.
The question for me was: How can these fragments come together in performance? For a while now, I've been very interested in exploring personal narratives through visual performance. Additionally, I also explored the idea of immersion in personal stories. The idea of an audience not just watching the story but being drawn into the environment in various ways.
With the material generated at the workshop becoming the starting point for further devising, we started further exploration. Combining chance happenings, associations, spoken word and free writing, we started generating more performance material. At this point in time, I honestly had no clue what the performance would be about. I had a guideline, a process that I trusted and four committed performer/devisers.
Through the initial devising sessions, we focused our energies on creating visuals, both static and dynamic and was using these visual cues to generate performance context. We would then quickly take notes about what the visual is communicating and see if we could further build on it in any way possible. In two weeks time, we had a very clear direction of where the piece was heading. We were working with concepts of challenge, hope, love, violence and romance. The stories emerged. The stories of four different women experiencing struggle & strength, hope & despair and detachment & obsession.
What would you do when you are alone and attacked?
How can you move on after a testing relationship?
Are you now in a position to stand up to what's going on? Do you have a voice?
How can your hope and faith build you up, after you crumble?
A moment of memory captures and brings to life these four moments through performance. We've designed this in an experiential way, through touch, taste, sight, sound and smell - by engaging the multiple senses.
We invite you to come experience these stories and share a moment with us.
This painting that you see was inspired by the performance piece "A moment of memory"
What does it take to forget? to erase? to start afresh?
Sometimes a visual can inspire performance ideas. With this one, performance based movement, gesture and material has inspired the creation of visual.
memories can create patterns
memories can trigger the use of material
memories can dictate spatiality
memories can spark movement ideas
Water and paper have been combined with the performers movement pattern, inspired by her memory. The performance text has supported the mood of the painting.
Come experience the performance, intimate and intense
- a memory erased, performed by Priyam Jain is inspired by a memory you do not quite want to hold too close. It's not about someone else. It's about you. Looking back now, you see a very different version of you, but without that, you would not be yourself today.
A moment of memory
Jan 9,10,11 at Atta Galatta, Koramangala, Bangalore
Jan 23,24,25 at Shoonya Space, Lalbagh Road, Bangalore
Tickets and show details
Over the last few months, post the devising workshop in Bangalore, we've been continuously working on how fragments of memory can be patched together into a performance?
The first question we asked ourselves: How do we pick out which memory we want to talk about?
If I asked you to pick out a few events from your life, you'll probably remember birthdays, holidays or something drastic, like loss, victory etc. But how do we go back to those events that have shaped our beliefs and made us who we are today?
Yes, we're all made of stories and if we went on a rant, we'll probably get a lot of content. That's not what we did. We said, let's resort to chance happenings. How can chance determine the memories that crop up in our heads at that point in time? Can we then figure out if those events really affected us?
How can green be associated with what you would like to do?
How can an image of a beach be linked to the day you went missing?
How can the smell of perfume be linked to what you studied in school?
How can a candle be related to what you were doing on the 29th of August?
How can a pine cone and 'one fine day' give you a story?
The performers received some generic questions, to which the answer based associations would be either images, objects, smells or sights that they encounter at that point in time. This combination would trigger something. We were interested in that something being a starting point to develop a piece of work.
The concepts of struggle, love, relationship, challenges and human effort came to the fore as core working concepts. We started our exploration based on this. Come experience a moment of memory.
a moment of memory
an experiential theatre performance based on real encounters
Jan 9, 10, 11 at Atta Galatta, Koramangala
Jan 23, 24, 25 at Shoonya Space, Lalbagh Road
Tickets available on bookmyshow.com
About a year ago, I was sitting in a session on performance composition. The professor facilitating the session started off with a question, what does warm up mean to you ?
There were different answers in the room, but the one that stood out for me was this line contributed by my friend and performer Gintare. She said "The physical and psychological opening to the creative process". This one line has greatly influenced the way I approach my warm up sessions prior to beginning a creative process.
Devising original work calls for a lot of self preparation for all those involved. Devising is about every individual in the space collectively influencing the creative outcome - and this requires you to in a flexible frame of mind and body, being open to everything coming in and being able to process content leaving aside our biases.
Preparing the body and the mind together is critical. I have observed in many rehearsals over the years, that warm up is just a routine. I've noticed actors doing regular stretches, voice warmups and calling out lines, alone or in groups. This is certainly helpful, but the question every performer should ask themselves is - Is it making your mind and body flexible ? Is it really opening you up to the creative process that lies ahead of you ?
There is no one warm up process that will work for all. Each individual is different and the warm up outcome will decide what we do in the session. I also urge performers to create for themselves and the group - A warm up outcome, which is to say, what you want the warm up to achieve. This could range from high energy to focus to timing to vocal clarity. Every individual in the performance can have different outcomes, but when it comes to an environment of collaboration, of shared space, the group warms could have similar outcomes, that the group works toward.
When one is warmed up physically and psychologically, the ability to take on content and process it is much richer. The contributions made in the space feel fresher. And when people in the space know that the other is warmed up, then the energy in the room is different, there is mutual trust that is established and the creative journey feels wonderful.
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.