As dramaturge (a German concept that I wish Indian theatre adopted) for A Midsummer Night's Dream, my contribution involved offering solicited advice to Tim Supple during auditions and rehearsals, and writing the programme note afterwards.
Tim needs no advice, really, but in these contentious times of globalisation, everyone is rightly sensitive to the troublesome aspects of intercultural theatre. Peter Brook's Mahabharata had proved it to Indians.
Tim, a Brook disciple in many ways, understood the problem. He treated the unit just like any group of theatre workers, not as Asian theatricians, as one of the actresses told me of her own accord.
One actor raised an unexpected point in praise of the ready accessibility to various Indian forms in the process of this production: it allowed for long-term exposure to many traditions that would have been impossible to gain elsewhere, because this kind of experience generally takes place in India only in short-term, single-form workshops.
Long-term is a key phrase. Very few intercultural projects in India have permitted the director to invest so much time. Beginning with a month's auditions of about 300 artists without linguistic discrimination in cities across the country and Sri Lanka in April-May 2005, Tim realised that his shortlist of 60-odd required another round.
Originally not on the cards, the intensive week-long recall session took the shape of a workshop in Mumbai in July, which bonded the large group closely, though everyone knew that only one in five would make the final grade.
Design and production plans continued after Tim returned to London. The full team came together for nearly seven weeks of rehearsals in January-February 2006 at Adishakti outside Pondicherry. Choreographer Veenapani Chawla's idyllic, sylvan campus with its elegant Kerala-style auditorium served as the ideal location.
The daily schedule at Adishakti left the whole unit blissfully exhausted. Over the entire period, setting aside Sundays as the weekly holiday, they gathered at 9 am and practised till 9 pm. Warm-up exercises, dance and music sessions occupied the mornings. After lunch the scenes were rehearsed with just a tea break in the middle until dinner was served. Tim spared Saturday and Sunday nights for letting hair down in much-deserved party time.
I mention the routine because it is so rare in south Asian theatre, long divorced from its professional system barring a handful of exceptional companies.
Tim's intensity never flagged. He stayed in charge for 12 hours at a stretch, save for meals. Tim does not distance himself from the ensemble, considers himself one of them. He deals with each individual on equal, personal terms and has a separate relationship with each one.
His hands-on approach to dance (coaching difficult movements himself), music (frequently breaking into percussive sounds to guide the accompanists) and sets (exhaustive one-on-one discussions with the designer) inspired those performers who themselves lead their own groups.
A few confided that they would try to adopt his directorial methods. If so, his influence on Indian theatre seems assured. Tim's directing also taught many the techniques that they had only read in theory. One of the actors told me this was the first time he had encountered the grammar of Shakespearean performance.
Yet, much as he relies on the introspective realistic school of acting, he has a sharp eye for the openly extroverted, presentational and theatrical; and this combination creates his original stamp.
Additionally, his insistence on stripping the performers of superfluous emotions and getting to the truth, paring from excess to essence, made them aware of the overblown style of mainstream proscenium and screen acting in Asia.
The cast will tell you that everyone underwent a continuous search and exploration of his or her part that perhaps has still not ended.
Constantly challenged and pushed to look within, all agree that without the dangerous edge to which Tim led them, the new possibilities that ultimately appear on stage could not have grown. Not forcibly, but subtly, he got what he wanted out of them, not just from them.
Much of this dimension involved depths of non-verbal communication; and to counter those who believe in the sanctity of one language, the actors never felt that their communication suffered on account of linguistic barriers.
Pictures by Rashbehari Das
The journey from the slums of Khardah to Stratford-on-Avon is a magical midsummer dream for this youth who sells fish by the morning and does theatre by day. Not knowing English has not been a hurdle in knowing the Bard for the 33-year-old who studied till Class IX. To grasp the Dream, Tapan (extreme right) read up Utpal Dutt’s stage translation Chaitali Raater Swapno. “But I felt it was his own interpretation and it also differed from the script I was given by Tim... Things became clear during the course of rehearsals,” says Tapan, who plays a spirit (servant to Titania). Tapan has trained in physical theatre under Prabir Guha of Alternative Living Theatre and travels with the troupe.
Chandan Roy Sanyal
The Dream’s Lysander (in picture top right) is a youth with a curly mop who professes his love for Hermia in accented Bengali, and then wonders with a smile how the Calcutta critics will pan him for not getting his mother tongue right! “Tim has asked me to keep it simple, not over-dramatise or overplay the emotions,” says Chandan. Living long out of Bengal, Chandan trained under Habib Tanvir before shifting to Mumbai where he has worked with Q Theatre Productions, acted in Alyque Padamsee plays, and formed Proscenium Theatre for which he directed Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder.
Composer, sound designer and studio engineer — one of the three musicians in the Dream team wears many hats. “There are more than 270 cues in the play and it’s quite crazy,” says the 40-something who plays the guitar, dotara, mandolin, khamak and the North American flute apart from percussion. Kaushik is linked with the band Saanko, composing music for theatre and ads. He designed the sound for ELAN 2003.
With his boyish looks, the youth from Howrah plays Francis Flute and speaks his lines in Bengali, Hindi and English. “I found the techniques not entirely new to me. We had a similar approach to theatre while working in Chetana,” says Joyraj, whose stage career began as a child actor with IPTA. Having trained under Shyamanand Jalan, Joyraj has been part of major Chetana productions and recently played the young protagonist in Herbert.