ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Design for the Theatre
Duration: 02:11:17; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 10.218; Saturation: 0.170; Lightness: 0.239; Volume: 0.255; Cuts per Minute: 0.487; Words per Minute: 110.852
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
Transcribed by Vikram Iyengar and Vikrant Dhote.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
I am Sunil Shanbag. I am moderating this session and I'm really pleased that I'm coming in sort of later in the whole seminar process because it's wonderful that now we are in a stage where we are actually seeing some of the work of the people who are now speaking, we've heard some of them, and there's a kind of an accumulated knowledge base that we are working with, so I really hope that this session allows us to get deeper into the thing. The topic is 'Design for the Theatre', and it's really to deal with the whole idea of Scenography, and we have three very, very interesting people here. Sadanand Menon, who you have been hearing the last couple of days, who's been watching theatre in India theatre, dance, performing arts really - a larger idea - over many, many years and has an interesting overview of what has been going on. And I'd really be very happy if Sadanand would share with us a sense of an overview and the kind of patterns and directions that have emerged and changed over the years. That would help us in interesting ways to place the work of the younger people in the theatre today, and I think someone like Sankar, whose 'Seagull' we saw the other day with the students of Ninasam done in very interesting ways using the spaces outside, inside... so that's immediately something that we can relate to and becomes a very interesting reference point. And then of course we have Jean Guy Lecat who's wonderful presentation we just saw, and I would be asking him really to place his work within the European context - that would be an interesting counterpoint. So I think we are in for a very, very interesting morning.
Personally, for me, the idea, the contemporary idea of the term 'Scenography' - it's new. So I was quite curious and I started reading a bit about it. And there was one very interesting thought that came about that describes it quite beautifully.
"The scenographer visually liberates the text and the story behind it by creating a world in which the eye see what the ears do not hear."
That's a very interesting idea, and if we can - sort of - take this further. Because at some level it's imagined to be an all-encompassing idea that embraces text, design, history, sociology and human experience. And at some points also there is a critique, and you do feel a little uncomfortable that is it just a visual treatment, which somehow doesn't concern itself with the ideas or the content... there are many, many questions, and I'm really hoping that this session opens this whole area out for us. Because I think in India for us, the whole concept of Scenography as a separate thing from being a director or being a designer, this is a very interesting idea and I would be very interested in what they have to say. So I'd like to ask Sadanand first to come up and speak.
Now I'm completely unprepared for this session, because let me admit that I'm a filler here for someone who's absent. Since I'm used to speaking impromptu on many occasions, I just agreed and I'm going with it. Basically what I'll try to do is throw up a few questions and speak a little bit about my experience and leave it for the rest of you to sort of get back with your comments and responses. Maybe that's a better way of dealing with a session like this. Because there is no master plan, there is no master scheme in the Indian context when you talk about Scenography or any sort of associative work on stage which brings in technology. It is a fairly new history.
My own sort of work began in a very accidental kind of way - I'm not a trained theatre technician. It just so happened that when my friend Chandralekha started working with dance and choreography when she returned from a Vanvas of almost 14 years, when she returned in around 1984, originally in the first work that she was doing I was supposed to be on stage. I have a little bit of a Kalaripayattu background, so I was supposed to be on stage. But very soon I found myself withdrawing more and more into the background, because the 30-35 odd people who used to come to rehearsal every day have specific needs. Somebody needed a cigarette after rehearsal, somebody needed bananas, sombody needed water, and so on. So I just became a supplier, and that's how my career in theatre began, and I think that still, for me, occupies centre-stage. I personally believe that the guy who comes and adjusts the mike, the guy who puts the water near you, they are very important people on stage. And we need to have a course for that, probably, to develop personnel who would be empathetic in that manner. Because it doesn't happen automatically. People don't see the value of some of these very, very small things that need to be done.
But then once Chandra's productions began emerging, and it was obvious that she was going to be onstage. Earlier when she started working, she didn't have any idea that she would take it on stage. It was just a thought in her head, it was a search, it was a query. Once that production called Angika
sort of began taking shape and we had to perform it the first time ever at NCPA TATA Theatre in Bombay, we realised we were up against the wall. Because how do you light this production? Chandra being Chandra, and right in the centre of the art world of India at that time, knew everybody.
Tapas Sen was the first person we went to, Tapas Sen being this great innovative lights person - genius, I want to call him - based in Calcutta, with a science background but abandoned that to come and work with theatre full time right from the mid-1940s almost. In very innovative ways at a time when there was not enough electricity, there was no power, lamps hadn't been developed... So his entire work for people like Shombhu Mitra and Sadhana Bose and later on Utpal Dutt, consisted of working with 100W bulbs put into a dalda can and soldered, and a torch wrapped with cloth - the kind of headlights Jean Guy was talking about - making do with what is available and available technology. He was quite a maestro actually with all kinds of interesting ways of dimming lights at a time when the big rheostat dimmers even hadn't come in. He called it the matka dimmer, putting two pieces of wire and a pot filled with water, and then playing with that judiciously so that the lights dimmed and came up as and when, etc, etc. So it was like a handicraft, it was not yet technology. It was a very interesting way of handling new material because you needed to work. Once again, to quote Jean Guy, you need to do it. It's just something that needed to be done. So that's how he developed. And as the light technology began to emerge into India, a certain kind of new response to it happened and Tapas Sen was very quick to enter into that arena, and develop a certain set of - I would almost say - philosophical premises around which he would do the lights. He had his own notion of what the foreground and background was, he had his own notion of what a top light and a bottom light is - a very interesting set of philosophy, science principles that he worked with.
So we invited him to come and assist us with the lights in NCPA in TATA Theatre. It's a story. For those of you who know the TATA Theatre in NCPA, it's a semicircular stage. And it has 29 fixed lights on top, so the lights are all 2KV spots like this. And they behave exactly like this! They have not been repaired for a long time, they are so high up on the ceiling that it's very difficult to go up and clean it. It's a union house, so the workers who work there have very strict interpretation of what their union rules and regulations are. They are to come at 10 o'clock, they 10.30 o'clock, 11 o'clock is a tea break and so on it goes. It's a very, very difficult place to work. It's the most unfriendy place for theatre in India, and yet lots of theatre happens there. So that's a different story.
So Tapas came and he, against all odds, created a very interesting set of lights there which worked for us for that first show. I said, now, this is such a busy man, he's not going to be available to us all the time. So I decided to then be, not exactly a student - that would be a very pretentious goal - but someone who just followed him around, a kind of hand baggage that he carried around. Everywhere he went for the next, roughly, two years, I was there. Just being around, seeing what he did, and picking up the ideas along the way, and slowly learning. And I was also a professional journalist at that time, so travelling came naturally. And I was also working with the camera and photography, so the idea of lights certainly appealed. So it was a kind of a synergy of all this that made me sort of get into this whole thing.
And very soon one was on one's own and independent and doing one's own work. So now today, I think I've worked in over - at least - 120-odd theatres in India and abroad in all sorts of conditions. One can make the facile statement that it's much easier to work in European or American or Australian or Japanese conditions, because everything is there. The theatres are full of equipment and it's all 'bana-banaya', and the technicians are fascinating people - they also come under the realm of art, they know their artistry and so on. Therefore it's probably easier to work there.
