ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: The Performance Space - Zuleikha Chaudhary and Atul Kumar
Duration: 01:36:30; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 17.840; Saturation: 0.129; Lightness: 0.248; Volume: 0.268; Cuts per Minute: 0.746; Words per Minute: 124.762
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 Preethi Athreya and Anisha Samuel.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Zuleikha: In 2003, my lighting design got translated into light structures, installations that I continue to do. Around 2005, two important things happened to me - one was that I did a residency at Khoj studios in Delhi which is an artist-run initiative. It is basically a small building with three or four small rooms that they use as studios. I did a residency there - I was interested in space/light. It's where I began to use tubelights and the idea of framing. The idea of frames really came from having mostly performed on proscenium and I really thought of it as a picture frame within which a performance happens, much like moving painting. I started using tubelights because it was about light which I'm very interested in and also the idea of a line of light.
What happened after this residency was that I stopped working on the proscenium as in showing my own work there, and actually directed two shows at Khoj itself which I think was very key for me. The first was Arabian Nights - a company of five actors - two plays in two rooms at Khoj studios- each of these rooms had the beginnings of light installation, not very developed at that time. The performance moved between these two rooms so it was about an hour and fifteen minutes. It started off in one room with all five performers there for fifteen minutes and then they moved to the next room over the course of twenty-five minutes which meant that for twenty-five to thirty minutes actors were split up between two rooms. At the end, in the last fifteen minutes they all come back to the first room.
The rooms at Khoj are very small. The largest one is 22 feet in length by 11 feet width; the other one 15 feet by 12 feet which meant that really the audience was very close. Through the course of the show this became a very interesting tension between the performer and the audience, as the audience also had to move through the space and choose where they wanted to be. It was interesting because the story and the narrative became very fragmented and everybody took different parts of it with them.
Subsequently in 2008, I opened another show at Khoj in three rooms there, with different installations in them. It was a solo performance where the performer moved through the three rooms and the audience moved with or sometimes chose to stay behind. What was interesting is that I was given the time at Khoj to work this, given that I tend to work on things for a year/a year and a half. I was in the space I was going to perform in. I was building and deconstructing these structures in this year-and-a-half.
These structures that I make are really in response to the space that is physically there. It is an empty space/room. I am always interested in the space within that/that dimension. If one inserts things and changes the way people walk through them, it seems to change the experience of that room. I'm just going to go through some of these images which was also in the performance at Khoj. I can say that I work with text, written and spoken. I work with light structures. I am interested in space. I work with the performer. These are things that I use. I am laying these out because these are different kinds of elements that I'm interested in as each has a narrative of its own. My interest is in how one can layer all this fairly differing narratives within a performance or a performative time, so that one is not illustrating the other and that they all do their own thing. For me very much, the performer is one of the elements. My installation work continues my interest in performance. My installation work is also a dialogue I'm having with myself, as I still work with all the elements but take away the performer and there's always the viewer which is quite key for me.
The other thing that was also interesting in working at Khoj and with the audience also moving through the same space is that there is no separate viewing space. They are in the same space as the actor. The performer is moving with them. It seemed to call for having to think about how actors perform in different spaces. It's not the same as somebody performing in a proscenium space. It was a space I had just come from. It called for serious thought, investigation, contemplating and trying things out and thinking through what it means to have your audience so close. On a proscenium stage the audience never navigates the stage space that the actor does. Often when I was doing lighting design, I used to think that it is so interesting to actually walk on the stage with the lights on. It really creates a shifting sense of space. A lot of this was also about thinking that the audience should have this experience and don't necessarily need to be on the outside.
I just want to talk a little bit about this performance because it was quite key and I ran it for a long time and I always made it a point to perform it at a different space. It opened at Khoj in these three rooms. With this piece, I was interested in looking at the actor as not just a performative being, but a sculptural object in space. That is really one of the basic things that Manish and I thought through in the construction of the piece, the making of the gestures and images, some of which came from an internal landscape.
This was the second room and it was really interesting for me because a lot of the gestures and images were responding to the space. The installation kept shifting and changing. A lot of what he did when he came out of the actual space and was responding to the space, like the corner over there ...
Abhilas Pillai: How did you make this decision of these lines in the space?
I think about corners. I think about lines a lot. How to fragment the space. I think about triangles a lot. I haven't come to the circle yet. I just respond to the lines that I see. It takes a long time. I sometimes put up something and it doesn't feel right or do anything to the room or to the way that space - doesn't shift it. Then I try and work some more. A lot of this is done without the performer. It is just me in the space. Then, in this case, Manish would come and improvise and then we'd see how we'd keep responding to the space. We had a lot of fights. But it was good.
I did this piece subsequently in spaces like Bahumukh in Delhi, in Trivandrum at a Natyamandapam and at the Lalit Kala gallery in Chennai.
Abhilash Pillai: Did you show it in Mumbai?
No, we did not.
Each time the installation changed where we were and I was lucky to have the time because I always asked and got two/three days. I realised after the first shift that the performance cannot actually stay the same. Not just a matter of shifting the structure. The structure of the performance also needed to change. That is something we both began to be very open to - editing, shifting sequences around, so it was really not the same piece at all. It was becoming different pieces.
Abhilash Pillai: A question about the elements that remained constant in the work.
Zuleikha:There are elements like the performer, the tubelights that time - the point was that it was still a proscenium view but you were walking through with Manish. The experience was quite different because you were navigating three spaces.
In the third room, it was really about working with curvature. It was around the idea of a curl which came from a couple of words in the text we had improvised a lot on.
