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
"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.
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.
Re:play is about relationships. Relationships between different people within the space. This relationship starts and evolves through the course of the performance. Facilitated by the performers, Re:play explores relationships between two people, between the performers and the audience, between the members of the audience and the relationship one encounters with themselves.
The design of the performance facilitates an intimate spatial construct, where the performers can story tell, eye to eye. This makes the environment more personal and enables audiences to do more than just watch a performance.
Viewpoints of space and time were the first considerations in devising Re-play. Topography, using floor patterns, helped in exploring both geometric as well as organic design possibilities. Moving through the space in patterns of the board games guided spatial design and construction. This helped in gauging the size and shape of the space, influencing the artistic process critically. The concept of intimacy in spatial design emerged here, making the performance immersive in nature, by creating a shared space. The breaking down of the proscenium having occurred early on in the process demanded a new audience-performer relationship. Richard Schechner talks about this in the context of environmental practice, connecting notions of encounter between audience, performance and space.
The kind of work I'm talking about can't happen if one territory belongs to the audience and another to the performers. The bifurcation of space must be ended. The final exchange between performers and audience is the exchange of space, spectators as scene-makers as well as scene watchers.(Schechner in Machon 2013: 32)
Schechner explains that the exchange of stimuli - either sensory or cognitive is the root of theatre. When this exchange happens through multiple senses, in the absence of bifurcation of space, then new relationships are possible, body contact can occur and a sense of shared experience can be engendered. (Schechner 1994: xxiv) Re:play considered this in its spatial design, fostering and challenging new relationships between multiple elements in the space. Re:play's spatial design enabled audience to be seated in small groups, around the performer. The audience was also lit in the performance, which made them a part of the space.
It was then an ongoing discovery of the potential relationships that are possible between all elements in the space; objects, people, voices, textures, sounds and the combinations of these. With an element of spontaneity contained within the performance as well, new relationships, dynamic in nature were forged through the process of the performance.
The challenge was in considering the many relationships in the context of immersive theatre, where the audience is placed at the heart of the work to feel and undergo a visceral experience, to be immersed in a world whose rules are different, to be submerged in an alternate medium, where all the senses are engaged and manipulated (Machon: 2013: 22) Re:play was an experience with different rules, rules that audience members discovered through the course of the performance and rules that were flexible, which could be broken or held based on the discretion of the people within the space. In this process, people discovered each other as well.
"When the plot was first pitched to me, I knew it was something I had never done before. Something I was sure the Indian audience had never experienced in theatre before. And there was my reason to become part of Re:play.
What started off as exercises of the mind and body slowly became intricate pieces in the sketches of the play. Everyday was a new beginning, because each sketch demanded its unique approach and ambience. We started taking Yoga classes to see how much more we could exploit of our bodies.
From a pathetic start I went onto learning how to control breathing and commanding the body. It was one of the most refreshing experiences I've ever had. Each sketch was designed to fit the stretch of each performers ability, so every piece was only as good as ourselves. And with the contrast between the sketches being quite stark, I had a challenging time switching moods, sweating it out and wiping it off.
The idea of Re:play being a duet was the second challenge, in terms of energy and mindfulness. To be a performer and yet not be 'The character', that was the subtlety we had to work against! Directors can be tough!
Spatial awareness was by far the toughest task, with objects and people at such close proximity we had to constantly watch our every move.
Re:play was always an experimental piece to me and I hope it wins hearts and leaves the audience with a kind of nostalgia that only comes with this genre of intimate immersive theatre." - Manav Chidambaran, performer, Re:play
"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.
It was definitely 15 years ago when I last played Parcheesi (Ludo variant) or Paramapadham (Snakes and Ladders). Now, in the context of creating performance out of the games, playing with the games was more critical than playing the games themselves. When I initially started devising Re:play, I brought all the games, their objects and rules into the rehearsal studio, spread them around in the space and sat in the centre, just watching the many objects, elements, patterns and textures.
The metallic dice, the cowrie shells and the tamarind seeds were all elements waiting to be explored. I tossed around the Pallanguzhi box for over an hour trying to create different rhythms and sounds with it. Based on these sounds and rhythms of the box, I would then scribble down associations, which would become a base to start creating. Similarly, over 40 marbles would be strewn around the studio and I would watch them roll away. It was quite magical and fascinating.
Another exciting discovery was the many patterns of the board games and their possibilities. I would draw out these patterns on the floor and use them as movement guides to figure out spatial architecture and topography.
While working with performers in Chennai, we would perform tasks that involved the rules of the games or the objects/patterns and through the process of performing the task, we would make discoveries about movement themes, spatial possibilities and potential narratives.
Re:play has been completely devised in such fashion, where objects, patterns, structures, rules, colours and textures would inspire multiple starting points for performance. It's been a great experience devising original work, playing with the games, making discoveries and creating performance.
Re:play premieres on the 19, 20 and 21 of September at the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation(Alwarpet), followed by a public showcasing on the 28 and 29 of September at Spaces (Besant Nagar) in Chennai. Both performances are only on a registration basis, the details of which we will put up next week. The performance will also tour Bangalore and Hyderabad over October and November
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.
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.