But I think some of the most exciting experiences with light and technology scenarios is what I've had here in very, very basic, bare conditions. Akshara's father Sri Subanna had once invited Chandralekha. He had asked a very simple question. "You've been performing only in urban conditions - wouldn't you like to find out what it's like to perform in rural conditions." And she had said yes, and Mr. Subanna had organised a whole tour for her in different venues in Karnataka, including in Asikere and Udipi and all that. I think Rustom was also on that trip with the group. It was fascinating how, sometimes, you were just called upon to perform in a school - you know - hall. You can't call it an auditorium, just a hall. With cracked floors, and wiring falling all over and sometimes lights falling on you, barndoors falling on you - all kinds of things happening, and the play just goes on, the work just goes on. The point is, the work has to make sense. And the technology can't pretend that it's superior. It has to be a very - sort of - easy mesh, between the work and the associative production.
But soon I began to learn to say - and very confidently - that I'm God. I can stand in front of a stage and say "Fiat Lus" and light comes on, and if say "Zup" then light goes off, and there is no play. So the light and the scenography slowly began to emerge as a major player in my mind as time went on. And therefore it was incumbent that you learnt to understand the sophistication and the specialities in that.
One of the most interesting things in this for me, for example, is the science ofcolour and light. Because we almost invariably use on stages in India colour filters that are made in Europe for the white skin. And they do a peculiar thing to the brown skin, they make the skin patchy. It's a very hostile gel system for the non-white skin. The only other country that has understood this and worked towards correcting it is Japan. When you travel and perform in Japan, they will ask you, "what filter do you want?" There are these two big companies in the world that make colour filters, Lee and Rosco. So they will ask you, "do you want Blue Rosco or do you want Blue Japan?" The Japan Blue has definitely worked out a way of interacting with a slightly paler skin. I think it's very important. Once I learnt this I began to see the connection it has with - for example - Kodatectachrome film. Digital photography has changed the scenario, but the old celluloid film had the same problem. It was a racist construct, almost. The fact that we have willy-nilly been forced to work with these conditions and this kind of material hasn't yet been picked up in the theatre community. There has been no move towards creating our own lights, our own gel system and colour system and so. That science also hasn't grown.
When we discuss the production of artistic work in specific spaces - it could be a theatre, it could be a barnyard, it could be a garage, it could be anywhere - normally we, sort of, divide that space into the playing area and the spectating area. And the players often imagine the centre of the stage to be the centre of the action. I have learnt from so many years of working in different spaces that every building or every space has some sort of an invisible centre. And it's normally not the centre of the stage.
Often the plays work or do not work because the group that is presenting the work seems to miss that invisible centre. I think it's very important for all the groups, for theatre people to try very hard once they come into a space to find and locate that invisible centre. And there are very many ways of doing it. You can do it through certain kinds of exercises, you can do it through certain kinds of just walking around. One thing that I made like an exercise before every performance with the group that I worked with was to hold hands, go in cirlces around the stage, come out into the seating area, go in circles around it, go into the balcony, go onto these catwalks if possible... move around the space, eventually, until some space begins to resonate for you. And then if it begins to resonate collectively for everybody, then a collective decision is taken that this is the centre to which we will perform. It is not to an audience and it is not for applause that we will perform, but in order to charge that invisible centre, once that invisible centre is located... sometimes it is on stage, sometimes it's off stage sometimes it's little bit up, slightly tucked away in a corner. And you can locate it. You can find the - the word we use here is 'jeeva', you can find the life of the space in some particular, specific spot. And then the lighting and the scenography begins to work to adjust to that invisible centre. And I think one needs to learn to work towards that.
My own experience in working with set designers has been very special because we also had the collaboration all the time with someone like Dashrath Patel, who was one of India's leading designers and photographers and visual artists. And he had a constant set of propositions to make for making the stage work. But once or twice when we did seek outside him, once it was with Anish Kapoor who's a visual artist based in London - a very interesting, abstract artist - who suggested for us a particular colour to be placed on stage. Another time it was with the Japanese artist, Hiroshi Teshigahara, who works with green bamboo, and had this ability to cover big buildings with green bamboo. We had this fascinating five days in a place called Bivaku near Kyoto, where in one of the new auditoriums that was being built, he created a screen with 22 feet long vertical green bamboo which was absolutely ramrod straight, in the front and the middle and the back, and a moving tunnel of green bamboo in the middle through which the artists would move. And the green bamboo stayed green for three days. After that it started slowly turning yellow. At which point the bamboo was sliced into beer mugs, and we all had beer in the same bamboos. So the set became a useful prop.
These collaborations worked very interestingly because they were done long distance. It was not done in situ, where the collaborator comes and visits you and sits with you and watches rehearsals and all that. It was done through a series of very interesting long distance conversations and faxes and so on. But the one experience we had working with two visual artists in the U.S, in New York, where a particular work was produced by the Queen's Museum under the aegis of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This was with two visual artists in New York with whom a long correspondence has happened. They visted us in Chennai, we visted them in New York over two and half years. And it seemed like everything was working perfectly, and yet, when the time came to put the work together over 48 hours, everything fell apart. The collaboration didn't work. Often these kind of disasters can happen.
I think the principle that really probably carries this whole thing forward is the principle of human value. I do believe that there is a great amount of - how to say - energy to be invested in charging whatever geometry one works with, with the idea of shifting centres. Not to get locked into one kind of fixed centre from where the artistic work doesn't seem to get out. So I think the geometry of a shifting centre is a very important principle that I have learned, and I think the production of all work needs to probably integrate this value of the shifting centre. Thanks.
Thanks Sadanand. In fact, two or three things emerged out of this presentation. A lot of the beginnings of the idea of scenography probably came out of the impromptu needs, where resources are not abundant, and you have to make do and try and create a performance situation that is exciting and of value to your own productions. But an interesting thing that came up that Jean Guy also brought up is the relationship between... what is the role of the scenographer really, as you see it? And you were talking about your work with Peter Brook, and maybe with other directors. So that was done, you know, you were talking more about the space. But if you could, sort of, include that in the context of your talk and your work within what's been happening in Europe, I think it would be very interesting.
I have nothing to say. I mean, I don't think I'm a scenographer. And I don't want to be imprisoned. That's the base of my life - to escape from any sort of prison. Sex is one prison... alcohol... scenography. I think we have to come back to something much more human, generous. The only thing that interests me is life. I am an artist, not a scenographer.
What is the role of the artist? Why does any society need artists? Just to open the eyes - the best we can do - open the eyes, open the ears. To others, to a different sort of view of normal life. The theatre can explore the mysterious part of life. That's the best we can do. We do not have to tell that the people have to do this or do that. But we can together share all this extraordinary creation of life.
I think the scenographer is not there to do scenography. The scenographer is there to be part of dialogue. I mean, if for one day, the show doesn't need anything, why do we have to build something? But we need a scenographer to talk to the director to decide, we don't need anything. The theatre is that kind of a meeting.
I love that first part of the work when we meet in a cafe, where everything looks possible. The first day, the first minute! And then slowly...There is something I teach students. I used to do that and I still do that. The first meeting with the director, I listen. Difficult to listen, today. I listen. And I try to catch the ten words, important.
Most of the theatres have a very strong point of view, but at the same time they are lost. There is this mixture in between. They don't know in which direction to go. At the same time they are very precise on certain things. The problem is, they cannot express in terms of form, colour, proportions. Anything in life has a sense. I teach the students about colour. I say, just say ten words and think about the colour. For instance, when you say 'mother', the colour is different than when you say 'fiance'. What's the colour? And there is a colour. When you say this is not a... has a deep colour, different from (?) That's probably the knowledge of the scenographer and the way he can help.