Zuleikha:The piece I finally did in 2011 - the same piece - in Vienna, in a museum. The structure became this, as you can see, it is a single space, with the audience on this side where Manish is and on the other side and the performance happened in between. What you don't see is, we had put the structure up the day before and we had wanted to document the piece and so we videoed the whole piece. And then Manish and I discussed using this in the performance. We put up two screens on either wall and decided on certain sections of the performnace that would be running on video and we edited the performance in such a way that either what you were seeing on the video was the same thing you were seeing live or was something that you would see live or was something that you wouldn't see Manish doing at all. Because the piece was very much about memory, we were trying to find the play with the idea that seemed to conceptually fit in. It was interesting because we had this element of video which we had never really used before. This piece was particularly interesting for me because I ran it for three years and because it just kept changing all the time. Each time threw a very interesting and very different question about this relationship of the audience and the performer. I would just like to share with you that each time I would change the structure and Manish and I would discuss how we'd change the structure of the piece. And then he'd just go on working the moves and the block within the space again and again. I wouldn't understand why and then he explained that the space has changed and so my story has changed. Of course, what his story was I didn't know. It was a series of moves that had a particular logic but I did not ever discuss what Manish's logic to it was, because there is always a separate story that a performer has and uses for communicating, especially when it is not a direct connect with the text, which in this case, it wasn't. The text functioned on one plane. The visual text functioned quite separately. But it was very interesting to me that his own internal story changed with the space. Each time it beacme important for him to understand how he was interacting with the space. Otherwise I am adrift, he said. It took me a long time to understand what he was saying.
Abhilash Pillai: How do you deal with the sound aspect ?
The story is based on a Haruki Murakami short story called 'On seeing the One Hundred Percent Perfect Girl for me' What happened was that the entire short story was on audio which Manish carried with him. He himself spoke the text sequentially, however, in certain sections he would put the audio on but the audio would always start from the beginning. And he had progressed to wherever he had progressed to. It was linked very much to the idea of memory - the idea of traces and how does a performer leave a trace? A trace of such a kind of ephemeral event. Which memory is it from? There's always a trace.
This was some stage directions from Henrik Ibsen's 'John Gabriel Borkman' which I did in 2009. It was based on Ibsen's Borkman. There was again this structure with the tubelights, there was a sort of acrylic corridor in the center, so the audience was placed on that side and the action happened on both sides of the acrylic as well as in the center. If you were seated on this side and if there was a scene playing on that side, there was also simultaneously another narrative being played out on the other side. But always the actors who were within the scene were not in front of you. Sometimes they were elsewhere and what was happening in front of you was a kind of annotation of the text. Over here, I worked with the idea of description. If I was going to describe the thing as a painting, what would that be? I didn't want to have it enacted out. So what I did was I used all the stage directions that were in the play. There were plenty of 'She moves from here ... She opens the door'. Physical actions in the space were what I wanted to use. Also it is the beginning of my collaboration with the Raqs Media Collective whom I actually asked to be dramaturgs on the piece but I also used their own texts as annotations. I asked them to rewrite the last act for me which is the death of Borkman. They did - they described his death as a dying city, which I like very much. I'm going into detail with this because I finished with the performance and talked to myself that I had a lot of very nice text that I wanted. They were all very descriptive texts and this is something that I've continued to work with also from 2005. The texts that I find and use are descriptions. Murakami's story is a description of an event that happens. Arabian Night is a text where the actors really just describe the actions that they do and landscapes they are within. The Ibsen piece became about the stage directions and this wonderful description that Raj wrote of this death as a city that is slowly dying.
What I felt was interesting is that in that description that one reads, one is actually constructing one's own images. How does the performer then be present, yet allow for the description to happen in a way that allows the imagination of the audience to be captivated. That it is not about a character at all for me, presently. It is really about the performer being one of the really good elements that activates, the space being another, and the text, as I said in the beginning. I layer all these things and it is not about illustration. One is not illustrative of the other.
I did an installation at Khoj again. I did a residency which was based on the Ibsen text - the last act. There were three audio texts. Outside the room there was an audio text. Within the space there was another audio text. And then there was this written text. I was also trying to think of text as forming a line that forms another plane. It was interesting because you walked through the space, you walk through the text, you hear and read at the same time. To hear and to read at the same time is a very interesting thing. It is a difficult thing to do - to listen to something and to read something else at the same time - that was what I really took from this piece. Also this was in the upstairs room at Khoj. This is one of the views. The downstairs room, because the upstairs room was so much about delineating and defining, I was thinking of volume downstairs - volume of light. And so this was one of the pieces downstairs. This was kind of a light box. This was a painted surface and there is also another painted white surface on top. I was thinking of actual volume when light is reflected as a sense of volume as well. That is something I was palying with.
After that, I opened a new show with the Raqs Media Collective. I have a photograph, but I'm not going to talk about that. What I have done between last year and this year, is a series of four or five installation pieces. I was working in Khoj which is a kind of neutral space. I wanted to put these structures in places which have their own functionality. I wanted to see what happens. So this was piece I did at the CSDS library in Delhi. It was a functioning library. This piece was there for two weeks. It meant that the library functioned as it functioned and you have to navigate your space around the structure which was really interesting. But also part of the project was that there was a book and an audio that I made. The book had images of the installation. What it did was that it reconfigured on the page layout, the installation constantly as you flipped through the book. What the text did was just described it. I thought a lot about the library and what it means and I'd been playing a lot around real space, imagined space. The library is also this idea that when you read you are very much here, but also you are elsewhere. I've been really interested in this idea of what is the experience of being here, right now. That is fundamentally what I've been working with for sometime. So what is the experience of me being here right now? The audio text had some of the text in the book but also other texts that just intercept, voices that kept interrupting. Again, what you were reading and what you were listening were often not the same thing.
The other thing that I was interested in was through most of my installations there is a lot of walking about but here you have to be static. So how do you create movement, moving through the installation through the static point of view. It is what happened with the photographs in the book. Each of these cases, there is always a mind space, there is always a text, there is a space and then there is a viewer. What I edited out, because I think it is a good edit-out for me personally, is the performer. The performer is sometimes present in the voices that exist, because there is always an audio. I'm interested in when there is no performer, what does the audience really do? What is the function of this viewer? Is there any experience or what kind of experience is there, is navigating through space because the work is spatial, what does it do? What is the experience it creates? Because you are constructing your own narrative of what there is, because there is no performer through which to get a narrative. That is very crucial to me. Because I find actually a lot of the time, even in work that I have done myself, that when there is a live performer, suddenly everything else seems to disappear. There seems to be no space, there seems to be nothing, there is just this one sort of body,and because it is alive, it sucks your attention. You are therefore getting meaning and narrative simply through this or the focus becomes very focussed. How does one decrease that? What does one do with the performer? How can one negotiate the performer so that he is part of, one of many, not the center. That is what I am playing with. Because also for me, it becomes meaning, associativeness...., meanings become limited almost. It doesn't remain open enough if you are constantly focussing ... it just has to be something that is skillfully used, that there is a point to it, that it is not constant emoting, that it is emoting to a point.
