Saturday, July 19, 2008

Creative Expression in Theatre

“…..and so I never know who I am,
Nor how many I am or will be.
I’d love to be able to touch a bell
And summon the real me,
Because if I really need myself,
I mustn’t disappear.”

Pablo Neruda in Extravagaria, “We are so many!”

(Spanish translation)
“…y así yo no sé quién soy,
no sé cuántos soy o seremos.
Me gustaría tocar un timbre
y sacar el mí verdadero
porque si yo me necesito
no debo desaparecerme.”

In his poem “We are Many”, Pablo Neruda explains the trouble of having “too many” personalities embedded in one. What sounds like being a trouble for the poet here, could be an advantage for an actor. An actor in his / her professional life has to live many selves. I read somewhere that an actor is an eternal patient of double identity. That is to say that when an actor acts, he is himself as well as the character that he or she portrays and has to be true to both the selves.

However what happens when an actor, on stage, in front of the live audience has to be more than two personalities. There is such an obvious danger of overlap. Well, two weeks ago I saw an innovative play which demanded a lot from the actors in this regard. The play was “El Lleig” (In English, “The Ugly one”) by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg.

The play had a very innovative structure. It didn’t have conventional acts and scenes but it rather had a continuous text format. Dialogues and lighting changed continuously without taking any pause. Except the central character of “The Ugly one”, every other actor actually represented more than one character. This should have made actors’ task extremely difficult. However, if it really did, actually it didn’t show. All the actors, especially our friend Neus Umbert, did an amazing job. At times they spoke two continuous sentences but both representing different characters. This not only lent the play a wonderful pace and rhythm but it made the visual experience of watching the play even more wonderful. A spectator can see all the rules of conventional theatre falling apart and a new “formless” form emerging on the stage. Basic issue that the play addresses is that of obsession in our society with physical or external beauty. First, the very choice of drama as a medium demonstrates possibilities of creatively expressing social problems. While the innovating form of drama adopted by the author (and beautifully delivered by actors in this case) shows that how a rather common art form can be used in an uncommon way.

This also reminded me of something similar we had attempted at Club de Teâtre at L’alliance Française, Ahmedabad in 2004, where, in a play called “Ghodo” (In English, “The Horse”) two actors, Neville Madraswala and myself played 4 different characters (of which two were those of a horse and The God, respectively). However, we still stayed loyal to the conventional Scenic structure of a play.

(Crossposted on.... )
(Photographs : Left Above : Actors of the play, El Lleig : from L to R - Pep Muñoz, Joan Negrié, Neus Umbert and Oriol Grau : Left Below : Neville Madraswalla (on right) and myself)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Troilus and Cressida

Dr. Pradip Khandwalla in his book Lifelong Creativity talks about different types of creativity. These types are essence, elaborative, expressive, entrepreneurial, existential and empowerment creativities. Expressive creativity is the one, I wish to talk about. Expressive creativity deals with expressing an existing idea in a creatively different manner. Last week I watched Shakespeare’s “Troillus and Cressida” at the Grec Festival of theatre in Barcelona. It was an excellent example of Expressive creativity. It was a production of Cheek by Jowl and was directed by Declan Donnellan.

The story : Cressida was a Trojan girl and a daughter of a deserter. Trojan prince Troilus (younger brother of Paris and Hector) falls in love with her. However, in an exchange for a Trojan held hostage by the Greek, Cressida has to be given away to the Greek. A parallel narration depicted the political maneuvering by the Greek and the Trojan off the warfield. Achilles, the strongest among the Greek had declined to fight, however when his close friend Patroclus was killed, he decided to avenge his death and killed Hector, the Trojan hero.

Despite being a tragedy, this play is not a traditional tragedy in many ways. First of all, Troilus and Cressida, despite being the title-characters of the play, are not protagonists of the play. There is no single protagonist of the play in fact. In a traditional tragedy the play should end with death of the protagonist. But here neither Troilus nor Cressida dies. The one that dies is Hector, elder brother of Troilus and an ethical warrier. In an earlier sequence, Hector, despite having beaten Ajax, a Greek warrior who fought a duel with him, doesn’t kill Ajax, just because he is unarmed. The same Hector, ironically, gets killed by Achilles when he himself is unarmed.

This particular production was different and creative in many ways. All the characters were dressed modernly. Greek warriors were dressed either in black or dark green uniforms, to show that Greek army was actually a mixture of armies of different city states. On the other hand the Trojan camp was normally dressed in whites and looked more elegant. However, the most enjoyable aspect of this play was illumination / lighting. Lights were used so effectively that it complemented and in some cases enhanced all the performances perfectly. The play was performed in an amphitheater and there were spectators on both sides of the stage while the play was performed in the middle. This posed a major limitation, as in, it was difficult to create ambiance with the use of backdrop or any other sort of stage decoration. However, in this case lights came to help. Different shades of lights, different foci and different rhythms of lighting perfectly created the requisite mood. Another limitation that amphitheatre presented was absence of a curtain. It is rather unthinkable to do a classic play without a curtain. However, the play had an aura of “absurd” due to modern costumes, and they used it to their advantage in placing of props. Between two scenes where lights were down, actors carried small stools in their hands and they were collectively used as props. No other props were used and it didn’t affect the performance in any way. While, the modern attire of the cast made it easier for the audience to relate to them, those who came to watch primarily because of Shakespeare, were not disappointed either. Some portions from the text were omitted but otherwise, actors stayed loyal to the text and delivered it well. However, there is one sequence where one of the characters sings a song. “love love…nothing but love”. The song was recomposed into a semi-blues version and was used quite effectively at various stages of the play.

In brief, it was a very nice example of applying new methods and finding new ways of expressing something that has already been expressed in an established different manner.

(Crossposted on..... )