But then we have to understand what is needed. So I catch these ten words and I try - when the whole work is finished... Like the opera I did in Houston last month. I was sitting, and the director said, "What's wrong with the set? Why do you watch the set carefully?" The whole work was finished so we cannot change anything. I said, "I just tried to recognise in the work finished if my ten words are there. Otherwise, I'm wrong. Otherwise I did something for myself, and I didn't do something to please you."
Design for the theatre is a difficult thing to even comprehend, I think. I'll reflect on my own process. For me it has always been, necessity as the mother of invention. So what you design, what you bring into the theatre is what is necessary for you. Necessary for what?
I look at a play as a series of human generated impulses. One connected to the other, like a chain. So starting from ... if you had seen the Seagull
scenework that we had done. The first line is "Why are you wearing black" and the last line is "He shot himself". So how can that impulse, the first human impulse be connected until the last. So that is of utmost concern for me.
And architects, designers, theatres - what it does to the actor, what it does to the acting - it provides an environment for the acting, it environmentalises the acting. And what the actor or the creative team does there is, they acclimatise. And in the process, you will require enhancements. You will require things that would enhance the expression of the actor. So that's the basis of design for me.
When we were doing Seagull
we were actually working on the text for nearly 18 days. Meaning sitting around the table, reading the text, finding those impulses to speak, to respond, to act. And once the actor has this text inside, once he has internalised that, he has to go into a space, find the best spatial relationship within oneself, with other characters to be able to arrive at the level of conviction with which he can speak or move. And the design, the blocking, everything arises out of that conviction that the actor is looking for. That has been the design causes or the approach to design that I have had in my works.
And also, the rehearsal process, the conceiving period and the challenges - they all inform the design process.
This was the rehearsal that I did for the play Elephant Project
for which I had an actor from Japan and I was working with zero funds. So we travelled to many places looking for possible places for rehearsal but then none worked. Eventually what I did was I hammered together a 16 by 16 platform and put it in my backyard. So that's where the rehearsals were. So that nature as depicted in the play - we could rehearse there, and those elements, whatever that is there around you, the palm trees, the darkness, the empty space - all these things, they start to inform the actor and the acting process.
And what I always suggest to my actors is to find out a very definite level of conviction to be able to be present on stage, to be able to speak on stage. So again coming back to the Seagull
production that you all saw, what I was very much looking for was not a blocking or a relationship with space. I never worked with the actors on the floor asking them to come from there go in this direction - none of that was there. What I wanted them to do was explore the spatial relationship, explore design elements which will allow them to hit that level of conviction.
This is the venue where we premiered The Elephant Project
. Again, due to lack of funds this was the only space that I could rent at that time. We had to pay Rs. 500. There is a Koothambalam next to it, but we couldn't perform inside, because the space didn't seem to provoke imagination for us. Again, this space is very challening. It has got a 14 by 14 platform in the middle and surrounded by so many pillars. So everytime an actor made a move you would see presence-absence-presence-absence. It was not very helping.
Wth the same idea I would like to contest and complement Iain's idea of the Koothambalam as a conducive space for performance. I have never felt that. As I told you in the beginning, space environmentalises the acting. And the Koothambalam has a certain way of framing acting, and it is very difficult to go beyond that level. A production that I did after The Elephant Project
was The Water Station
written by a Japanese playwright Ota Shogo. Ota Shogo's Water Station
is a two-hour long silent play. And I would also like to tell you how he arrived at that silence. He wanted to perform a play called Komachi fūden
- The Tale of Komachi Told by the Wind - in a Noh Theatre. So he went with his contemporary actors, he started rehearsing in a Noh space. And within a day or two he realised that the contemporary actor's voice and text was so feeble and did not stand to the history and tradition of that space. So what he had to do was, he silenced the actors completely. And then he found out a certain power, a certain presence, an efficacy in performing in such spaces.
So when we talk about Koothambalam, I would think... Koothambalam again, like Mangai the other day... she was telling about spaces you are permitted to enter, spaces where you are not permitted to enter. If you are making a contemporary Koothambalam, I think we should have a very dynamic, kinetic architecture incorporated into it, where the Koothambalam can open into space, something like that.
So this design where we premiered the play later became the motif for the performance space.
This is when we performed the play in Meghdoot. It's an open air space in Delhi. So we made two platforms which were more or less like the Koothambalam, but did not have the pillars. We had a tree behind, and a red brick wall.
And this is what the performance transformed into when you have lights and when you have the actor in space.
We had done the same performance in another open-air building with nearly 2000-odd audience who were not so settled. So we had to scale the performance so much, so that the actor who is just 148cm tall could perform and be an elephant - a male tusker elephant.
This is a production which I did here in Ninasam, The Water Station
- the first run of that. It was very simple. The scenography as we would like to call it, is very simple. Characters come from somewhere, characters go somewhere else. And connecting that path there is a tap, and behind that there is a huge pile of junk. So again, we did not design the space. The students and Manju Kodagu - the technical teacher here - we just started putting things togther, tried to find out what works the best for the eye, what works the best for the heart. That becomes the fundamental for scenography or design for me.
I would like to open up a discussion, because the last two days it has been a one way talk.
Sunil: So, we would like to start with questions. You may have some questions left over from Jean Guy Lecat's presentation which you can connect with what he said just now. And there are some other people in the room today, for whome design plays a very important role. So I would encourage them also to participate, in order to get a fuller understanding of what we are going through here.
Iain: I would like to clarify the point about the Koothambalam. I showed the long section at once and you will observe that the playing area, with its large columns- they support a roof which is independent of the structure. Advancing my idea wihch I would like to do with you, is you can make that entire unit removable, because it's not part of the structure. When you take that away, you have a clear space. I think that's what our installation was talking about in 1984. And when you go down to (?) and see these other spaces or Sadanand Menon's space, where there are no columns internally, I see modern and contemporary possibilities.
I've got a question for Jean Guy though. Jean Guy I've known for many years. And the important bit we know in the West, is his work with Peter Brook over 25 years. What he's done sits there with young people and small audiences, it's marvellous. My worry about Peter Brook on tour making money, is that the spaces, I find, are very unsympathetic to the actor. When you go to the (?), about half the audience is below the actor's eyeline. These large structures on tour have to make a lot of money for the production. And they go on forever and ever. I sometimes use (?). Oh you show many of them going a long, long way. This is the problem, you are denying it. They go a long way away and if you sit at the back, the actor is (?) out on the floor. You go to (?), you have a totally different reaction to the actor.
I suspect that on tour, you've always been asked for auditoriums that are too large- for financial reasons.
Sankar: Yes, that central structure, the roof within the roof, is a very limiting structure for contemporary theatre. Also, the entries and exits- there is only one entry and one exit from the green room. These are all contraints that I feel. Of course, Koodiyattam works the best. That dramaturgy, that form of acting works the best there. But, whenever I have encountered a Koothambalam structure for a performance, I've had difficulties. The number of pillars cause a huge problem. There can't be a consistent image of a moving actor. You'll never get that. Because he'll get hidden behind one pillar and he'll come out of it. In terms of acoustics, in terms of the relationship with the audience that the space can make, yes, there are possibilities. That's why I would like to contest and complement that idea- can we have the walls of the Koothambalam open up, can we have the roof open up and can such possibilities arise? Because, again, the space has a history. Even today in Koothambalams you have to take off your shirts, you have to wear a dhoti, there are certain practices that you have to follow. And there are classes of people who are not allowed inside that space. So how can this space make a political statement? What can this space mean to and audience? I think the success of Prithvi is not just the theatre structure, it's the relationship that this theatre has with the audience there, which a Koothambalam has never been able to achieve.