I was just telling Abhilash and Abbas this morning, that one spends a lot of time blocking, an actor spends a lot of time with the director with finding gestures. It is amounting to space. Because it is a spatial event - blocking is a spatial composition on a stage. We are doing it for a particular reason to communicate a particular thing and the point is that actions and moves on stage say their own thing. I want to see the line in space, I want to see the action and the gesture very particularly. Often one does not see that line and gesture. One ends up seeing the performer. This is something I am thinking about. My installations are very much about the forms. I am just trying to see what happens when you take a performer out. I want to see what kind s of narratives and stories, how people put things together and what are they responding to.
I am just quickly going to go through this which is an installation I did based on a play text called 'Before and Afterwards'. There was no performer. There was text. There was structures. I also started working with these two-dimensional drawings on the wall. This was at project88, a gallery in Bombay. I was thinking very much again about volume and definition in space. You see text again in a kind of spatial manner. In order to read the text you have to walk through the space. Otherwise you can't read it. So it is a way that you have to navigate space which I found really interesting. I've been working a lot with reflections which was in the Khoj piece as well. I worked here with Padmini Chettur because of her new piece. I wanted a performer and I didn't really want a performer. So I went to see Padmini's piece because we had been talking about it and she was describing it. I was fascinated because the piece was really about lines in space. It was really interesting to not have light and metal and wood, but have a human body doing almost the same thing, which is creating these lines and corners, structures in space that come and go. Here we see a two-channel video, it is seven minutes long. It spoke to the installation and the installation spoke to it. It was a really interesting dialogue for me.
I did the same installation for the Max Mueller in Delhi and Bombay, and I had just done it in a gallery in Bombay, so I asked them, we looked around and we came up with this empty baoli on Hailey road, a step-well, which is where I redid the piece. The text was the same. The video was the same except the space was different. The ASI said you can use the bottom of the well and the top but you cannot use the stairs. So it was two pieces. This was right at the bottom of the stairwell and this is the structure on top. So you have to go through the space and the audio is at different parts so you stay at particular spaces and listen to particular texts. Also having done it at Project 88 and then bringing it out into the baoli was a huge difference. I realised in the doing of it that it was just about landscape. I had done all my work in galleries and closed spaces, not so much outdoors and so, it was quite a challenging piece for me to do because It was the sheer scale and what you see - in galleries you are thinking about walls and corners and beyond and in between - here you are seeing trees, sky, things in the distance ... the frame is huge. So what will these frames do? It doesn't change space as it does in a gallery. This is what I came off of.
One lady came to me and said I walked through the space and I felt like I was performing. So I was feeling quite happy with that. I do have an interest in space. Sometimes it is just literal and physical space. I am also interested in this constant tension between the real and the imaginary which is the moment that installations are about, that performances are about - about being here but also being elsewhere. So it is not a story about some other time which you get lost in but a play of being here in this moment now and being allowed into your own imagination but then also having access into the imagination that the performance is constructing for you. The shifting/play between one's own internal space that one is in and also the curious space that a performer brings - that is what really interests me.
Atul Kumar: I was given twenty minutes, I'll try and finish it in three. As Sankar Venkateswaran used the word, I have some 'improvisations' three of which I'll share really quickly. I am an actor. I have been for a long time, since I was twelve years old. Not fancy things like her, but regular theatre. Standing on stage and talking. It is still a pleasure to come on stage and perform, be in a space where you cammand the audience's attention. To get them to take. It is very strange that even today when I am thrown in a situation like this where I have to read a paper, where I have to reflect and talk, I feel extremely tense. My hands are shivering. You just get up go, put on some make-up and come back, I will be more controlled, I will be enjoying it more and I will be looking at your eyes more and it will be happening. I still can't figure out why this happens. Spaces change maybe, maybe not, purposes change, maybe maybe not, the light will change, I'll put on a mask ... something to reflect on, maybe we'll come back to it.
Second one, Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, a few years back, me and my friend, Arshiya Sattar, who should have been here actually. Habib saab was supposed to come and perform his famous play , 'Jis Lahore mein ...' and he was late. It was a small and run-down space all the lights were dead and hanging, wires everywhere, the team started putting up the set and Habib saab was late. People were anticipating the performance, people were standing everywhere, outside the window. Everyone was waiting for him to come. He was late. I was really pissed off, I was irritated. And then he did come. The house was packed. He came in and started moving around stage with his trademark pipe and he started instructing people on how things should have been done on the stage ...and I was like what is this and why are we here looking at the sets...He was also in the play, forgetting his lines, his actors were prompting him on stage, but before we knew, he just transformed us. Me and my friend, Arshiya, just half an hour into the play, we were crying, completely sucked in. It was quite a learning experience. We keep talking about these spaces - this is a better space than that, this facility, that facility, and here was a man - I had started watching his play with irritation, and he completely transformed my experience.
The third experience I wanted to share was as I was growing up, I come from a very hard-core believer family, I was forced to go to temples, used to fast on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I still remember those rituals that we used to do in temples. I went to a convent school, there was a church, and again you were forced to prove - bend down on your knee, make gestures, take water ... something fascinating in that experience - there was some energies that these spaces had because of whatever reasons. I tried to recapture that energy whenever I tried to perform on stages ... that's another thought I wanted to throw at you.
So all in all, I wanted to say that all spaces for me over the last decade and a half, have been exciting. This space is exciting, the space we saw the play in outside is exciting, the main theatre is exciting, small space is exciting, big space is exciting. We couldn't find dates in Prithvi theatre so we started going into people's drawing rooms and performing. Lots of people have done that before - terraces, backyards, great excitement in how it changes the play, like how she (Zuleikha) said we have always managed, there have been problems, we have found our way through - bad lighting equipment, bad sound, bad acoustics .... exciting spaces. But what scares me is that I will be out of work if I work with a director like Zuleikha ...
The very first thing that decides whether a space works for me is the human factor in it. I'm sure all of you will agree with me that it does not matter what kind of space it is, as long as there is a face to it, knowing that face is a person you connect to and they connect with you, they open it out for you, that space becomes yours, you feel a sense of ownership over that place. I'll come back to this as my format is more in question/answer session. I'd like to present my paper as questions to people.
