Parshathy J Nath
Working with Visual Respiration has opened up new possibilities for me as a performer. I understand how one could start from simple gestures to navigate a vast emotional canvas. Combining these gestures with sounds added a new layer of meaning to the actions. The body began responding in ways the mind could not fathom. Suddenly, so many new possibilities unfolded before us. We were working with several choices.
Personal memories were brought back on the rehearsal floor. We began engaging with our pasts in new ways. Yes, we looked them from a distance, but still, there was rawness and tenderness. Something had happened to my recollections, I noticed. They had left their sentimental zones, to occupy new crannies of the consciousness where dreams, fears and fantasies reside. They occupied these spaces in the form of smells, sights and warm caresses and hugs.
I resonate with the idea of performing tasks and deriving creative triggers from them. Sometimes, the sheer labour of crawling on the floor or dragging a dead weight on one’s thighs created an impulse. As a performer, I have learnt to rely on my body better for any kind of dramatic tension or emotional pull; its conflicting equations with my voice, discordant notes between my ankles and thighs, the pain in my arms as I use some props…all of them can be great raw material for a performer.
The process of devising helped us play with multiple propositions that sometimes worked and sometimes did not. I loved the absolute uncertainty with which we would start our journey, and the gradual evolution of meaning by the end of the process. Working with gestures, what was delightful was how the director would be inspired by an image from popular culture or everyday behaviour. Working with intuition and the grand narrative of the piece, the director, with the help of the cohort, will try to put these in context of the play. By the end of the process, involving several permutations and combinations, the significance for the gesture with respect to the play will emerge. The gesture, detached from its everyday reality, by now, would have assumed an abstraction.
Moments of “what will I discover in this space this week.” Inevitably, surprises.
Seeing how deeply a practice can change when there is routine, discipline, structure, and enough space given, to feel yourself, to warm up, to listen to the many stories that the body is trying to tell.
Space for exploration, and seeing, asking, where does this exploration want to go? Does it always reach there? The moments of push and pull, and catch and release. The repetition of this idea, and how it’s expressed in many ways.
Literally, catch, catch an orange, catch a ball, they are up in the air at the same time.
Let the ball roll, catch the orange, don’t let the juice spill.
The many balls we are juggling onstage.
And a scene, the expected, the unexpected, how will you pick these items up, what technique will I use with you, how do I tell, what risks you are, and are not, willing to take?
Rhythm, and functionality. Team work and a competitive spirit.
Feeling strong, wrapping around one leg, there’s no way he is getting to the other side. My team is determined.
Feeling strong, a heavy body across my lap, and my body is told – to move forward. Move forward, move, move, move, and shimmy and feel, feel the weight of my thighs, resilience.
A nose that wants to work overtime, but an energy that is determined.
There’s that time, to myself, in the space, let’s start, let’s start, but as soon as I’ve entered, the power of the studio takes on: bright lights, there’s no need for words, the diary comes out, pages that long to be written on, and there is a floor that wants to be rolled on, and there are walls that want to be bounced off of.
There are instruments to be played, and a foundation, but not necessarily a set of rules.
There is the idea that risk is an option….
and there is the feeling of what is it like, to stay in it, what can I discover, if I commit to this tree, if I never let go of this tree?
Even as our small branches are drifting off and telling their stories, what if we, here, as the tree kept exploring, stayed committed, a natural inclination, that becomes an afterthought, as the branches start to intertwine, as my trunk falls to the floor, and my toes become roots….
Mondays, the energy feels slow, groggy, slow to rise, slow to energize, slow to feel the pleasures of the morning.
Feeling us moving through the gestures, slowly starting to unpack, intention.
This idea of space, pockets of space in-between, for thought, for reflection, to express and to unpack feelings, a moment.
The mornings are quiet, construction, sweeping, feeling the beginning layers of dust, sneaking in a cup of chai, walking through, avoiding the stray dogs, not recognizing any building, and the expression of surprise at having wandered this way.
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.
Creating the banks of the river Sarayu or Nallappa's Mango grove and other landscapes of Malgudi based on R.K. Narayan's imagination can be quite a complex task when the medium of expression is theatre. Packing R.K. Narayan's imagination onto a stage space can be quite challenging.