In Kerala, they commissioned a Koothambalam in Trivandrum, very close to the space where we performed. And it just accommodates one kind of performance. Recently there was another story- Nearly 12 years ago, the Kerala government had commissioned another Koothambalam. They spent 1.4 crore rupees on it, they had a teakwood ceiling for it and the work went on for 6 or 7 years. The government changed, the policies changed, the work was halted. And recently, when the government changed again, they wanted to restart the work. Suddenly there was a work order being processed and a week before the work was about to start, the whole place was set on fire. And now we see a skeleton of concrete pillars standing, with nothing there. So, these are the realities that we face the moment we start to think about Koothambalams.
Iain: I'm glad we're talking about Koothambalams, because there is the baggage that it brings with it. This is what happened with the story of The Globe in London. Everybody saw the reasons why it should not be done. All the actors wanted the columns holding up the roof to be taken away, because they were bad for acting. Fortunately, the scholars won and the columns are there, are twenty years later, they've learnt to use it with enormous success. Let us examine what I mean by the "essence" of Koothambalam. It is the length to the width to the height of the internal volume. It is a fact that if the roof comes down and lets the air in, you're in a private space and yet it is open to the world but closed from the world.
It has a ring of pillars on the inside, so there is an ambulatory. The green room at the back, the small one, that could be removable too. The essence that I'm looking for is a volume which can take either the sustenance of an ancient art like Koodiyattam, or you'll use it. Because if you don't use it- and this is exactly what happened with The Globe- people think you're only supporting the idea of an archaic Disneyland. I'm not saying the present Koothambalam is a Disneyland, but there could be that liking.
So what I'm looking forward to from the architects and practitioners here is finding a way of taking the inspiration, the length, the width, the height, the shape of the (?), the ambulatory, and being able to put the rest there, and the fact that people can sit on the floor or stand back because the floor around the ambulatory is lower than the central area. There are all sorts of features which appeal to me, but whenever I talk about Koothambalam, I get this thing about politics, about the big pillars. I think that's detail. I think we can strip that away.
Sankar: Yeah, if I were to propose an idea of Koothambalam yesterday, I would have been attacked by every one of you.
Sunil: Jean, do you want to respond to what Iain said earlier?
Jean: What he (Sankar) said, there is something which interests me very much. When you see something that is organised by somebody, there is an equilibrium and then you cannot take out one part without changing the equilibrium, and what you call the invisible centre, which is not a centre because it is invisible. There is a gravity centre, which exists. At the time you take out all the columns, you cleverly replace the columns by the actors and that's why it works. But at the same time, there is a wrong proportion, because it's further back. And then the whole stage moves down, it's too open. Fortunately, there is this huge, beautiful tree behind. If I was your set designer, I would keep the column in the back.
About what Iain said, just to answer the question about touring very quickly. Of course, the money is the key to many things in the artistic world. Theatre groups need to make money and get some money from the government. But this work, this process, sometimes you have to work with the actors for 9 months, to prepare Mahabharata, which is a (?) with 60 people, because we have to bring families for 2 years in France from 25 different countries, with teachers, kids, wives. Because of the huge set.
But at the same time, when we have to organise a tour, we need to first have (?), in which we choose some cities who, from the beginning, will participate to create the show- participate with (?) and be sure we are going to play there. This time, Peter Brook asked me to visit cities to see if there is a place where we can do it, before the play exists. So I have this huge challenge to choose a place for something which does not exist. So I asked Peter what kind of details I need to know and the number of seats was one of them. And we were always absolutely strict to something. The (?) needs 500 seats. Of course, (?) could accept between 300-350 seats max. Mahabharata had to have a lot of seats- maximum 900. And we never went over that even if the producer wanted to add seats. But we did two things to add seats- not to make more money, but to have more people because the success makes the play sold out from the beginning. We carried with us these low benches, 30 cm high, that we put in front of the people who paid the maximum. And then cushions on the floor. Most of those seats we sold for 5 dollars or less.
There is this equilibrium between the show and the audience that we have to respect. Why is something not working? You have a very strong show, but the (?) and the weight of the show is very light. If you have a lot of audience on the other side, you smash the actors and the whole thing. There is no sharing. And this sharing- the gravity centre- is in between the stage and the audience. It was something central for Peter Brook. People are not supposed to watch, but to share. This is why you want to have the contacts different from what we see normally. You make the set, and you create two different spaces- one for the audience and one for the actors. When you play inside of the found space, the audience is inside, the audience is sharing the play. And then we have this weight, to create that gravity centre. Mahabharata was very strong. On one side the weight is all the actors, the text, the lights, the fire, lot of energy. You cannot have a weak audience in front of that. This equilibrium was something we were working on with Peter Brook and we discovered, after 1 hour thirty, the audience fell asleep. The audience over 20 metres could not see the eyes of the actors.
Akshara: Your (Jean) presentation was very useful to me, because our group, Tirugata, travels all over Karnataka and I have a gut-level feeling that if there is a future for Tirugata, it will be something like this. At the moment, we are travelling with a fixed set. Perhaps we should explore an area where we will also integrate the space's form. But one thing which was really troubling in your presentation was the way you foregrounded Peter Brook. And I had terrible problems with it, because Peter Brook's transfer spaces are more expensive than built theatres. And I can imagine setting up that quarry to make a theatre, would be the cost of buliding four new theatres. And especially today- watching the Mahabharata happening in the quarries, I had seen the images before- but suddenly I remembered that a lot of India's Mahabharata is happening in the quarries.
Sunil: In fact a lot of our theatres when we travel are like found spaces. You know Sankar, you were talking about going to Amritsar and performing there. Why I'm asking is that, when design is such an integral part of what you're trying to say and you arrive at spaces which are not necessarily designed for what you have in mind, in terms of volume, height, the physicality, the feel of it- what actually happens? Because something like Water Station depends a lot on the way you set it up. So what actually happens?
The stage in Amritsar had a lighting rig at 10 feet. So at 9 feet, you would have a light on your face and it would not spread out because of the distance. So eventually what we did was that we reversed our entire set. My characters would come from stage right and would exit stage left. The configuration had to change, we had to work with space and yet maintain the same essence and deliver the same aesthetic experience to the audience. It's challenging but it's also exciting. Probably the best show of Water Station, for me, happened in that space.
Sunil: Prakash has a question.
Prakash: I'm afraid I'm going to strike a discordant note, because we've seen three great presentations. I'm opening up this question because some of us are building theatres or work with theatres, many of us here are in theatre practice and we have found spaces- semi built spaces. For me, the greatest challenge to performance in India is that there is too much noise. There is so much noise that you cannot perform in the open air and to secure performance spaces from the noise outside, they build halls which have echoes and reverberations and just terrible spaces with terrible shapes. One of the reasons we make 1,300 films in India, out of which 1,250 will be dubbed, is be because we cannot actually shoot sync-sound. There is too much noise. And I don't know if the experiences that these three great presentations bring to us cover anything about acoustic problems in a commonplace, mundane way. This is a big problem and if we do 5 days of this seminar and do not address such an important problem, we go back somewhat unfulfilled.
