Monday, December 18, 2006

two planks, a passion and…?

Shoestring Theatre's production of Ends and Beginnings had a good show at Thespo 8, Mumbai. We always thought it was funny play, and, for once, the audience agreed.

The sleepwalking that invariably gets me immediately after a show hasn't yet gone away, but once it does, I'll probably put up my thoughts on the show.

At Thespo, we won Best Play, Best Production Design, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress. (The Shoestring Theatre blog lists winners.)

We got a surprisingly insightful review in Mumbai Mirror dated December 19th, 2006. The review was written by Pragya Tiwari. (No link yet, but it's on page 42 under the ETC section.)

An article written by me was printed in the DNA on
Saturday, the 16th. The editor kept the set-up lines, and chopped the punchlines in the version that appeared in the DNA. Beautiful! However, I'll forgive her because she introduced me as Vivek Narayan, just 23, writes...
For someone who's worrying about growing old, it's quite agreeable to be introduced as Vivek Narayan, just 23.

Here's the DNA article.

This is my unedited draft of the article.

Two planks, a passion and…?

When I first read Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, it produced a rather profound visceral reaction in me. It was, in precise terms, ‘huhn?’.

I went back to the play later, mostly because a rather grave actor, who was a rather grave professor of literature by day, assured me that the play was about old age!

A couple of re-readings, and I could understand, and worse, even relate to, some parts in the play. The moment of damnation came when I started laughing at the play, and that was when I realized I wanted to stage Endgame.

Having found a text was a start, but only that. I needed a team. Warren D’Sylva, one of the founding members of Shoestring Theatre, came on board soon after. The rest of the team trickled in one by one, and finally, we had a cast and a production team.

In hindsight, our rehearsal process seems to have been one of elimination. We ran through a few designs – one highlighting the chess motif, another bringing out the claustrophobia – all lacked conviction. The only constant (mercifully, there was one) was the element of comedy. We were positive we had a very funny play on our hands. The problem was to get the audience to agree.

Rehearsals were mostly fun, except when we actually worked on the play. The fact that we were all excited young people, brought with it chronic self-indulgence, but also an air of active peer collaboration that allowed us to question everything. Nothing was sacred, not even Beckett. We made changes with gusto, chopped, edited and added, and the play transformed into Ends and Beginnings, a title we thought would focus better on the lives of the characters in the play. We were infinitely more interested in the present lives of the characters than their past. This shift in focus also brought into focus the element of play acting, which became another area of interest.

When we thought the play was more or less ready, we started looking for staging venues. And that was when Thespo happened.

Once we were selected, we had mentoring workshops with theatre professionals like Ramu Ramanathan, Arghya Lahiri and Jehan Maneckshaw. In Ramu and Arghya, we had found two extremely sympathetic critic-mentors, and even more delightfully, fellow Beckett lovers. Jehan came in later and helped us focus better on the craft of our production.

I must admit to having gone into the whole mentoring process with a lot of scepticism and apprehension, but I came out of it convinced of, and touched by, Thespo’s faith in our creative vision. This sensitivity to young creative minds, and the commitment it implies, must surely be one of the most significant elements in Thespo’s contributions to youth theatre in India.

True, one only needs two planks and a passion to make great theatre. But a sensitive festival organizer doesn’t hurt.

Crossposted on Shoestring Theatre blog.

Categories: theatre, personal, mumbai


oof ya! said...

blog is working again! this is unrelated but i spent a few quality hours pouring over waiting for godot. the flavour goes off if your reading plain text! gah. would have enjoyed real action than weird voices running amok in my head.

angry fix said...

I think the trouble is a lot of baggage comes with what is usually referred to as theatre of the absurd.

I remember reading this discussion thread online where someone was lamenting the fact that the audience was in splits throughout WfG. I was dumbstruck by that, because I believe WfG to be a play that deliberately sets out to be silly in bits.

In any case, I think WfG is an overrated play, because while it definitely was pathbreaking at the time (and far ahead of its time, I mean, Christ, John Osborne still went ahead and wrote that piece of crap Look back in Anger a few years later), WfG still is by far Beckett's most conventional play. But there is still action, in the conventional sense. Contrast this with something like Play, where the actors are placed in urns, and you know Beckett's trying to do something else in his later plays.

What makes Beckett funny for me is his ability to use the many little microstructures in his acts, and do unexpected things that are delightful. I think it was Artaud who said, that humour (and art) lies in the unexpected.