I had a dream and the image I saw was so powerful that it stayed and that was the starting point for Agent Provocateur
Director's eye is a series that looks at capturing the Director's perspectives and approach of their work. The outcomes are bound to vary depending on the audiences state of mind and body, but what we can seek to understand is the director's vision, process and perspective. We start this series by having a chat with Sujay Saple, Artistic Director of Shapeshift Collective, Mumbai.
Do you know your body? Does your body know..? How can we respond about the way we're feeling through the body? How can we access muscle memory and understand body conditioning, do and dont's and how that has shaped us over time. I had a chat with Sujay from Shapeshift and thought I'll paint the director's perspective about the performance, the challenges, the ways of making and aspects of the creative process.
Agent Provocateur explores our relationship with the status quo through the body as a site of exploration, finding, questioning and resistance. I think we all under estimate how much stimuli we receive with our bodies - How is the body processing, storing and remembering various moments. The process of using the body to express can go beyond the basics and access material that deeply concerns you and your relationship with the context that you operate in. When performers explore themes with their own bodies, they're really putting themselves out there and being brave, bare, fierce, naked and vulnerable. This allows the audience to be able to relate and emote with the performers, forming a narrative that we want to own.
Post Moonfool (Sujay's Previous Project), he has been taking time to figure out what it means to make work in times like these. While exploring his own artistic practice, he had a dream - a singular powerful image that would haunt him until he decided to make a performance out of it. This is the image of the SAFFRON SPINE. The spine obviously has metaphors of standing up, fighting fear and being present in the moment - Sujay explores this with the hybridity of dance, text, movement and music.
I have been an endorser of work that is hybrid and interdisciplinary. By bringing together a performer, a dancer and a musician, Sujay is working in that space of mutual sharing, learning and co-sharing the performance space. I do believe that this is a great way to tread unexplored territory and be open to new findings. Sometime, I feel like if everyone brought the same skills to the room, you'd rather be doing a solo :-) I really like it when directors find news ways of devising movement. In this piece, Sujay came about a Lynch map of India, plotting the various lynch sites in the country. The team then plotted the points on the map on the body and then used that as a starting point for the movement. This I believe allows the performer to go beyond movements that the body is familiar with and completely explore a new body landscape.
As artists in today's socio-political landscape, though we may be distanced from various incidents of violence and intolerance, we cannot escape them. We have to process it through our work, to confront problems and raise questions, making the personal, political and the political, personal - The boundaries are certainly blurring.
Thank you Sujay for sharing your perspectives and All the best to you and your team. I hope the performances go really well.
I'm quite excited about this one. Go Bangalore and support this piece of work.
- By Aruna Ganesh Ram
30 September, Saturday - 3:30 & 7:30pm
1 October, Sunday - 3:30 & 7:30pm
Ranga Shankara Theatre, J.P. Nagar
Tickets on www.bookmyshow.com
Enquiry: +91 8879092887
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.
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.
I was 15 years young when I started theatre. I really wish I had started earlier, now that I understand why theatre matters and how it can channelize one's creativity, energy and thought. My initial theatre workshops in school were all about fun and playing games. Today, when I look back as a theatre practitioner, trainer and performer, I realize why and how theatre helps you, shapes you and defines you.
I taught theatre at a school in India for three years where I was handling sessions for children under the age of 12. In the initial sessions, children would sometimes tend to be shy, sometimes apprehensive and sometimes restless. But slowly through time, you start realising that the activities they are engaging in challenges them differently and children are able to focus their energies towards creative output. Group work for children is a lot about responsibility and team play. In these situations, children develop the ability to listen to one another as opposed to taking instructions from a teacher. This is when they feel they can freely voice their opinions among peers. They end up having conversations and find a new confidence altogether.
From my experience in teaching theatre in schools, I've seen theatre transforming young students, sometimes in a year, sometimes in just a session. Here are five ways in which theatre impacts children and young adults in their growing up years.
Firstly, theatre opens an individual's imagination, making the impossible possible. A room filled up with chairs and tables ends up becoming the Amazon Rain forest. A room of bookshelves becomes a cricket stadium. You become a rock star. Theatre enables you to be anything you imagine yourself to be. All this sounds awesome right?, but here's what it actually does.