Jean: There are 2 questions inside of that. There is an acceptable basic sound. For instance, here there is at least 50 decibels of noise, but we call it silence because that's acceptable. We have to make a measurement of the acceptable basic sound where we are. If we have perfect silence, it's scary. People don't like it. We relate to life through securities, through life, and the life is this murmur. There is a murmur which is too high. But the worst is an airplane or motorbike, where a specific sound will come at one moment. That's the worst. That's why, fortuntely, we can push out the landing of the airplane in Adelaide, stop the tram in Brussels or stop the car in Barcelona etc etc.
So from that base, we have to create absorptions. In nature, the best absorption is nature itself. So we have to choose the place carefully and then to have more scenes, to have trees, to have a bench etc, and behind that, to have something that will catch sound- like we did in Rome, for instance. We built a wall, a very cheap wall behind, in the direction from where the sound was coming, which was the city. The simple question is very important. The only person who can do something for the acoustics is the set designer and no set design teaches acoustic questions. I learnt by myself all the acoustic questions, because I'm the only one who can help catch the sound, help the voice of the actors. For instance, I did a set now for an opera where everybody was surprised because nobody in this opera could listen to the singers and they look very small. And for the first time, they looked normal and we could listen to them. They said. "What did you do?" I said, "I just did my job." Which is what I should do if I please myself to do a big set where the actors are lost. I work against tradition. So, we played many times outside and we have to know first from where the main sound is coming and then on that way, to build something. We cannot build too many things because that's too expensive. The second thing is, to have anything we can, to push in the direction of the audience, 75% of the voice which is lost normally behind, on the top, on the sides. Just by, for instance, having a piece of wood on the side or things like that. Sometimes it's very simple. But there is a solution, if the murmur is acceptable.
Keshavan: I'm Keshavan. I come from Kerala. What we have observed from theatre practices in the smaller villages of Kerala, is to see theatre as a cultural activity- which is originating from a particular space, of that space and for that space. So, a workable solution can come out of the space itself.
Sameera: There are some things that came out of these talks which I just want to pinpoint, because I want to get back to the actual creation of the work on stage. And thank you for saying that you played around regularly with what you create and you've been using your word pretty loosely, saying I do what works. When I went to Edinburgh in August last year, I saw two plays at The Traverse, at the same theatre. I saw a number of plays, but these two I want to talk about. One was a play done by the National Theatre, Wales and one was done by the Scottish National Theatre. And the Scottish National Theatre had this huge, designed set- very grand, very artistic- and it bored me to death. The actors got lost. It was a "setting." You know what I'm saying, it wasn't part of the story, it was a "setting."
Sankar: They acclimatised that space.
I'm asking you a creative question, because I want to ask you to extend a little more what you mean by "it works." Because what works? You see a lot of productions where you walk in and you go "Wow!" and after two minutes the wow is over. And then the other play I saw was done by the National Theatre, Wales. It was called The Dark Philosophers and it was placed in a (?) And what was really interesting about what they did, was that the stage was full of just cupboards, all haphazardly put. And all the actors enter and exit through the cupboards. The kind of content it brought for me visually and through action, by just being cupboards in which people lived, was unbelievably good. So, when you say what works, there's a design element. Because part of what I'm hearing from here and what Sada was saying is that you have a production and when you bring your production towards performance, then you start playing with what works. So my question is what is "what works?" and is there space for a design element that may even precede or be very early on in the concept that you're giving to the play?
Jean: What works for somebody cannot work for another one. For instance, there are a lot of people who ask me to visit found space.
I come, we go inside of the place and immediately they asked me, "What are you going to do?" So I said, "Ok, goodbye." You know, the real danger of any place, even a theatre is to be trapped by the architecture. The architecture must not tell us what we should do and when you visit a new place, it is very easy to be trapped for a certain duration. And then not to search for that invisible centre, which is the genius loci in a room and trateau. Any space has an equilibrium. Any space has certain proportions, which could work or not. You can change the proportions. But your new way can either make it better or keep it the same. If you use a new way and it's worse, why do you need to there? The simple thing is, there are many people who do theatre for themselves. They don't care about the audience. I don't care about those people.
Payal: Just adding to you've just said. My name is Payal and I'm a scenographer. I trained to be one. Bringing back the conversation to scenography, I think scenography is essentially a means to communicate what the text can't and it may or may not be visual. It could be smell, it could be texture, it could be anything really which helps the actor to inhabit the world that the actor forms for himself. And therefore, I think there's a great need in Indian theatre, where the actor is the core essence of a performance. I think it's very essential to make scenography a very essential part of the process of making performance and to actually collaborate from when maybe you don't even have a text, to really what you are trying to communicate through the performance and what you needn't really see on stage. I find that collaborative model absent in a lot of the work that we produce and therefore we get very strongly driven by what, say, the architecture directs us to or what the director thinks we need in a performance. A scenographer comes in to not just tell you what the set looks like, but also the way you move, also the way you block space and it's not really something we do in Indian theatre and I've constantly wondered why- because it's pretty well-ingrained in our traditional forms of performance.
Sankar: Just coming back to Sameera's question about what works. I think whenever a performer or a company goes into a theatre space, there is a phase of adaptation. And in that phase of adaptation- when we talk about adaptation we also talk about a process of natural selection- what lives, flourishes and what doesn't live, it dies. So you take the things that don't work or that dies and you just allow to flourish whatever seems to makes sense.
Jean: Yeah, to make sense is something very important because old people who are working together doing a show, it's completely different when you do film, where there is one person who can cut all my work. Instead, it's the whole group knit together. But we have to remember something- to do theatre, but in a different order, we need an id first, then we need tax, audience and actors at the same time, otherwise it's not theatre. We needn't be after. We need costumes. Even if you play nude, you tell something, so you need a costume. And you need lights to see. It's not necessary to do effects, but just to see when it's sunny, when it's (?) So we can see the space comes completely at the end. It is not the most important. And because of that, we have such a large possibility to have or not to have a set and to decide we need the space not the set. But because we already have costumes, we know when and where, and then we have the (?) It's too many shows where the text says something, costumes say completely different things and the set has a different air, and the architecture speaks about something else. That's unity. You can find when you find a space, (?), where the choice of life doesn't tell you anything from the past, just life. That's what we need. That kind of old mould can be used by anybody with a different play. Which is not true in many theatres- that's why some theatres today are too aggressive with colours, create mereley two spaces and then you feel the actors are very far away, which is completely opposite to what we're looking for.
Sankar: Also, whenever I have gone into a theatre with design sketches that I have prepared, whenever I try to put that design into a space it never works. What helps me more is to take the concept behind that design and work with the space. Then you will find new connections and new meanings and many possibilities.
M.K Raina: Hello, M.K Raina. See, in India, we have a complete disconnect between theatre architects, theatre architecture, acoustic experts and the performer. Never have I seen any theatre practitioner in collaboration with an architect. (?) was a completely dead space done by one of the great architects of India. He did three spaces. One was Bharat Bhavan, Nehru Centre in Jaipur and Goa. Till Bharat Bhavan, till (?) walked in and started digging rocks and trying to make some sense of that space, we are not in a situation where we have any kind of vigour. Excepting maybe at Prithvi Theatre and in the north where we had a dialogue with the architect. I think in this whole discourse, I see what adaptations we make when we get to the space, where everything changes for us. It's our actors who finally deliver it for us. And new dynamics come through the actors. (?) back to the training of an actor the artefact, in India. I think we need to go back and make our vital intrusions into the traditional art of acting. I see actors in Kashmir who work in the open air. They look at the forest, trees and make a little hut of (?) there, discuss for a few minutes and it's an explosion of energy, what they do. Because they are trained that way . I think the West has a lot of architecture, set design. We have to find our own solution in this part of the world. Akshara was saying, he's correct, we cannot afford them. We cannot even dream that in another 25 years, 50 years that we will have spaces (?)
