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.
"What is Arts Management and why is it important? How is it different from what we do on a day to day basis?"
This was the question in my mind as I was enrolling for a two week fellowship programme, ATSA (Art Think South Asia) in Manesar. I have formally studied Marketing and Communications Management and worked as a brand strategist for almost 6 years. I was curious about how this fellowship was going to address Arts Management and therefore how it would be of relevance to the work I currently do.
Most of us, practitioners, are so busy in our creative pursuits that we often neglect the concept of managing our own work. I am not referring to managing ticket sales or making sure audiences come along to watch the work. That is hygiene and needs to be done to ensure the encounter with the audience.
What we need to make a part of our process is the concept of a strategic plan that will align the work we do to the value that we seek to create. This got me thinking of the very basic question - Do we really think about the value that we are creating or seeking to create before we begin our creative process ? Do we already know what we want to achieve in a communal space and what the audience will potentially take away ? The medium of arts is a power tool that can shape, change and influence. Only when we take time to truly understand the value that we are seeking to create, can value even be created. Else, one is just banking on chance to deliver.
Strategic planning for the arts is first a mindset. Given my formal training and experience in management, I have never used any of it consciously to make plans for my theatre organisation. When I asked myself why, I dint quite have an answer. Maybe it's because we have this blanket understanding that management is the left brain and arts is right brained. Maybe its because art and management just dont go together or it's because we have no time for this or it's possibly a Chalta Hai (It's OK) attitude when it comes to our creative work.
The two weeks at ATSA has brought me to a conscious realisation of why it is important to manage our creative pursuits and has helped me understand what good will come from just having a plan, that's been thought about before it has been executed. From my learning's at ATSA, here are a few things that will really help arts organisations align their work - It might just sound so simple and obvious, but when you spend time and apply this to your arts organisations, trust me, it will make a difference.
I've taken the time to process all this and make plans for my theatre company, Visual Respiration. It has certainly cleared the air for me and has given me a solid structure to align my artistic vision to almost everything I do. I am happy to help/support anyone who needs a sounding board as they're making plans for their arts organisations.
Thanks ATSA for giving us the physical and mental space to think about arts management. Check out the fellowship programme here and apply if you think it's of relevance.
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 !
Working with gestures became an integral part of the Re-play process. I collaborated with movement practitioner Emma Grace in London to devise a movement score for the scratch performance.
Given that the performance is movement-centric, it was important that we plot a movement score to organize the various movement types that we were working on.
Inspired by the concept of games and the patterns within the board games, we experimented with movements that were both geometric and organic. The concept of time and duration within the movement also occurred here. Predictability and unpredictability were two extremes that we worked with with the concept of chance being addressed in between. This was again inspired by the games depending on strategy, skill and chance.
Movement within the space was also kept to three movement layers. The centre space, the grid patterns and breaking the grid, as a means of freedom from the geometric ways of moving. This became a starting point to further explore movement in the context of games and how that can be extended to performance.
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
We may call them by various local names, but traditional Indian games hold a special place in our childhood memories, whether they be indoor board games like Ludo, and Snakes and Ladders, or outdoor ones like Kho Kho and Kabaddi. What happens when the
various elements of these games become instruments of
We let Aruna Ganesh Ram show us her brainchild Re:Play, an Immersive Theatre act, inspired by traditional Indian games, which will premiere in Chennai.
“Motivated by Immersive Theatre in London, I came up with the concept of using different elements of Indian traditional games as a device in storytelling as well as an intricate part of the plot. A ‘work-in-progress version of it was staged in London after I collaborated with artists there. Now, after different phases of development, it is finally ready to be shown to audiences in Chennai,” says Aruna, who has been involved with the theatre world for the last 10 years while leading ‘Landing Stage’. After taking a break to do her master’s degree in Advanced Theatre Practice from the Central School of Speech and Drama, she has founded ‘Visual Respiration’, her new theatre outfit.
What makes Immersive Theatre unique is spontaneity at all levels. “We don’t follow the conventional way of starting with a story then making it into a script, the development process is more organic. immersive plays need a trigger, and the narrative sketches are developed in stages through experiment and involvement of the group. For example, once I carried marbles to the studio. The sound they made, their movement, and how they interacted with the space, provided us the trigger for a narrative,” explains Aruna, who has been supported by Manasi Subramaniam in writing the script.
The concept might sound simple and easy, but it took a lot of research to give it shape. “We collaborated with a Chennai-based company, Kreeda Games, who make traditional Indian games. Some parts of the play have been based on the feedback we got from their customers which was to do with adding that much needed human touch,” Aruna says.
There are three other actors on stage, apart from herself, namely, Manav Chidambaran , Supraja Narayanaswamy and Ujwal Nair. Aruna promises that this is not one of those plays where audiences are expected to sit and watch passively. Re:Play plans to engage with their audience during the performance.
So how agreeable will Chennai’s theatre goers be with this new way of story telling? “I think it will be an
interesting experience for Chennai audiences. We are excited to see how they react to it,” says Aruna.
Re:Play premieres on September 19, 20 and 21 at the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation (Alwarpet), followed by a public show on September 28 and 29 at Spaces (Besant Nagar)
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.
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.