As part of the stage adaptation of Swami and Friends, R.K. Narayan's first novel, we've tried to recreate Malgudi spatially through levels, colours and by embracing the moods of the landscapes through lighting and costume. A few weeks ago, I met Arundhati Nag at Rangashankara and was telling her about the adaptation process. Ver early into the conversation, she said "If you start creating every detail of Malgudi through its props and objects, you will get lost! Just try and get the colors, moods and patterns right" This thought was motivating, given that the process had begun in trying to capture the essence of Malgudi, its colours spaces and landscapes through the body in the space.
Each of us have a unique interpretation of what Malgudi means to us. The fact that Narayan created a fictional town was so that it could be personal to the reader based on their own upbringing and childhood times. That's what still keeps Malgudi alive for us, in different ways. Narayan's writing transports us into another world, into another time and he manages to do so effortlessly. That's also what makes Malgudi so memorable.
Swami and Friends will be staged at the Jagriti Season this year, starting Oct 2nd. We invite you to come experience Malgudi.
We will be presenting R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends as part of the Jagriti Season this year.
Oct 2 - October 11, 2015 at Jagriti Theatre, Bangalore.
About Swami and Friends
Swami and Friends is the story of a young lad named Swami and his escapades with his two close friends, Rajam and Mani. Set in late preindependence India, the story takes us through the world of charming, boyish innocence of Swami in Malgudi. With remarkable characterisation and a wonderful sense of humour, Narayan’s Swami and Friends is a delight for the old and the young.
Step into an old world charm… Step into pre-independent India… savour the experience of a small town in South India… come see a friendship like no other!
One of Narayan’s greatest achievements was to create the fictional semi-urban town of Malgudi. He created the town in September 1930, on Vijayadashami, an auspicious day to start new efforts and thus chosen for him by his grandmother. In his mind, he first saw a railway station, and slowly the name ‘Malgudi’ came to him. Step into Narayan’s Malgudi in this theatrical adaptation.
Watch this space for more. We will be sharing performance snippets and our process of performance creation.
The unexamined life is not worth living - Socrates
“When you think of moments that shaped you, you question them in different ways. This introspection is important to process memories in a way that you get comfortable with them. We cannot change what has happened, but we can only revisit them in different ways and look at them through different lenses”
“Going back to an event over and over again can be rather monotonous – But there is a discovery in the repetition. You are able to spend time in the moment, in detail and you are able to convert thought into a visual language. Now you are able to understand the memory through your body”
“Remember that you are looking at your past based on where you are today. So a memory is a reflection of the past from this very moment. So we are already filtering the memory through the concept of time. This brings in what I call necessary bias and gives us the possibility of having a conversation with the memory”
“We’re all made up of memories, which we convert to stories.”
"All signs and sign systems should not produce equally strong signifiers all the time, or the spectator will experience sign overload and confusion. Some order of priority needs to be establidhed for literally every moment in the performance" (Whitmore:1994)
Whitmore, author of Directing Postmodern theatre and professor in theatre arts focuses on shaping signification in performance. He asks us to look at every gesture, sound, movement or text as communication of meaning to the audience. Through his book, he urges practitioners to push boundaries to explore new ways of signifying meaning.
Over the last few months, I have been exploring performance composition through workshops in Chennai and Bangalore, working specifically on aspects of space and shape, looking at how shapes within space generate meaning. The challenge was to look at these elements and vary them in size, intensity and scale to create compelling performance moments. From my experience of facilitating these workshops, I would like to share with you some of the ideas that emerged in the process of performance composition.
Looking at spatial extremities: Whitmore talks about space in four kinds of distances: intimate, personal, social and public. The distance between two bodies/objects in the space influences the relationship between them. While public distance will applicable when a politician is waving to the crowd, intimate distance would apply to a couple having a conversation in bed.
As part of the composition workshop, we explored how power structures can be communicated using spatiality. Expansion and contraction of physical space gave us an idea of performance intensity, depth and relationships. Complete contraction also meant coming into intimate and personal distances with one another. This triggered a bit of discomfort for the participants, pushing them to explore distance on a vertical axis, creating levels within a contracted physical space, converting intimate distance to personal distance.
In one of the workshop sketches, a duet about power struggles, the audience was located in a tiny corner of the room, seated really close to one another. The action took place right in front at a diagonally higher spatial position. The audience was consistently looking up at the action and were being spoken down to - a great spatial expression of power. The concept of proximity was coupled with expansion/contraction and that amplified the movements of the performers even though they were playing it subtle. When the performers were very close to the audience, even a small gesture seemed big.