What is the problem in the architecture? We have good auditoriums, but not good stages. No good performance space. There is no wing space. You can't store things there. Therefore I think what comes to me from this discussion is going back to the art of actors. Acting (?) for us with any kind of circumstance.
Jean: There is no problem between the architect and theatre, if the architect listens to theatre people- which is not the case most of the time. I've worked with many architects and I'm working now with New York. We built a new theatre. (?) he came and said he had a beautiful model with one block, two blocks and blocks in the middle and then he said, you see the block in the middle we have to move like this. And we have to remember to see a show like this is not really comfortable. The problem is, the theatre people, they don't know what they want. I'm not speaking about scenographers and costume designers, I'm speaking about directors. They don't really know what they want. But they know what they don't want. And the way the architect should listen to the director is exactly the same process as when the set designer listens to the director and learns to accept that we are working together. When you are a painter, you do what you want. When you are a composer, you do what you want. When you do theatre, you have to accept that your idea cannot be complete. It has to be mixed with the other ideas.
The question is, now there are so many theatres with cities of (?), there is nobody behind that (...?...). And then you have in front of you some kind of stupid administrative person who can say, "I don't like this column." And you don't know why. That's a very hard problem, because as you said, theatre is complex and we need architects to build theatres. But when you see an architect roaming the stage , and you ask him, "Why did you put the actors there?" He says, "I didn't put any actors there." I say, "No, but by drawing the stage like this, you create the place of the actors and you don't know why... why do you
build a theatre?
Jehan Manekshaw: It was really inspirational, I think that from everything you showed us in the morning and also from what I've seen Sankar do with The Elephant Project since I've known him, the idea of looking at the impossible and solving the problem- how do we find a way to make something possible. I always believe that theatre, especially direction, has been about solving problems. This has been my personal take on it. The question I ask is- the first thing I want to do is go back to Bombay and look for spaces. Look for any possibilities and see what happens. That's really what I've taken away from today. The question I ask is, in my desire to solve problems and I'm very big on this, where's that line between dealing with the notion of compromise versus trying to fulfil a concept, you know? I would like to ask all three of you if you can ideate a little bit on what are the guiding principles I should always keep going in the back of my head so that I never step into the realm of compromise and I always stay in the realm of dialogue, connection, possibility. So any wisdom on that would be-
Jean: The line is very simple. The line is what is going to put my idea in danger.
Sankar: I would say, yield before you attack. You get to understand the dynamic of the space. You attack a space, then it doesn't happen. Just take it and yield- let go. And then see for yourself.
Sanjna: Don't ask Prithvi if you can use mikes.
Sankar: I did use a microphone is Prithvi.
Sanjna: I know. You attacked!
Sunil: The point is, when you're in a scenario where you're dealing with multiple spaces, how do you maintain the unity of of your design, vision, the way it's working for you- when you actually move to multiple spaces, each with its own history, its own baggage, its own limitations, its own advantages- how do you maintain that? And I think Jehan, that's really the question. That's where the idea of compromise comes in- how do you actually use those multiple spaces.
Sankar: The idea of compromise comes when you go with a fixed set of drawings. And when you're trying to execute those drawings in that space and the dimensions don't match, you have to compromise. Whereas what you need to do is, you take the concept and see what is possible there. So that it becomes a creative solution rather than a compromise.
Upendra: I see though the presentation was very great, but it was related to urban life. Here, rural means what M.K Raina and Keshav were talking about. I mean, with reference to Sankar, we adopt and accomodate the space, then the space disappears. I mean, we, the performer and the audience, we are good with that. Where does the design, height, length come in? Because I was searching for Shukracharya Rabha when I was in Assam, with Sankar. The space transformed, you know whether they know it or not, whether they are very keen to that? Everything disappeared. I see what Sankar said, adopting and accomodating, with reference to the content of the design of the play, is not working here I think.
Iain: Now just say always, the grass is not greener over the hill. The grass over the hill is dry. All of us have problems, but what I liked, were 2 questions from behind. One was about sound. That can be answered technically, with a (?) of three or four sides talking about the sound in the theatres, the sound coming in from the ventilation and that's a technical question. Then we had a question from the younger generation. Thank goodness. Thank you, thank you- the young scenographer. Which I would say to train people to do each other's jobs. So it's not just acting, then actors can understand scenography and realise that when you join the theatre, you must all be able to work out how it's done. Because when the show starts, we say that the director (?).
But at the crucial moment, the director is in charge. Just as they say, in the building, at the crucial moment, the architect is in charge. The nice thing I've heard is, is about the hotspot, about the grace and ability, what controls (?). (?) a hotspot, any actor who has played in many many theatres, walks into a theatre and knows exactly where it is. We have a very bad thrust stage theatre in (?). It's a terrible theatre and the hotspot is at the back of the stage. They adapted (?) in Edinburgh, which has a very good theatre. The director couldn't take the (?) off the back wall of the stage. What he did was have them stand upstage, because it was a bad theatre. In a good thrust theatre, we would stand downstage.
I like the Latin, the genius loci. The great poet Alexander Pope said this line, "Consult the genius of the place in all." And that applies to either a theatre or a found space. Or when we sit down to build a theatre. When we build a theatre, remember there are two approaches: one is for the artist, who promises to use that building for (?) but (?) rarely happens. However, they should be able to sense it among theatre users. You're building a theatre- this director, that director and that director. Therefore, the (?) must (?) with one man. This foolish little one man built a particular theatre that's not much use to anybody. India Theatre Forum needs to set up some (?) of user (?) who are sometime going to build a theatre themselves. Other (?) who are going to use theatre.
India is no different from any other country. Horror stories exist everywhere , especially in (?). So, coming to both the questions, the young generation, certain things come (?) and deep, and then find a way of coming together to analyse what makes a good theatre. I, myself and for fellow members of the profession.
Jean: I just want to answer what makes a good theatre. There is a word- compromise. At the centre it's always compromise. Even a good building is always compromise. There are two things we have to remember- the theatres today are built from the last generation of proscenium theatres or half-proscenium theatres from the 19th Century, where actors were in front of the stage. So at a time where we occupy the whole stage, we should build theatres in a different direction. That's for sure. the second thing is, at the time you make half-proscenium, you create a door, and any door has a focus point from where you lose your presence. Behind the door, a normal door, it's 50 cm. The front is about 250m which is 9 feet. Over that, in any theatre in the world, you have to express more energy to have a seaparate centre, from when you play in front of that. Why do we still build those kind of theatres if they are not good? When we built the theatres in the past, a contemporary play, a play from the last ten years (?) Now we have 2500(?) From the Greek tragedy until today and there is no theatre before that. So only good plays will be placed, where you have some kind of neutrality. But the problem is, you have to, for the audience, make it a very beautiful place. Detail is absolutely necessary within good architecture. At the same time, this architecture has to accept 2,500 yearsof repertory, where a Greek tragedy can be played with contemporary costumes or costumes from 2500 years. That's quite difficult. It is much, much easier to have this compromise when we are going outside of the theatre. And that's where we are (?) today. For the younger generation, we build new theatres, and they don't want to work in it.