The second important thing is finances - if space is too expensive, how can I be seen in that space? I am from Delhi but I do not know what the green room of Jamshed Baba theatre looks like, or Sophia's where lots of performances happen, or even St. Andrews - wonderful spaces I cannot talk about as I have never been on stage there. So I can only talk about Prithvi Theatre and NCPA and Experimental theatre. We have been in a lot of theatres around the country ... also thrown out of some in the last minute, but these are spaces that architects have created and maybe that needs to be addressed in another session.
The third thing is about flexibility and I am thinking of blackboxes - I love them, they give me complete freedom to do what I want, but having worked in alternative spaces, and now creating site-specific work and seeing more and more theatre directors and visual artists working, I really don't think flexibility is an issue anymore. More and more people are going out of the black box.
Our lament forever - facilities and spaces in and around theatre spaces - green rooms, backstage, wing spaces, how much equipment, how well-maintained equipment, and of course spaces around which are inclusive, thought of by architects, where if you are an artist, you can meet, sit and discuss. Some of the best ideas and thetare movements were in these spaces.
Prithvi theatre is extremely dear to me. We design our plays for Prithvi. There's a new management and we are scared. We don't know how or where it will go. People who have never performed at Prithvi, the face of the theatre, the inclusiveness of the management, the entire staff down to the peons, the lighting people, the cleaners, it seems like they are all in a performance culture, they are all there ready to help you. The lights people actually tell you that they will spend the night sleeping on the seats in the theatre, but they will work the lights for you in the way you want. Now that attitude is not coming from the lights person, but coming from a larger entity that is making this possible. They just painted the stage and while performing recently, I put a scissor into the stage and Kunal came to me and said 'What the hell, I'll paint it again'.
Audience member: He didn't charge?
Atul: No, he didn't charge.
Audience member: I love that!
Atul: So, by mistake, okay. So my question to you Sanjna, is that how much of that, that we have enjoyed in theatre groups, all of us, do you think will still be there for our service? Or do you not know at all?
Sanjna Kapoor: No, I'm sure that will be there. It's been there for thirty years, it has been honed more in the last three years but we've been lucky to have staff that have been there thirty four years ... there was a tradition and an approach that was there and will be there even if things change over... it is in their blood. If that whole lot was to leave tomorrow and a new lot came in, I don't know.
I think that that and [inaudible] were that things change over [inaudible] that's difficult, but I can't, I can't talk too much about the, detail it, what the future will be. Right, there are, there is a culture that has been at a place and there's culture that has the people, it's in their blood and they were put in with it. If those people were to leave tomorrow, the whole lot, and they do not want to come in, whether that culture were to remain the same or not, I don't know.
Audience member 2: My name is Sameera. I mean, the person who spoke before me is Sanjna. But Atul, I also think, I also think that they're going to start [inaudible] collaborators in building the culture, the way you like it. It's not, it's not..um..[indistinct]. It's not, it's not just the management, I mean, [indistinct] it was the [indistinct]. It was the management and it was the groups and whatever little rules are there are to tell the groups you have to help us make this space into the space we all want together, and I think if, if it's very critical for that [indistinct] to take it forward then that coming forward of the groups and the fact that you have this culture and the fact that you're still with..uh... you know, family who see it in that culture. I know this there our first which is, [I'm okay, alright ] that's what makes it happen. I don't see why their basic culture should really change. But the onus is also on you is what I'm saying.
Atul: Sure, but there's also the theatre which allows that space for, for, I'm not going to. Prithvi regularly has had meetings where they invite, truly from..in my point of view, the main stakeholders, the theatre companies for annual meetings where they actually put it out there and they ask, what are the problems you are facing, how can make this better. So that space is available to us, that's..that's something. I'm going to keep going back to my notes and I'll come back again but..uh.. can we open this up at the end? Fully, for me, Jay and her?
Sanjna: I have a question, 'cause you're suppose..I mean you're talking about space, all of you and..uh.. Jay
Audience member 3: Your name?
Sanjna: My name is Sanjna. I told you somebody has to take charge of this. Uh.. and Jay you mentioned the word empathy and the empathy that the performer has with what they're doing gets translated to the audience member, but surely you are not so fortunate to have complete and absolute control where and how you're performing all the time. So surely that space in which you're performing, where the audience is, the way you are, changes and likewise Atul, you say because you're just such a [indistinct] performer and you love improvising all the time that you can, you can actually be [indistinct] happy in any space that you are thrown in. But if you can give us a few examples of what do you have to do as a director with Zuli as, I mean you've don..shown us that as, as a director, as a writer, choreographer what are the one or two things you have to transform or change or do as an example to respond to the space so that the result is the same? Or the result is what you want to do or better, you different?
Jayachandran Palazhy: Um.. for me I, I think..um.. a performance is actually con.. probably consists of many, many..uh.. little..um.. spatial episodes. Sometimes intersecting, overlapping all kinds of things. So, some of the examples I would say, for example, if in a choreography a particular movement is done by a dancer and if that dancer changes. It often is not necessarily exactly to replicate the same movement. It's actually, to rep..replicate the same sensory experience for the audience which moves with the new body of the work slightly differently. So, the end result of what is the perception from the audience or what is the, what you are suggesting to the audience it's..uh.. milestones to have in a group. There are multiple variants possible in a group, is what you are looking when you are trying to look at a performance.
So, lights, in terms of placement of things you can put, constructing the spa..the, the performance space, whether it's proscenium or otherwise and where their, audience viewpoint is going to be or how they are going to see. It all actually play a big role in terms of how you change a space, how you try to and also sequence of the events. Even..uh.. If you think it's in a promenade forms, that also [inaudible]. So I think the..uh.. there is no one answer and like you were saying about auditorium, how that, how we can transform. I think it's true with every, every performance. You know, each time we have to reconstitute.
Atul: There have been..uh..in, those of you who have seen Prithvi, the thrust and I remember there used to be a time when some theatre companies came and actually tried to create a proscenium on, uh.. possibly because they were just used to performing a play in a particular way. They created wings and then they went in and out like a proscenium. They would make..uh..[indistinct] show, long time back, they would make audience come and sit on stage as well. I think the very first thing is to be open, completely open to be able to change, to let yourself be in that space and say, okay.
