19 December 2011

First days...

-Lav Kanoi

On Friday 16th December, we’d had our first formal session with Douglas, Vicky, Emma et al. of Transport Theatre UK.

The Friday session did not start the ‘workshop’ proper; some of us who unhappily did not go to the Sundarbans were brought up to speed.  We were also introduced to Transport Theatre’s and Douglas’ work.  Each of the three productions that Douglas spoke of were topical and quite specific – ranging from shifting identities and dislocation in 20th c. Europe, to the US war on Iraq and affected minority issues; although these narratives approached a more encompassing human experience from what I could gather from the all too small previews (and verbal descriptions) of the productions. This feeling may have been, of course, an effect of the way the stories were told and presented to us; and we were reminded that theatre is essentially storytelling, perhaps essential storytelling.

Vikram took over to describe the latest leg of this project’s journey and began with the recent visit to the Sundarbans. Dr. Sugata Hazra of the JU School of Oceanographic Studies who answered some specific and difficult questions on the nature of climate change, as well as Sarmistha Dutta Gupta of Ebong Alap who has worked greatly with the people of the Sundarbans, together contributed much to the discussion and the exchange of knowledge. We spoke at length of the living conditions in the Sundarbans; about the degree of uncertainty that these villagers have to live with; the place of education in their immediate lives; and, among other things, how some have dared, with great success, to challenge the river and keep the earth under their feet.

Today, 18th December, Sunday, we worked for about eight hours beginning with the fruits of an exercise that was done in a repertory session a month ago. This exercise had involved an individual’s response to an impulse-word: home (ghar), making & breaking (bhanga-gora) flow(srot) river (nadi), edge (kinara), etc. There were some very thought-provoking even metaphysical speculations on the human condition.
Next we read a passage, a sentence really, from Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. It was a tedious exercise, but very enjoyable. The exercise involved speaking every word, and finding a gesture to use with each word. Then we were made to speak the whole sentence, with the gestures, slowly and deliberately. In the final stage, we discarded the gesture and spoke the text flowingly. The difference in performance was tangible.

This exercise intended to make sure that we operate in the present. Generally, when we speak, we do not have a full exact idea of what we are going to say, or how we will say it. This is not the case with memorised text, of course. And it is unnecessary to emphasise how important the illusion of immediacy is to theatrical practice. Douglas also insisted that whenever we speak, we speak to bring about a change – in the auditor, in our selves, in the environment, whatever, some change. I wouldn’t agree with him in a general way, but within the space of performance it is an acceptable thesis. In so far as one may agree with this, the language of theatre is poetry: intense, rich, and powerful. Needless to say, of course, but one doesn’t speak only with words.

The next step was a listening session. We did not hear music, but audio-recordings of people held in detention centres in the UK. Those who seek refuge or asylum in the UK are held in these detention centres while their applications for asylum are reviewed. This isn’t the place to comment on the (in)justice of such an arrangement, but these refugees do come from frightening circumstances, and have tales that make us shiver. We went pale after we heard what these refugees were seeking refuge from. The point to this was to make us appreciate how the narration of experienced trauma is more often than not dispassionate and impersonal – at least on the surface. Actors, however, tend to over-dramatise emotion, something that we were warned against. 
Taking a cue from this, Vikram asked those who had gone to the Sundarbans to recall a story, an incident, or a moment that had touched heart, something that one may have taken away from the visit to the delta.

The next bit involved physical activity. We played three games that promoted one’s awareness of others, of the space; one had to be alert. The first game was called Go!. Here a person in the centre of a human circle throws a ball at any one person on the circumference , and continues this until another player cries ‘Go!’ and replaces this person at the centre. The entire team of players has to make sure that the rhythm of the throwing is unbroken and unchanged. The game gets progressively snappier as the person in the centre is almost immediately replaced over and over again, but all in rhythm!

The second game was very complex, sort of like music. Everyone stands in a circle; the first stage involved throwing the ball generously to somebody else on the ring. The ball must go to every single person on the ring without ever going to the same person twice in the same cycle. Once a pattern of throws-ats  was set, the second stage was introduced. The ball was temporarily out of the picture as people were asked to call out the name of any one person on the ring, who would call out another person’s name and so on until every person’s name was called out (but only once in a cycle). This name-calling followed a different path. The third part to the game involved a person walking across the circle and tapping another person who would then walk across and tap a third person, and so on until every person in the ring is tapped (but only once in a cycle). The game became really interesting when all these three parts were to be done simultaneously, keeping to rhythm as far as possible. Slowly the tempo of the game was increased. This game had similar purposes to the last one.

The last game was sort of like reverse-musical chairs. I will not give another description of how the game was played – if someone is interested, we can get together a group to play it; there’s no better way to know it. Suffice to say that this too involved alertness, awareness, quickness, and intelligence!

Finally, the last exercise today was led by Vikram: it was a movement exercise, with music for impulse and support; it involved group consciousness and collaboration as a chosen action was repeated ad infinitum but with variation depending on impulses from a co-actor’s actions. I know this is a little unclear – but it is late, and I am tired.

We have ten more days of promising work ahead of us. You will have more reports to read!

[read more on the India phase of The Edge project]

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