Ajay Joshi: My name is Ajay Joshi. Hearing the discussions that have been going on, I realise that the whole element of the audience doesn't seem to be coming into the discussion here. Except for Iain's presentation, where in a proscenium kind of structure or a fixed structure, you can predict where the audience is and how it works from the audience point of view. But there are many issues which are coming up and I've seen a lot of theatre where, like Sankar said- what happened in Amritsar. It was one single production happening in four different kinds of spaces. How do you design space keeping the audience in mind? Or is it that the audience is always taken for granted? When I've got to work, I've designed a beautiful structure for my performance in a temple. So that's it, it works perfectly. But what happens from the audience point of view? Are they taken into consideration? That's one question I'd like to ask you. And whether it's Tirugata Hall or whether it is in the slums of (?)nagar or whether it is with Shukracharya, they have these highly flexible spaces but definitely keeping in mind the audiences. The audience could sometimes be in front, sometimes they could be all over, sometimes they could just be sitting on tree tops and watching. And this is a very peculiar phenomenon which we see in India. How has- Sadanand you can also please help us because you understand- do you consider the audience when you're designing your spaces.
Sankar: Yes of course. That's the-
Ajay: Does it work out? Because it didn't work out for you. When you have such multiple kinds of spaces, different kinds of audiences will be coming into the space. And sitting all over probably.
Sankar: You're looking at a spatial relationship. And then there is a process where the actor is able to, you know, project or radiate his presence and his reach to all sides. Like, when we had a performance here, we had audience on either side. There were some moments when the actors were sitting in corners, which was not working. At the rehearsal then I would have asked them to go up or- it's basically the audience. Theatre is never a self-indulgent exercise. You're doing it to show and you're showing it to an audience and there is something so integral about this actor-audience, writer-director, this environment that has been created.
Jean: I want to have a point of view because the light today is very very important. More important than ever. And there is something very difficult to do in the theatre that they do in cinema, which is, using zoom. I want to say something important at that moment- there are these two kids in Romeo and Juliet. They cannot be far away speaking at the birds and one is going to die. The other one too. The lights can change mainly all the problem we have with the space.
Sadanand: I think, basically I want to respond to a series of comments that have been coming. But I would also like to point out that even in the early 1960s as the National School of Drama was being set up, already well-known theatre practitioners in this country had realised that these questions were going to be major limitations. How scenography, light, the ideal proportions etc were going to be serious limitations. And already the conversation about Third Theatre had emerged. This really reached its peak in the 1970s, when Badal Sircar actually articulated that idea about a little (?) and condemned the idea of what he called (?) theatre. The first theatre which was all about stage, lights and set. And since that time, we've had a fairly healthy history of (?) working without this. Trying to make a different kind of space, trying to make a different kind of connect with the audience, finding a different kind of text. It is also around that time that street theatre began in India. A large amount of activitites have been happening across the country, on the streets without any of these problems.
Recently in fact, Badal Sircar the great theatre director who passed away last year, his group was invited to Chennai to perform at the Stella Murray's college there and they transformed an assembly hall of the college into one of the most amazing kind of performance venues by putting the audience in all sorts of positions and making them go around. It was a great success. Success meaning the participation was immense There were almost 1,000 students in the audience. Subsequently in a conversation with them, they said, "It is so wonderful to find a place like this. In Calcutta we don't get these kind of places." So I made the mistake of repeating what Sanjna said yesterday, "Oh, but the Government of India now has a scheme for building theatres. Why don't you apply?" And you won't believe it, six of their senior actors suddenly froze and said, "We never apply to the Government of India." We don't take money. That's the principle. The principle that many theatre practitioners in India are actually following and practicing. So, in that sense, there are many practices. And that's the excitement of work in India. The diversity is extraordinary. And within this diversity, there are some people who would make demands for good spaces and some who would say- who would just pooh-pooh the idea saying that's not our world. But when the demand for the good space comes, then all these issues become very important. The sound, the lights, the acoustics and so on.
And the sad fact in India, is that there are probably half a dozen theatres in India which have fixed lights. We don't have this concept of fixed lights in our context. Those that are there, in some of the biggest theatres in India- like I was working at the NCPA Tata Theatre or the Kamani theatre in Delhi, or wherever- there you are not allowed to touch the lights. They're fixed. You are not allowed to work with them. You have to hire in lights from outside and hang them for your own needs. So, it takes a long time to set your play. It takes a long time to arrive at what you want to do. And most theatre workers here have devised very ingenious ways of adjusting and adapting to that and finding their own solutions without really cribbing about it.
For me, the contradictions in the situation are heavy. I have performed in Kamani Theatre in Delhi under an extraordinary condition, where we had only that day to set up our lights and our fixtures. You begin at 10 in the morning , the show is at 7 in the evening. At 5 o'clock in the evening, all the workers of Kamani theatre- all the electricians, the staff, the peons- everybody strikes work, goes outside and sits at the gate of Kamani holding red flags because they are protesting against not having been paid wages for three months. They wait for the entire audience to enter. And once the audience enters, with 5 minutes to go, they put everything down, the strike is over, they go back and the show runs. Now this is the condition under which the backstage technicians work here. I mean, we use big names- scenography and light designer- but those are fancy concepts in our context. Because actually they are carpenters, actually they are electricians, actually they are people like coolies who are being used to push these huge, unmanagable ladders. And this is the context of performance in our country. So if one needs to sophisticate this, one needs to bring a new culture into the practice of theatre itself. But that culture has to come from the foundation- from the concept itself. It's like a seed you have to plant- a completely new kind of uncontaminated seed that you have to plant- and let it grow into a tree which flowers into a different kind of thing.
So, in this context, you'll find people who- they're not making do, but they're being extremely creative in producing new ways of working. I mean, I was there for the International theatre Festival that was done in Thrissur in Kerala, which Keshavan was sort of co-ordinating. Abhilash Pillai was the director of that. And Sankar was handling the sets for about 14 groups that came from abroad, at a time when the international air strike was on and their sets couldn't arrive. In an extraordinary manner, within hours, everybody's requirements were met. So without creating categories and heirarchies of people, it's just a way of collaborative working that eventually produces results in our context. But the case for sophisticating the practice hardly exists. I think we need to do that- slowly move towards it.
Sunil: Ok, we're running towards the end. There are two or three people who've been waiting to ask questions. Let's go quickly. Vijay and then Abhilash.
Vijay Balki: In a way, what I've been wanting to talk about is mixed with the last point that Sadanand made. Something that's important to me- I'm not very sure it's as important to everyone else at the conference- I've been wondering when to bring it up. I couldn't decide where it fits in. But if it doesn't fit in here, it won't fit in anywhere else. You've spent a lot of time talking about theatre space as something that concerns the performer and the audience, primarily. We have incidentally talked about storage space, the control room, the green rooms and so on, yesterday. But I think there's one important space, an extrememly important component of the theatre space, which we haven't talked about- which is the scene shop. There are the fabrication textures. It needs space. It needs good equipment. It needs tools. We have, somehow, over the last 2 generations forgottent to work with our hands. We outsource all this work. Wood work is outsourced. Metal work is outsourced. We don't work with our own hands. I believe if you don't restore this culture, we're going to live in a very peculiar, divided theatre society. So, to me, the scene shop is a very very important space in the totality of theatre. I have worked with my hands when I grew up and I continue to do so. Half the furniture in the house is made by me. So you can see it's important to me. I hope by the end of the conference this becomes important to others as well.
