“Mujhe actor banna hai” (I want to be an actor)
is what I would always say, each time someone asked about my dream job. Many a times people have simply smiled and walked away. Not because they doubt my capabilities but they are clueless about developing acting into a full-fledged career. “Acting toh hobby hoti hain!”
It was only after my first theatre workshop, at the age of 19 did the frog come out of its well. I realized acting is proper work that requires rigor, discipline and practice. Lots and lots of practice. I started performing on stage and tried to attend as many workshops and training programmes as possible.
When I heard about a recent workshop that included lessons from 10 highly experienced, supremely talented women I jumped in without giving it a second thought. And I am more than glad that I did. The last few days have been enriching and inspiring to say the least. The workshop reinforced my love for acting and is perhaps the best thing that has happened in a not-very-pleasant 2020. Here is one thing I have learnt from each of the 10 trainers that I will hold tightly for the rest of my life.
Stay alert and be alive to real-life experiences
In our daily rushes, our senses get immune to reflexes and we forget to observe life from a distance. The smaller nuances of just being, often get clouded. Geetanjali’s session taught me to stay alert and activate my senses on a daily basis. To be aware and observant of the mental, emotional and physical changes each experience brings along.
Your culture (and its art forms) is a boon to acting
Have you ever considered training in Indian classical dance or learning a musical instrument? If not, please do. Jayati is an example of an artist who has incorporated learnings from different art forms to hone her skills as an actor. Trained in Odissi, she is able to add a whole range of expressions and the grace of a dancer to her stage and film roles. No wonder that she is one of most versatile actors of our times, making us laugh and cry with equal ease!
Your body is alive! It speaks and has its own notions and expressions.
Manjari taught me to listen to my body and to invest in understanding it’s language. While practicing dance definitely helps, there are various other forms of physical movement and exercises that actors can use as tools. I was aware of physical theatre and had heard the term, but it was only after this session that I realized its true potential. In between the warm-up and the final exercise, I explored my body through its various muscles and bones. And was amazed at the power of this very basic and simple form of communication.
We can find a rhythm in almost everything.
My mother is trained in Carnatic music and has been playing the veena for over 8 years now. I have grown to understand basic elements of sound- pitch, rhythm, expressions and the impact it creates. But never had I focused on the beats of life, the pulse within. In a one-hour session, Pallavi equipped me with tools that allow me to discover the rhythm in everyday things. I also learnt to observe silences and use the moments of quiet to enhance my performance.
Everything is out there to help you create. All you need is love, will and discipline!
Until now, I have come across very few people who make theatre for the sheer joy of it. When you work with or around them, their infectious, joyous energy inspires you to do more. Yuki is most certainly one such gifted theatre maker. I had the good fortune of helping Yuki with the performance of Keep Calm and Dance (2017) and Elephant in the Room (2019) at the Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival. An experience I have cherished till date! This session was no different. As Yuki guided me through her process of theatre making, she stressed upon the drive one needs to have to make things happen, the discipline that makes things brilliant and happiness that adds magic to the craft. Theatre making is not easy and it may take months or even years to crack a play. But Yuki taught me that resources are available in plenty. All I have to do is seek.
Writing is the most basic tool an actor can use to make their own theatre
Usually, my inspiration for writing comes from an incident or a sudden burst of emotions, that is again caused by an incident. However, workshops are about breaking your set notions and making space for new ideas to trickle in. Irawati does more than just that, she inspires and encourages to look at text as a strong tool of performance. Her references to various playwrights, their different forms and styles, acquainted me with the power of strong narratives and its influence on performance. Investing time to develop writing skills gives me the privilege of being an independent, self-reliant artist and create work for myself.
Seven notes of tension when used right can help develop character
Physical tension in a performance may not be the only factor that elevates it, but post Faezeh’s session, I have come to realize that it definitely adds immense value. It forms a base to build on a character and sets a tone for its graph and growth. As Faezeh took us through basic physical tension exercises it opened up various possibilities with which I could perceive a particular situation. From learning to develop patience with myself to skipping a breath to releasing all the tension within, Faezeh shared some eye-opening and very useful insights.
As an individual, I have a personality. But as an actor I must design a personality for my characters. It’s my job, not just the director’s.
Often directors are very sure of the entire construct of a play. They have it thought out to every detail, to every inch the actor moves and the exact angle at which light falls on stage. And sometimes, actors create their own little world and play along with their sensibilities. In both cases, the audience gets to see a rehearsed production- a performance where almost nothing is real. Anubha puts rest to my desires to pretend real and pushes me to be real when I pretend. Working towards being real as a performer will take me only so far. But what would add value is when I truly absorb the world of my character and grant every ounce of my skill to enhance its existence. In that, I would have genuinely poured life into my character and not relied on the character to make me an actor.
When you pursue acting as a profession, you also act out other roles that help in funding yourself.
In my quest of making theatre a viable career option, I have received all kinds of advice from several people. One comment that keeps coming back is “Theatre main paisa nahi hai… there is no money in theatre!” As aspiring theatre makers, I believe we have made peace with the fact that we aren’t here for the money but we are going to stay for the thirst-quenching joy and satisfaction theatre gives us all. Rasika got me face-to-face to the reality that all happiness comes at a price. And I can afford it as long as I am willing to push myself, take up other jobs (if required) and fund my passion if I want to stay afloat. A simple but an important lesson that we all need to revise time and again.
Be honest about yourself and your work
We live in times where I can go online and watch the greatest actors perform and access their entire work history- what their profiles looked like, audition tapes, process to prepare for a role and a lot more. But this will still not help me find what I most need as an artist- my true self. In order to create a solid profile, I must SWOT analyze myself and for that I need to be brutally honest. Tess introduced me to simple measures that would help me develop a clean yet effective presentation of my skills and impress casting directors. And like most simple things, this is no rocket science! Only requires one to be mindful and focus on quality over quantity.
The insights and knowledge I have gathered are undoubtedly an infinite, invaluable treasure. The more I utilize it the more it will accumulate. I am super grateful to each of these 10 wonderful women for sharing their learnings, ideas and navigating me towards a more focused approach.