While one is thinking of a cricket stadium, they are thinking of the kind of the people in there, the atmosphere, the colours, the sounds and cheers of the environment, the teams at play, the popcorn, the scoreboard and much more. When one is thinking about the scoreboard, one is imagining the size of it, it's colour, the font in which the letters are written, where it's located, how it's changing.. so on and so forth. Apart from enabling imagination, theatre actually facilitates detailed discoveries. In a really short span of time, the mind is trained to process images of such fine detail. This, over time shapes the individuals ability of visualisation, which in turn shapes the way you end up defining and talking about things you see and things you imagine. You also end up looking at the finer details of things in reality, which means theatre trains you to be a better observer. Through theatre training all this ends up being fed into the subconscious, that you end up doing this naturally :-) So, theatre trained individuals develop a very visual way of thinking and this helps them conceptualise quicker and in finer detail.
When children develop this skill early on, they turn out to be far more creative and detailed in things they do and they also find news ways to express themselves.
Second, theatre gives you the possibility of playing with the rules. This means concepts of space, time, distance, gravity and the laws of nature can be pulled, pushed and stretched. This is when the scoreboard is suspended in mid air or is bouncing around the stadium or when it decides to do a quick jig when the ball is hit for a 6 ! Theatre training enables the individual to think differently and when one begins to play with the rules, concepts of real are pushed to create new things and new ways of doing things. This is how creative thought occurs and theatre definitely helps channelise that. This is not to say that those who do not do theatre are not creative. It's just that when one combines this ability with their innate skills, they figure out new ways of doing things.
Children love playing with the rules. Through the training sessions, they always come up with innovative and exciting new ways of doing things. The create new worlds for themselves and exciting situations to put themselves into and end up finding brilliant solutions to them as well.
Thirdly, putting yourself out there. Put simply, this helps you develop the guts and confidence.
When you play out your imagination, using your body, you figure out what you can do and how it is being received. You get more comfortable with your body, how it moves, how it reacts to stimuli and how it responds to different situations. You are able to come in contact with your own body at different energy levels, from a high action state to a state of sloppy behaviour. So, it gives you a "Been there done that" feeling, which automatically steps up your confidence levels about the things you take on.
When children go through these situations regularly, it builds their confidence levels immensely. You will find these children volunteering actively for group work, games, debates and more.
Four, working together. Theatre training sessions expose you to how silly you can be and how the most creative things come out of being silly. The training exposes you to how people think about the same things in a really different way, because their definition of detail is different from yours and the way they choose to play with rules is again very different from what you chose to do. So, you are able to acknowledge that there is no one way and at the same time appreciate the differences and look at how those can be worked on together, to create another outcome altogether.
Children become great team players through this training. They are friendly, welcoming and support one another eagerly. They learn to work together and share their ideas, to create something together
Five, Risk. Theatre prepares you for the unexpected. From actors forgetting a cue, to a prop not being available, to the lights just switching off suddenly, anything can happen, but we play on, taking these occurrences in our stride and using them to our advantage. This helps build spontaneity, which again is because your mind has built the ability to process really quick and coupled with confidence, you are just ready to take on more. Theatre training increases your risk appetite. You become more willing to try out new things and take on new roles. In this process, you end up making newer discoveries.
Children develop the ability of spontaneity. They will develop the skill of coming up with ideas for any situation presented.
It's an amazing feeling to discover something new about yourself, and the more often that happens, the nicer it is. The other advantage of theatre training is that it also helps you to make discoveries about other people,in a way that they never knew existed - A sense of shared discovery, through shared doing.
Wonderful, is it not? Let's keep discovering !
"When I was approached by Aruna to be a part of a new play she was creating, I was overjoyed to say the least. Little did I know what I was in for. One by one, the bombs were dropped - there was no script in hand, the script would not be our starting point, the performers would devise the sketches first and it would be a physical, movement-based performance. And so, we were introduced to the concept of immersive theatre. The play became a performance, the director became a deviser, the actor became a performer and the stage became a space.
