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.
Once I had conceptualised Re:play, I spent a lot of time reading up resource material on the games through a variety of sources. Given that almost all traditional games have been passed on through generations, I came across multiple versions of the same games. In fact, the same game is played in different ways and called different names across the country. This is also what made my research interesting. From finding out mythological connections and stories to games being relevant in today's 21st century, there was a lot to learn from.
From the very beginning, I had the support of Manasi Subramaniam as a dramaturg and writer. We would try and orchestrate material in a way that it became interesting from a point of view of performance. I would also take in some of this material to the studio, work with collaborators and explore possibilities.
Once we had a structure in place, we then contacted Kreeda Games, a company dedicated to the promotion of traditional games and sought their support from a research point of view. Through the support of Kreeda, one of the most significant things we discovered were personal stories of people who have played these games through time. Research with Kreeda is still ongoing, for further development of the show.
The C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar foundation promotes traditional and folk arts. They had published a book called Traditional folk games of Tamilnadu. I contacted the author of the book, Prof. V Balambal who was ever willing to support this initiative. In my meetings and conversations with her, I gained a lot of insights, which have helped shape this performance.
Research has always been the foundation to performance. Re:play is a highly research intensive process. Transforming research content to performative action has been the most enjoyable process over the last 6 months, apart from the fact that I pester people to tell me about all the traditional Indian games that they have played over the years.
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. Looking forward to Re:play times.
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
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Visual Respiration - Inspired to create new and innovative performance to facilitate unique audience experiences.
Presenting our Identity, designed by Archana Devdas (www.viamedia.in)
Photo by Neha Balthazar
The tasked based working approach was a workshop for the performers of Re:play. This week long workshop introduced the performers to how tasks can become performance elements and how those elements can be constructed, fine tuned and then woven together.
The whole week was about performing various tasks, performing them differently every time and then stringing multiple tasks together to create performance.
When I started training for Re-play in London, I worked with a movement practitioner called Emma Grace. Before this, I was not really paying attention to the way I moved, but focussed on moving. Infact, most of my performances have been movement heavy, but I have never paid great attention to movement as a specific way of working. However, this time, I was keen on incorporating this within my practice.
I started work in the studio with Emma Grace. Emma's first instruction to me was to try and move my hands engaging my core. I spent a good while trying to engage my core and come to terms with its existence. I was glad I managed it and when I used my core to move my hands, I discovered a sense of buoyant movement. My hands were moving in an almost effortless fashion. I dint feel like my shoulder muscles or my biceps were doing any work. It was all coming from my core. It was just the first 5 minutes into the session and I had realised the power of movement based training for performance. Right from the way I breathed, to the way I moved in the space changed over the course of my movement based training with Emma. I am ever thankful to her for those wonderful one on one training sessions.
Then it occurred to me that it was important for performers who were going to work in Re-play to also go through this kind of an experience. So I immediately began looking to bring down movement trainers from London to India and also looked up movement trainers in India. That's when I came across Anitha Santhanam and her work in this space. I immediately wrote to her and what a co incidence, she was in London. We met up that very weekend and plans were made to host a workshop in physical theatre in Chennai in July. I was excited.
A weekend workshop
Plans were made and we were set. 10 theatre practitioners in the city were invited to be part of the workshop.
One of the first things the participants were made to experience was to be present in the space. Applying soft focus, what does it mean to be in a space with your body. Is there a way that we can create a sense of awareness for ourselves through our bodies.
Where does bodily movement originate from ? How can we, as performers get into a state of awareness where we are conscious of our various movements. Using this how can we create distinct character based movements that make a character unique and distinct. Anitha also introduced the participants to the concept of 7 levels of tension, based on the learning methodologies of Jacques Lecoq. This enabled participants to understand different body states and how each of them could distinctly communicate certain traits. The amount of effort one needs to put into each of these states were also realised by the participants.
The next day, the participants were introduced the concept of elasticity in movement. This enabled a heightened sense of awareness to the way they were moving as well as in being able to exert a push and pull using their bodies. The body also learn to react and embody an imaginary force and create an illusion for the audience. We then extended this into an interactive embodiment with fellow practitioners where different tensions in the body communicated with one another. This way we were talking to each other through our bodies. We also added another layer of voice that created an aural experience to the visual embodiment.
My engagement with theatre practitioner Vasudev Menon was in exploring the concept of push and pull at various levels. While Dev exercised his elasticity on a vertical plane, I played it on a horizontal plane. This also introduced the idea of depth and dimension through the body. We also used some minimal sounds to foster an exchange between two bodies that were at varying physical proximities.
We then moved to embodying textures and movement of objects. What does it take to create an illusion of a flying plastic bag or a swaying curtain ? What state must the body be in and what are those details one should focus on to bring those objects alive. We then also discussed possible areas of play with such boy movements and how that can be fit into an overall performance scheme.
At the end of the day, there was joy, learning and some pain. With our muscles being flexed in new ways, we had something to complain about and sleep a bit more the next morning. Thanks to Anitha for her time and thought.
A couple of lines from the participants who attended the workshop:
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Every single moment of it, dying though I was, of pain. The one thing that made a lot of sense is the neutrality aspect that Anitha touched upon. I think I will keep it with me and consciously apply it too. - Vaishnavi Sundararajan
I sometimes don't feel actors are comfortable enough in their bodies to be comfortable in an entirely created space. It certainly initiated a different kind of awareness for me, which I hope will translate into better acting - Susan Abraham
In this blog space, we talk about performance processes, interdisciplinary practices and various ways of creating performance and engaging audiences.