Yesterday this, when we changed three spaces, how Shankar for example used the diagonal for entries and exits here, was probably not possible in a proscenium in that same feeling. I think it's just about you being, wanting to let the space talk to you and that's where it starts. Might be more difficult in a very very rigid, scripted directions play but it improvs..improvised play becomes even more eas.. I don't know why I looked at her. I thought you were being left out.
Zuleikha Chaudhari: No, that's not what you thought.
Naresh: We're always talking about..
Moderator: Name, name please.
Naresh: Sorry, Naresh. [inaudible] We've always, always all of us have been, you and many others I've been speaking to have been the, removing the lack of well..well designed theatre spaces in India, some people have and saying that we will manage it out with place in a week. Theatre is the important, performance is the important thing and not the infrastructure. But given an idealised situation I want to ask two questions - is there a minimum size of an audience that would, is..is required? Is there such a thing at all, and two what would be the top three or four things you would look at to them all, for which space, if you had the chance to turn architect I want to make it that you had high amounts of money and particular land available. What would you, what would be the three or four most important concerns? So there are two parts to the question, is there a minimum audience and is there, what would you tell an architect or a, somebody...visions, out of the [inaudible]
Atul: I..uh.. what was the first one?
Naresh: I said is there a minimum size of an audience.
Atul: No, see that would change and I think, only talking about me again because this practice is a different, everybody's practice is different..uh. Rehaan Engineer a dear friend of mine, he does plays where he insists that only fifteen people come inside the audience. He would.. you know, he wouldn't allow the sixteenth person to come in. So that's his journey. Today on this production, tomorrow it might change again, so it's ever changing there's no one fixed, and yet we were, coming to you second question and how do you construct a space. 'Cause you're constantly changing what you want, so ideally if I was given a lot of money I would create lot of different kinds of spaces. That is one. I will make sure these three-four points that I initially came up with and think of, problems that I face, these, these would be the things I would..uh.
I've had..uh.. I'm very close to Arundathi Nag. We had a seminar on spaces there as well where you spoke for us. I was with her for six months, for the completion of the theatre and I directed the first festival. Umm..management is a big issue. There have been a whole lot of theatre companies who have gone there, who are finding it difficult to deal with the set of rules, do's-don'ts, use the spaces the way they want to, their cafeteria, the open spaces that are down there. Many other spaces that are up there which according to me should be used by, by the artists but are not used. Now I don't know if the architect created these spaces for this kind of inclusiveness and the management is where the friction is or whether, where the problem is, but that is a major issue. Management is one of the main issues.
It's because everything has to be created hand-in-hand and thereby the spaces will be created accordingly and I think when you would listen to Ved Segan, who created Prithvi theatre, a lot of those things which don't work at RS, uh.. Rangashankara for me will, will become abandoned. And then again there are things which, at Prithvi don't work at all. I remember Zuli telling me, "Yar, peeche, there's no..uh..space behind the [indistinct], hardly one person can go through..or whatever, the thing, is that it? There's no space behind her..whatever..
Audience: Backstage, it's backstage?
Atul: Ya, and the lights are technically you know, we've faced a lot of problems in Prithvi but all becomes secondary, one doesn't think about, those are the things. Finances. Again, the theatre is when the.. Dharwad has made wonderful theatre. I think they, those who are involved, uh.. state-of-the-art fabulous equipment, shuttered locks, not even available to the students so, so therein also lies why..
Naresh: No, no, I'm not asking, [inaudible] I'm asking this, I'm asking this from a, more a design brief but not so much the other issues of there's a finance, or there is the
Atul: Ji, ji.
Naresh: Problem of design brief, from maybe..Jay also I think thought a lot about this, we've had some conversations. Maybe Jay also could articulate some of these specific issues because he also spoke about setting up a sort of..uh [indistinct] talk and to advice, talk and setup space for us.
Atul: We have done this many times for, and so many draft resolutions have come out which, I think we might even print some after this one. Dekhna padega, how much of it is put in action that is one thing. It's the same thing, green rules have to be there, uppar, neeche, you know access to the stage has to be convenient. There has to be changing rooms, enough space in the wings, spaces that are created around the theatre should have inclusiveness, little corners nooks here and there.
Naresh: Those are hygiene issues, I'm talking about..
Atul: No, not hygiene issues, these are..uh..
Naresh: Hygiene, I mean, those are given criteria. I mean, I know the..
Audience member 4: No, no! Never, never.
Atul: These are, these are the things which are [indistinct].
Audience member 4: There's that basic ABC that is not given.
Jayachandran: I think from a, call it a dance perspective, there are three-dimensional, because in which you have three-dimensionality is very important. So the, the stage size should be almost equal to the audience size, if not more, that's what ideally I would like. Then there is a, enough breathing facilities and if you can make the space versatile, not necessarily a fixed structure because I think that's one problem, trying to make everything fixed. You know, some stages don't even allow the movement. I think if, in a little way if you can think of a structure which can make the, where the audience position can change, performance position can change, everything’s position can change. And..um, enough circulation and practice rooms.
Enough, several things have to have, some space for that and able to, most of the theatres had a problem, they don't have cafeteria or..uh.. kind of a food shop or any of that kind of, where people, can after the performance can hang out. You know they just have to, otherwise there is no discussion, there is nothing happening after that. You know there are, I mean [indistinct] things to discuss after it, but..um..and in terms of dance, would have a concrete floor [inaudible].
Atul: They can be a, this can be listed. There are one million things.
Prakash Belwadi: May I? May I..I have the mike. Prakash. You know the previous, I just want to point out that this is not going to go away, this imprisoned problem of how the space should be and I don't think it is a problem even if it is confusing. 'Cause different people have different attit..attitudes to this. This is Sadanand yesterday said, they go into multi-purpose council, the government of India wants to fund. This somewhat vague idea of a multi-purpose hall, what you referred to as a box theater. Sometimes they say as if they're both the same things, which is, which is quite scary actually. It was not in the design..uh.. is actually the confusion of the architect, we're eventually articulating. See we say it's you know multi-purpose halls that eventually don't serve any purpose. You said, Atul it's..