After attending my first Re:play workshop, there was really no looking back. I was introduced to a theatrical world where sounds, movements and objects dominated and where dialogues took a backseat. Devising the sketches, true to the theme of Re:play, was like playing a game. We would be given tasks to perform with ground rules and some objects and be asked to work around them. Needless to say, the process was a lot of fun and we would look forward to devising everyday!
Re:play is all about the movement and being present in the moment. It asks a lot from the performers physically and mentally and even though being a dancer helped me, it was quite a task making my fluid movements more defined. With Re:play, I entered an enchanting world of traditional Indian games and learnt how so much can be depicted by using the games as a base. Re:play also taught me to listen to objects, the sounds they create and how they can make or break a particular sketch.
It was a wonderful feeling to watch the performance slowly take shape from scratch and even more exciting to know I had a role to play in that process. Aruna made us explore different avenues, break out of our comfort zones and through her innovative exercises and insightful anecdotes from London, she geared us for this unique performance.
I'm thrilled to be a part of Team Re:play and to be working with Aruna, Ujwal and Manav. The butterflies and the nerves are speeding up as we approach our premiere. The performance is dynamic, interesting and powerful to say the least. The performance is not your usual play where the audience play passive spectators; they will have a bigger role to play. Curious? To know more, join us at the C.P Ramaswamy Iyer foundation on the 19,20 and 21 of September and Spaces, Besant Nagar on the 28 and 29 of September." - " - Supraja Narayanaswamy,Performer,Re:play
Register for Re:play at Spaces: http://www.visualrespiration.com/replay-register.html
Anne Bogart classifies gesture to be behavioral as well as expressive. Behavioral gestures are descriptive, everyday gestures, while expressive gestures express an inner state, an idea or a value. Bogart also illustrates gestures having a beginning, middle and an end.
Through the process of Re-play, working with gestures has been a significant part of the process. With the use of both static and dynamic gestures, the various sketches have been composed. Given that the performance does not take place in a conventional theatre space, the composition of these gestures are being considered in a 360 degree fashion.
Immersive theatre is about experiencing a piece of theatre as opposed to just watching it. One can argue that watching something can also be an experience. Immersive theatre goes beyond that and seeks to engage multiple senses. This multi sensorial experience of immersive theatre immerses you in a new world, whose rules are slightly different. Through the process of immersion, you cease to become a passive spectator. The concepts of the traditional proscenium, the stage, that divides space between the performers and the audience no longer exists in such kind of work. A new relationship is sought between the performers and audience.
Re:play is one such immersive performance with a dynamic relationship between the performers and the audience, the combination of which influences the performance. Through the duration of the performance, the audience will be challenged with simple, yet unique tasks that will shape the way they experience the performance. An element of play is involved, again with a set of rules that the audience will be grasp onto, through the performance.
So what is Re:play?
In a line, Re:play is a devised performance duet inspired by traditional Indian games. I have always been fascinated by traditional games and grew up playing many of these. A year ago, I came by an article in the paper about how we no longer play any of these games, given that most of us have moved on to become a part of the digital space. Suddenly, I started composing visuals in my head about how the different elements from traditional games could be composed into performance. I remember picking up a pen and scribbling out the patterns of these board games and how they can spatially be reconstructed in a performance context. This was the beginning.
I spent over 3 months in the rehearsal studio in London working with collaborators who were dramaturgs, movement practitioners and performers, to explore the possibilities that these games lend themselves to. Given that we were dealing with games, an element of participation was a key consideration. Re:play asks of the audience a bit more than just being a passive spectator. This is what makes Re:play an immersive performance. A lot in the performance is based on chance happenings, so one may not be in control at all times, but one is in control of his/her experience through the performance.
It was really exciting to discover how Traditional Indian games have been played in different contexts through time. The performance also explores how these games and their elements are relevant to us by going through a journey that evokes themes of mythology, contemporary events, memory, Indian History as well as Indian folklore.