Abhilash: Hi, I'm Abhilash from Delhi. This question is for you, Sankar. I would really like to know in detail, how do you take the decision of your costumes. What is the kind of journey? Not only about the costumes, this is the next one- what is the kind of decision about the (?). When we change from space to space, we do take into consideration the space and the dynamics or the reading of the space and how we change the actor's movement- the whole mise-en-scene in a way. But how much are we really thinking about creating the costumes? The colours of the costumes or the materials. Because there are many other senses that are working there, in terms of smell, in terms of other things. So, do we really think and what are the materials and how do you arrive at the understanding of the materials? Because we have this kind of baggage. As someone said before also, there are tables, chairs, door frames, these things simply come over from the history. Even I would say, like a lantern. Are we really thinking about the equipments in terms of material or do we have to think or not? This is just a question.
Sankar: It's been a collaborative process whenever I have to go out and design. I think of myself as an ad designer. So the only way for me to arrive at better designs is to collaborate, to get opinions, to get the actor to think about something, to get the actor to improvise. And then I have some feedback on that, and then there will be a (?) who will give some opinion about how it looks. So it has always been a collaborative process where I've never had the luxury of working with a designer. The materials, when we have something we know what it is. If we want something, if we feel we need something better, we're never satisified. So when you have it, then you look at the necessity and the relevance and the function of it.
Jean: I do costumes- sometimes I do lights, costumes and sets- but sometimes I just do costumes or set. The costumes have a specific- and it's something very bizarre, because in most of the schools, the sets are much more important than the costumes. In reality on stage, costumes are much more important than the set. And there is a kind of aristocracy. But it's very interesting, because the first dialogue any director has about the play, it's not with the costume designer, it's with the set designer. The costumes reflect the quality of the play, the colour of the play, the dramaturgy of the play. Inside of a certain Shakespeare, you play Lear as a different colour from Hamlet. All of that is a very difficult, complicated and strong decison made between the set designer and the director. You cannot change that. It's too futile, it's too difficult. The sets have to be adjusted to the costumes and never the opposite. If I play in front of the (?), I plan the (?).
About the set- today, all over the world I work with many workshops and the workshops have disappeared. The people who make shoes have disappeared. There is nobody who does hats for theatre anymore. Now there is a rare problem about theatres, because the sense of the theatre has been changed by the director today and now it's much more close to normal costumes in the society, which is a valid question for set designers. For instance, if I do Richard III with a costume of today, what is the costume of a king today?
Mahendra: I don't know if it's too late to even bring up this thing. But, Iain did try. There was a question about acoustics
and related to that, what I would like to ask you now- When you go around looking for found spaces, or the spaces that you've found suitable for theatre, acoustics is one part. How quiet the space is, how it works for theatre or doesn't work, so you don't do that or the other aspects that go into it. And you solve acoustic problems by stopping the train or by changing other aspects. Because everywhere, 90% of the space is suitable, but sound is a problem. So that is where acoustics come into the picture and we solve that problem, so that it doesn't remain, so that it's 100% suitable for theatre. And though we have advanced so much in electronic acoustics- your sound can be transformed into anything and if there's a noise, you raise the level of electronic (?). But environmental acoustics, which is normal sound, taking care of the ambience level, noise level- are all these aspects which you have taken into consideration for changing the styles? That is the question. At the same time, I would answer to the gentleman who asked about acoustic problems- acoustic problems can be solved easily by simple methods.
Jean: But then the same problem is- it's easy to solve if you want to do it. Nobody wants to. That 's the problem. You know in the theatre, if the actor complains, they go to see the director saying the acoustics are awful in your theatre, what does the director say? "Yes, we know." And that's it. So, with Peter Brook, we never accept that because in a theatre, there is no problem. I hate this word. Why? Because there is no demonstration under my window, from people who ask me to do theatre. That's never happened. I do theatre because I choose to do theatre. If there is a proper question, it's my problem to solve questions. It's not a problem. So the acoustics were easy to solve everywhere by very, very simple solutions. And that's why I complain about the way we teach set design because I'm the only one who has a solution. For instance, you add four pieces of wood over the actors- that's enough. You have a curtain, because you need curtains, why not? I don't like curtains because they absorb. Immediately behind the curtain you have the whole set to reflect the sound of the actors. You can close the back. Sometimes the theatre is too big. They say we are going to sell just half of the audience. Okay. Nobody does anything- they put a black curtain on the seats which are not sold. It's absolutely stupid because the people are seeing it's not a big success. No, you add little pieces of wood behind the seats. That doesn't cost a fortune. It helps the acoustics and the theatre looks closed and intimate. There is always a solution. If there is no solution, it's because we are not searching for solutions. Whereas in the theatre in the North of France, the National Theatre has four pieces of wood over the actors, in between the lights to not disturb the work of the light designer. And here the stage manager says we are not going to do anything- your actors have to speak louder.
Mahendra: Coming back specifically to my question of found spaces-
Jean: This is the same. There is no difference. And it's even easier to solve acoustic problems or questions in the found space, because you can choose in which direction to play. When you are in the theatre, the architects have chosen to create bad acoustics.
(?): Hi, I'm (?). The question is for Sadanand. When you talk about the Government of India's scheme to give money to build new theatres, would that apply to adapting existing spaces. So, what Jean Guy was talking about, about taking found spaces and adapting them, that applies to it?
Sadanand: It's easier if you have the place.
Sunil: In fact, they quite prefer to have something that is found rather than something that is established.
James: It's not a question you're going to be able to answer, I suspect. I'm James, I'm from Birmingham. We found a space to do an installation performance on a one-off basis in a town. It was part of a metal working factory that was still working. They just had more space than they needed and they wanted to earn a bit of money from the spare space, so they lent a bit to us for 2 months. Within those two months, we really enjoyed being there and all the audience would come and they would say, "Well we like your installation, but we love your space." So we've been looking for a space for a long time. And though it was much much bigger than anything we imagined having, we decided to keep the space on. Affording the rent was very very risky (?) but it worked because not only could we have our shows there, but visiting companies could come in and use the space cheaply. And sometimes they wouldn't pay us money to use the space, but they would install a bit of power or they would put a fire exit door. They would help us in ways that weren't money, but improved the space. So, the space has inspired shows from us as well as other companies. So it's not just about taking our shows and putting them into the space.
The tricky, possible question is that, this space is going to be sold for redevelopment and we think if we use all the political power we can find, maybe we can retain a theatre space in this spot of land. But the whole piece will be bulldozed and new things built. So it might be a new theatre built- it could be a tiny, tiny theatre that we would be able to afford. And my almost rhetorical question that I've been reflecting on during this talk is whether we should go and find a brand new built little space there or go off in search of another place in the city to try and do the same job that we're currently doing in our industrial space. So it's not really a question- just an invitation to conversations.
Jean: The answer is easy: You accept to build this theatre, then you go away to find another one and you give the small one to your company.
(?): In jest you (Jean) said, "Im not expensive." To Sankar, you said. And I just wanted to know, out of curiosity, any Indian director who has approached you so far?
Jean: I like to work with any young directors, because it's very important for somebody to have experience to not be arrogant. And it's easy to be arrogant when you have experience. And in a theatre we never know. When any show is new, (?). I love that kind of challenge. Of course, most of the questions the young people have, and I haven't answered, but that's what is interesting. The thing is, why do they still have these questions? Can we go further? Can we, together, try to find another resolution? Because someone from a different generation, his culture is different. There is light, there are movies, natural (?) for young director today. There is video, there is this idea to have slides. How can I not destroy the beautiful first dream and how can I go even further, by my experience, to help him to jump constantly?