Atul: Yeah, it's [indistinct].
Prakash: and you said, Atul, you know it's been an interesting morning listening form the architecture to the dazzling presentation that came, eventually what you said was that a performer comes there, a face in fact is what you, a face comes there and a person is there and that space gets newly informed. It gets intervened and completely informed and you see in Zuleikha's presentation, she goes to just about any place and put something that is not neutral, that is provocative, not neutral, but it does not direct you to do anything because when you provokes [indistinct], then helps you to imagine because of that unlike say, [indistinct] ladies, which provokes and directs as well, you know. I'm just, just to clarify what I am saying.
So this space is always going to be a prob..problem area and anybody who is going to build a theatre like you, or in the process of you've already done and..uh..you know, Jay is so desperately looking, some of us want to do this. We will always talk differently, we will say we want a space that is as neutral as possible, that is as undefined as possible and all the definition will be provided by us in performance, is what we will say. And if that is so I think we should boldly resolve and say, however controversial it is, that that is the solution which we need.
Preethi: I have a question..um.. my name is Preethi, the question is for Jay..uh.. your space, the Attakkalari space itself in Bangalore has the structure of a hangar more or less, isn't it? And I was always very impressed by a) the fact that you've created many spaces inside that. You have your office space, you have a big rehearsal space and you know, over the years you've kind of used the space very differently and to me in all this discussion about multi-purpose and you know, a space that enables many things..uh.. I just want to, want to put this thought out there about the hangar as, as a possibility of restructuring things completely inside. Not, not..uh.. you know bound by something that cannot be changed in the future. I find this a very fascinating..uh..yet often wondered why you didn't turn that into a performance space but I realise that you need workspace as well, which you can't always..
Jayachandran: No, we do [inaudible] perform actually there is next Saturday.
Preethi: The question was to Zui, more of a comment rather than a question, regarding the proximity of the audience, I mean I'm, I'm purely talking about the Murakami piece because I was there at that time. I loved the fact that you were fairly close to the structures and to the performer but my interest right now is in seeing how the stylisation of the performer changes because of that proximity and that spatial direction, which in that it show was still a bit distant for me. but I just want to say that a lot of us are very ready to try to enter that space so don't give up on the performer yet.
Zuleikha: No, but I, I do, I you know, every..uh.. I do sort of state my thoughts about the performer quite clearly but I don't think, you know. I'm married to an actor, I've worked with him for many years and it's not that I'm not interested in a performer. I'm very interested in what a performer can do, the skill of a performer, I mean, it's..uh.. you know, these things are fascinating to me. It's just that I also feel that, I mean, it's, it's not only the performer and I think frequently it just only becomes about the performer and you know, the thing is, I just also want to say because, you know, a lot of the times I'm told, well you're a designer and whatever but I'm not only a designer. I was trained as a director and therefore spent plenty of time being told how to work with performers, etc., etc.
I'm also trained as a designer and the thing is also what you're, you're spoken, I mean what you..uh.. are taught just, you know, you're one of design school is that, you know, what are you going to do with life? What is lighting design? What is set design? But let, let's say, what is lighting design? I mean you're not there just, it has a story to tell. You spend a great amount of time, spending time with the text and using that medium which is light to think about changing space. Yes, you think about mood and invoking mood, but you're also I mean, it's not in service constantly to a performer and let me say that it is often called very much in service to a performer. It is called more often than not in service to a performer and I've spent a lot of time doing lighting design and there's plenty of time I've been told, also I mean there's limitation of time.
You walk in to a theater over here, then you are supposed to put it all up. If you've done the show before that's fine, you know what you're going to do but if it's a new show you've got to apparently have some design ready. There's no time to try things out. I mean there's no kind of, there's nothing to have in, so then the bottom-line always becomes make sure that the, you know actor's face is lit up. And frankly, I don't see why the actor's face should be lit up. Why should it all be revealed all the time. I mean surely there is some revealing and some concealment, you know what I mean?
And so I don't know if people have this very false notion that I'm against actors, I mean I, I don't not do performances. I mean I said I spend one and a half years, I'm also spending one and a half years with a performer. I think it's fantastic, but I think one has to be a little critical about a performer and not say, 'Oh, yes, this is the performer' and then everybody's energy, because the performer's whole energy is sucked into themselves, I mean really and then we all get sucked into that. The point is to have a little bit of distance. We have to have a little bit of, I think, distance and see what, what we're communicating and the point is that it's many elements. There's costume design, there's set design, there's light design, there's the space which you are performing in and everything in, doesn't have to tell the whole story.
Praveen said yesterday, I mean, it also has to work as a counterpoint. In that you are also telling the story, you know, but I mean, the point is how are you going to counterpoint if you're constantly kind of and I don't know what or how, how it is being a performer that needs everything to back him up. Surely they should be able to do a little bit on their own but wife, [inaudible]. You know what I mean? It can't go, it's not and then, I mean think about it then we're getting stories and narratives only through the performer, whereas, and so how we experience..how we experience life and stories and put things together and imagine is through various filters and layers and various bits of information, right. I mean and the, and so the story write, thinking and experiencing, reading a book, watching a movie. You're also watching art, walking through a building, you've making associations, you're engaging with your own imagination.
Your activating your own memory and I think also the viewer needs to be allowed to also engage with themself, and I think to have this kind of focus on, I mean on a performer what it does is I think it seriously limits. After all, we're also talking about indescribable experiences, experiences that cannot be articulated and that necessarily and cannot possibly just come from a single element and I'm talking about the performer as an element. There are other elements which need to be good too..uh.. I mean which are, I mean it's all real isn't it? It's not like we're walking into a theater and saying, 'Okay now do, forcing you to do this light, for forcing..it's it's laid in.
There's also the text, sometimes it just needs to be heard. You know, there are some texts sometimes that don't have to always be performed. Sometimes it just needs to be heard, so I think there's, also how one, what one wants with the presence of an actor is also to be thought about and really that's what I am frankly, my work is about. It's kind of, I'm thinking through what to do with various elements including the performer. So I mean, I'm just saying it's, it's a critical engagement. I don't..uh..
Audience member 5: It's that the actor element is live.
Zuleikha: Uh..yes..the actor..
Audience member 5: And the others are much more under your control.