Research into Traditional Indian games reveal links of various games to events in Mythology and Indian history. From the story of Shakuni challenging the Pandavas to a game of dice to Chanakya strategising a game of Chaturanga for warfare to the game of strategy played between the Tigers and Goats to Abhimanyu's struggle inside the Chakravyuha inspiring the game of Kabaddi, the performance is an aural and visual journey of the sounds, textures, stories and rhythms of Indian games.
Re:play strings together these stories, events and anecdotes into a theatre performance. MOvement and gesture have been inspired from the games as well as their stories.
Come experience Re:play,come experience Indian Games,come experience a powerful piece of performance
When I started training for Re-play in London, I worked with a movement practitioner called Emma Grace. Before this, I was not really paying attention to the way I moved, but focussed on moving. Infact, most of my performances have been movement heavy, but I have never paid great attention to movement as a specific way of working. However, this time, I was keen on incorporating this within my practice.
I started work in the studio with Emma Grace. Emma's first instruction to me was to try and move my hands engaging my core. I spent a good while trying to engage my core and come to terms with its existence. I was glad I managed it and when I used my core to move my hands, I discovered a sense of buoyant movement. My hands were moving in an almost effortless fashion. I dint feel like my shoulder muscles or my biceps were doing any work. It was all coming from my core. It was just the first 5 minutes into the session and I had realised the power of movement based training for performance. Right from the way I breathed, to the way I moved in the space changed over the course of my movement based training with Emma. I am ever thankful to her for those wonderful one on one training sessions.
Then it occurred to me that it was important for performers who were going to work in Re-play to also go through this kind of an experience. So I immediately began looking to bring down movement trainers from London to India and also looked up movement trainers in India. That's when I came across Anitha Santhanam and her work in this space. I immediately wrote to her and what a co incidence, she was in London. We met up that very weekend and plans were made to host a workshop in physical theatre in Chennai in July. I was excited.
A weekend workshop
Plans were made and we were set. 10 theatre practitioners in the city were invited to be part of the workshop.
One of the first things the participants were made to experience was to be present in the space. Applying soft focus, what does it mean to be in a space with your body. Is there a way that we can create a sense of awareness for ourselves through our bodies.
Where does bodily movement originate from ? How can we, as performers get into a state of awareness where we are conscious of our various movements. Using this how can we create distinct character based movements that make a character unique and distinct. Anitha also introduced the participants to the concept of 7 levels of tension, based on the learning methodologies of Jacques Lecoq. This enabled participants to understand different body states and how each of them could distinctly communicate certain traits. The amount of effort one needs to put into each of these states were also realised by the participants.
The next day, the participants were introduced the concept of elasticity in movement. This enabled a heightened sense of awareness to the way they were moving as well as in being able to exert a push and pull using their bodies. The body also learn to react and embody an imaginary force and create an illusion for the audience. We then extended this into an interactive embodiment with fellow practitioners where different tensions in the body communicated with one another. This way we were talking to each other through our bodies. We also added another layer of voice that created an aural experience to the visual embodiment.
My engagement with theatre practitioner Vasudev Menon was in exploring the concept of push and pull at various levels. While Dev exercised his elasticity on a vertical plane, I played it on a horizontal plane. This also introduced the idea of depth and dimension through the body. We also used some minimal sounds to foster an exchange between two bodies that were at varying physical proximities.
We then moved to embodying textures and movement of objects. What does it take to create an illusion of a flying plastic bag or a swaying curtain ? What state must the body be in and what are those details one should focus on to bring those objects alive. We then also discussed possible areas of play with such boy movements and how that can be fit into an overall performance scheme.
At the end of the day, there was joy, learning and some pain. With our muscles being flexed in new ways, we had something to complain about and sleep a bit more the next morning. Thanks to Anitha for her time and thought.
A couple of lines from the participants who attended the workshop:
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Every single moment of it, dying though I was, of pain. The one thing that made a lot of sense is the neutrality aspect that Anitha touched upon. I think I will keep it with me and consciously apply it too. - Vaishnavi Sundararajan
I sometimes don't feel actors are comfortable enough in their bodies to be comfortable in an entirely created space. It certainly initiated a different kind of awareness for me, which I hope will translate into better acting - Susan Abraham
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.