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
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.
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 !
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
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.
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
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.