Zuleikha: Well I think actors are also frequently under a lot of control.
Anita: Can I, can I just interject here? I'm Anita and Zuli thanks for a fascinating presentation and I think that one needs to think about the..mike is on? Uh.. thanks for a really interesting presentation. What I want to actually look at is the conceptual possibilities that you are offering. In some sense I think performance style, that is theatre as all stuck in this liveness trap and you are actually looking at liveness very very differently and you're looking at it through, I mean I don't want to say post-human but by de-humanizing in a certain sense and bringing the human body into scale. So in that sense I think your work is like beautifully ecological, in that sense and Borkman's last scene becoming a scene of..uh.. the decrepitude of capital is, is a brilliant idea. And I would like you to, I mean you, when you spoke to Preethi I think you addressed this whole question of the saturation.
The way in which the human body, the human voice, the human person saturates energy and I think Preethi and Mangai were talking about..and me, we were talking about how Jayalalitha saturates the space of gender in some senses, and I think in some way your work addresses the way in which iconography saturates space and I find that really interesting. Thanks.
Girish: Hi, I, I wish..uh.. ya, Zuleikha [indistinct]
Moderator: Just a minute.
Moderator: There's a next person and after that you, you'll get a chance.
Zuleikha: We've been sitting here for a long time.
Girish: Uh, I might just forget my thing.
Zuleikha: Please, he might forget.
Audience member 6: Write it down, write it down.
Himanshu: Ya. Shall I? He's talking? Oh, okay. I just had a, I'm Himanshu..uh.. Jay, I had a, thanks for a very very precise, very interesting exposition on space, performance, body, etc. I just wanted to sort of, go deeper into this term that you've used a number of times which - energy. Talk of the Kalari going, sinking in and you know, contain the energy. You used the word in other contexts. Now, I on the one hand I understand perfectly what you mean, and on the other I just don't understand at all, right, what that word means. And the, the confusion is only because I'm not sure how do we know that what the meaning of this term is? We all sense it, in a certain sense, we use it to do with performance but I think it will be useful to make it a little more tangible. To understand what is their energy, is it, is it a particular way in which there's a connection between the viewer and say a gesture. What is it? Is it just personality? [indistinct] up there or?
Jayachandran: That I don't know but I, I mean if articulation [inaudible] keeps on fading and it dims the performance probably [indistinct], but I think this ability to, I mean in..uh.. Kalari they say transform the body [inaudible]. I think this ability to perceive, perceive [inaudible] and relate to the space around, relate to with each and every molecule. I'm yet one trying to attempt anyway, in terms of physical performance. There are a lot of other, other elements like Zuleikha was telling, you know, if you change the light, this could completely change. If you change the music for example, this could completely change. So it depends on how you channel it, how you are open to that kind of a, involving the audience in that part, kind of particular way. So if, like Atul was saying, if a, an actor or a performer walks into a space and it is a neutral space and if it focuses on that person and that frame is done, framing is done then the conversation begins.
So that framing could be done in different ways. Zuleikha cut out different kinds of frames [inaudible] and different performances have different framing, but in terms of training one could probably say a little bit more precisely, because here your work trying to optimize, in a way the facilities in the performer to articulate different, different kind of, ways of materializing this energy transition, that..uh.. transmissions.
Atul: Are you also talking from an architect's point of view, like?
Himanshu: That I am.
Atul: What, as a, we've had a space for example.
Himanshu: I'm actually, you know just to be, just to clarify I'm talking from a persp..I think the way you are approaching it is really again from the perspective of the performer, with experience of energy, and maybe in experience of exuding a particular energy, projecting it, but the theatrical moment is not in here for the performer right? It's something which is between the two, the performer and the audience, and a lot of the times we're, actually what we are talking about is that, that energy in that encounter. So what is that? I think because we, if we're able to deal with that, start talking about it, you know have a vocabulary for it we might then be able to go towards, make that one meaningful step towards really securing a situation where that energy is sustained or..you know..we don't have, I don't think we have a vocabulary, a conceptual vocabulary for that.
Jayachandran: When..uh.. I was mentioning about [inaudible]..uh.. say for example, I recently saw a performance. It was about wanting to hug. So..uh.. this begins with hugging but then they said, each of them really showing all their feelings of hugging but that other person is not hugging and it's in, it's a very interesting piece. How you empathize with this idea, you feel it in yourself by seeing it. So this ability to provide situations and contexts where you can empathize. And this ability to empathize is in every audience, there could be gradations in terms of one's own, one's own..uh.. experience in viewing, one's own understanding about the training, one's own understanding about the form, there can be gradations but there, this empathy is in everybody. And I think that [indistinct] the gradation and I think the, as an architect what I would suggest is maybe if you could come up with something like, where you are enabling, enhancing the possibilities of everybody and that..uh.. and other [indistinct] other things are coming, light or sound or projections or sound or people can, orientation. Still whether this possibility is there is what you have [inaudible].
Moderator: Just a minute, we are just running short of time. We're already running out of time. We have one more, two more questions and then we can continue this discussion after that.
Sathya Prakash: Among the few arts explored here, I'm getting confused. We're getting different kind of messages. I'm just thinking of a few sentences, Prakash Belawadi said that he has architecturally viewed it as a very neutral space and they would film, [indistinct]. Jayachandran says [indistinct] would like to have and they are very definite images. What as we are looking for and you were also very clear when you said the stage area should be as much as audience area and all such specifics, specifications. Atul was saying he'll be fine in any of, you said you were accustomed to backdrops but you said now any given space that, we can perform.
Now, recently I happened to see Andhayam in Delhi, the [indistinct] of the performance and it took me back to the days when I was impressed by theatre as a village boy. We used to have whole night yakshagana performances. Inside the school where, inside the school where I used to study..uh.. say the playground used to become..the playground. Uh..the school playground where I studied would become yakshagana ground. That time I didn't know that later on I'd be watching theatre as well. So suddenly when we go to that playground it's no more the playground, it becomes..you know the totally different expectations from that space.