This made me realise that one of the first decisions in composition would be to assess the distance between the audience and performance space. This distance will then dictate how much expansion is actually amplification and how small the contraction can potentially be. While the performers may have chosen to play an intimate distance, they must also be aware of what distance they are creating between themselves and the audience and for the audience from one another. Amongst the audience, I experienced a personal distance with the others, which made me conscious of my presence in the space and therefore influenced the way I interacted with the sketch.
Another very interesting aspect in the space was the use of smell. As the audience entered the performance space, a smell of musk enveloped the air, sending signals of heightened male energy. So gender engulfed the space through smell. Through the course of the performance, the smell of musk slowly faded, contracting space for the audience. It was wonderful to notice how multiple senses were engaged and how each of them could influence the audience’s perception of space.
Playing with shape and influencing space: Inspired by Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints, the workshop explored expressive gesture as a way of creating shape. Participants used their bodies to create an idea, emotion and concept. The beauty of body based expressive shapes is that it is open and left to the interpretation of the audience. Shape allows the participant to respond to a stimulus through the body within a given space. For example, if an actor stands in an exaggerated shape really close to you, would that influence your body shape within the space? Depending on the narrative that you choose to communicate, triggered by the body, you will either decide to play and expanded or contracted shape.
When shapes come together, the scope of expanding/contracting increases. This way shape influences space and space inspires shape. When two or more bodies in the space do the same thing in a coordinated way, what happens to space? Does it give you a feeling of expanse or can it communicate proximity? Aural volume, pitch, tone and text also contribute to creating an illusion of space, by adding layers to the shape.
Repetition is another key to shape. If an action is performed 25 times instead of once, will it mean something different to the audience? Can it amplify the meaning because it was repeated so many times? Or does it become redundant?
What was a big revelation for me was that when you push participants to look at performance space differently, an element of immersion happens, bringing the audience into your work or constructing your work around them – the decision of where they are placed becomes critical.
Apart from Space and shape, we also looked at forced inclusions within performance composition, which I will be writing about in my next post.
Written by Manasi Subramaniam, this poem is being performed as part of A moment of memory
We have visually recreated a moment from the performer's life, where she was attacked on a dark cloudy night. Her fight for survival frames the narrative and "Take back the night" ushers in a new kind of hope to embrace.
A moment of memory - Jan 9,10,11 at Atta Galatta / Jan 23, 24, 25 at Shoonya Space, Bangalore
So what does it take to put your personal truths out in public space? You are sharing a story, a mood, a moment - through performance.
We are all made of stories. Stories of various kinds, multiple genres and different moods. In a way, our stories define who we are. The choices we make within our own plot, the characters that we choose to play through time, the different moods that we help create, our value systems, the multiple emotions that we go through - all these end up defining and constructing our personal narratives.
In August 2014 (Bangalore), I was in a workshop with 4 people- a theatre actor, a psychologist, a behavioral trainer and a nuero linguistic practitioner. I was already beginning to feel like we had a performance there. It Just sounded quite cool. Through the 2 day workshop where we worked on body, gesture, space, memory and audience relationships, we had created about 30 seconds of material per person - a combination of expressive gesture, sounds, movement and text.
The question for me was: How can these fragments come together in performance? For a while now, I've been very interested in exploring personal narratives through visual performance. Additionally, I also explored the idea of immersion in personal stories. The idea of an audience not just watching the story but being drawn into the environment in various ways.
With the material generated at the workshop becoming the starting point for further devising, we started further exploration. Combining chance happenings, associations, spoken word and free writing, we started generating more performance material. At this point in time, I honestly had no clue what the performance would be about. I had a guideline, a process that I trusted and four committed performer/devisers.
Through the initial devising sessions, we focused our energies on creating visuals, both static and dynamic and was using these visual cues to generate performance context. We would then quickly take notes about what the visual is communicating and see if we could further build on it in any way possible. In two weeks time, we had a very clear direction of where the piece was heading. We were working with concepts of challenge, hope, love, violence and romance. The stories emerged. The stories of four different women experiencing struggle & strength, hope & despair and detachment & obsession.
What would you do when you are alone and attacked?
How can you move on after a testing relationship?
Are you now in a position to stand up to what's going on? Do you have a voice?
How can your hope and faith build you up, after you crumble?
A moment of memory captures and brings to life these four moments through performance. We've designed this in an experiential way, through touch, taste, sight, sound and smell - by engaging the multiple senses.
We invite you to come experience these stories and share a moment with us.
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.