Now it's absolutely no joke, absolutely multi-functional, absolutely empty when it became, becomes a theatre space. Now today when I meet up about..sorry I'm going to say my name again, Sathya, Sathya Prakash from Bangalore. Now, when you are designing today are there some lessons we can learn from these experiences? Andhayam of course is not exactly the same as yakshagana but it reminded me of sitting there in the open and the whole fort was becoming performance space. Why I'm asking this question is as architects, when someone comes towards me. I've designed a few, there are one or two on pipeline, it becomes very difficult sometimes to put expectations into specificities of forms and space and walls and windows.
And the moment you put walls and windows and space, it's no more the school playground which was becoming a wonderful space where I saw Ramayana and Mahabharath. How do we translate that imagined space of theatre into a built space of theatre?
Jayachandran: I think, there's one only word I want to say, I think we have this obsession from the classical time onwards to make a, this kind of little boxes to fit in. Why do we have to have one model? Can't we have many models and one will be [indistinct] thing. I think this notion of one model probably, I'm not, not like it, not a good idea.
Atul: Another, we, we had a few years back a couple of other seminars on performance spaces and we were very adamant about coming out with a, with a draft as usual, which is very open in its nature but it still has examples of best practices. It also has a few directives which are really very very basic, which are sometimes forgotten when you are making spaces and the poorer maybe your client. So, those directives are there, those best practices are there to, to see. All you need to do is to begin let's say, talk to four people from four different cities and ask them which are the two or one best.
Zuleikha: What is this best practices?
Atul: When we talk of..uh.. I mean, a green room which is clean, having a light which works actually, you know. I remember the time when you were very annoyed when they didn't have a F.O.H. for example, ya? She lit many of my plays by the way.
Zuleikha: Uh..no, I was just thinking that..um.. you know two-three years ago I was doing..uh.. three-four years ago I was doing lights with some, there was a German choreographer and we rehearsed the show in Pond..in Pondicherry at..uh..
Audience member 7: Bharath Nivas.
Zuleikha: Bharath Nivas, yes, at the auditorium there. Now that auditorium was basically, I mean you know, just an old curtain and, but, and we had access to about fifteen lights, I think. Just fifteen lights and for the longest time, Kunal's sitting there thinking now what if, now should we put the things up and then one day I was just talking to this guy and he, the, the choreographer and he said, "Let's think about this space as an installation space."
And that's been one of the most interesting things somebody has ever said to me because..uh.. so I said okay and essentially what happened was that..uh.. so, I'll tell you what happened as a result. As a result was, was, there was, we put up one pipe which we put six lights on so that it created a particular line, visually and down the corner over there we put another, I don't know five or six lights which created another, kind of line visually. It had nothing to do with where that light was going really. it was just the visual what we were, with these instruments.
And then at the other corner we put a bar that we made sure moved, sort of rotated and stuck one light onto that and in any case he had already been working with the actors/dancers with two moving lights on wheels. And then what we did was that having agreed and decided that these lines were, sort of, sort of look at that as a painting, which is what we did. We looked at that 'cause it was a, it's a proscenium-ish space and we kind of, I mean just in terms of composition 'cause that's how I was looking at it, that's how he was looking at it whether, this line and this line were and, was balanced out by that line and then actually we lit the play with these kind of, you know. So yes it was a backlight and diagonally backlight and yes, that was the top light in a line which fell in front and then the three moving elements that we had, we used to light up the actors spaces or not.
And it just became such an interesting way of dealing with what the space had to offer, dealing and just kind of..uh.. I think dealing naturally, you know? And it became one of the most exciting processes to kind of, work through because we had thought of it in a completely different way. I had never actually thought of it and it's really stayed in my mind because it was such a different way of sort of navigating a problem but I mean, so that you didn't feel you were, that it was a problem at all. It was just navigating..uh.. just being very very creative about it.
It was..um.. and so I'm just sort of trying to think of whatever the multi-purpose spaces are or bad theaters that exist or don't exist. The fact of the matter is they are places that have their own oddities or whatever or whatever and yes the, it's all limited in terms of lights and yes, Atul is right. I have complained many times myself in the past.
Atul: [indistinct] so many architects sitting here..
Zuleikha: No I'm, frankly I'm just going to ask..no I'm not saying. Frankly, I'm also going to ask where is all the money for this building of these theaters? And, no, no, I'm just also because should we may, maybe we should pay the actors instead.
Audience member 8: Yes, that's true.
Zuleikha: You know, if we're going to use that money because there are a lot of spaces and maybe we should just use those spaces and when we're finished working with those spaces and we really need, because I mean Delhi has the Abhimanch, Delhi has the Kamani. Yes we cannot work with them but who's to say this new theatre that getti..gets built with cheap, and easy for all of us to use. So, I mean let's also not always think of what we should, what we can, there is already stuff that can be used and I think, used quite interestingly actually.
Moderator: Okay..uh..we are running really short of time so I would just request the last question there and then, please you can continue this discussion after this.
Girish: Just an after, if..uh..[indistinct] comment actually question really, Girish. Girish from Bombay..uh..just two things I, comment, there are many things I wanted to say, this sort of, your creative [indistinct] towards the role of the performer, really not dispensing with the performer but I think what you shared, to me asked a very fundamental question about who is the performer. First of all when your performances are happening in such close proximity with the performer and the audience being in close proximity, haven't they already entered the performing space? And isn't the main actor in a way, if you know, and second, the second also when there is no physical performer there and when a quote-unquote, and audience member is wading his or her way through an installation, aren't they, like the lady who told you that I just felt like I performed. Hasn't the mantel of performance or performativity shifted to the audience?
In a way the audience..uh.. audience member, so hasn't the audience in a way become, become the performer. And when the performer, when the audience is becoming a performer just when you start to sort of say, step in to the shoes of a performer, aren't you then rupturing, in a way their involvement by throwing these creative hurdles at them? Am I..?
Zuleikha: Which creative hurdles?
Girish: By, by sort of asking them to comprehend three things at the same time..uh..by.
Zuleikha: Asking them to, we do it all the time. We're all comprehending more than three things at the same time in any case I think. Just generally as experienced and I mean these are all, so when you're walking through a space you're hearing a text, that's already happening and you're navigating your way through the space. Three very different things are happening and then it's your experience and your whatever, whatever way you want to, whatever, the, the viewer is and they're putting it all together. It's not something that I'm inserting in that, I mean it's all kind of happening simultaneously.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Thank you Zuleikha, Atul and Jayachandran. There is a small announcement.