Bonhomie with the Bard.

An amateur’s recollection/review of the Workshop on Acting Shakespeare
hosted by The Heritage College in collaboration with the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India as the part of an international conference on 25.11.17.

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Being an enthusiast of Literature, precisely theatre, I was elated when the little Facebook birdie told me that there was going to be a Workshop on acting Shakespeare. Without much ado, I instantly applied for it.

After a lot of restless waiting, the day finally arrived!

At 2 PM sharp, I was escorted through the sprawling greens of The Heritage Campus to a certain room; which without my guide would have permanently been an enigma. Finally, I met our teacher for the day, Prof Amitava Roy. Honestly speaking, I was intimidated by his presence at first (later it eased out though).

Armed with all the googled knowledge, I ogled at him for a considerable amount of time and let everything sink in.
A few moments later, at about 2:30 our workshop began.
Sir had made sure that we sat in a circle. He stepped into the ‘ring’, gestured at the circle that we had outlined, and asked about it. Some hesitant answers later, he told us that the ‘circle’ or the ‘ring’ that we had outlined was called an ‘open space’ or ‘empty space’. “Theatre”, he said “is a circus” or a bare “boxing ring” where the actors are “opposed to each other” or “fight each other”. The only difference is that most of the boxing that takes place in this ring is of the “intellectual faculties or the ideas” and sometimes it gets “physical” as well. He further added that in theatre “people represent ideas which are in conflict”.

The discussion went forward to “theatre in the round” and what it’s like in the folk culture. Prof Roy gave us an example of a hypothetical performance of The Ramayana in the open. Considering a scene with Sita in it, it is understandable that the actor would be engrossed in the work; but when Sita is required to make an exit, the actor would move out of the circle and sit amidst the crowd, remove his wig (considering women weren’t allowed to act back then) and light up a bidi perhaps!
Here, Prof Roy introduced to us what is called, “Brechtian Alienation”: once the actor moves out of the open space, he alienates himself from the acting space and blends into the reality and vice versa.
“Chhau”, the warlike dance form from certain parts of India can also be considered as a good example to understand alienation.

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We were eager to know more about the processes of entry and exits, so he moved on to tell about them in proscenium theatre’s full curtain and the other half curtain form. Full curtain form is just the normal form of revelation in a stage: the curtain moves apart and we get to see the character or the character enters from the backstage. The half curtain tradition, on the other hand, is far more interesting! When a character makes an entry, two other are fixed to usher that character in. The element of suspense is maintained by covering the character’s face with a short curtain and playing suitable music at the back. After some more suspense building and dancing, the veil is lifted and the character is revealed to everyone. People might already assume who the character can be, but it adds an excellent edge to the production which, in spite of being ancient, is more dynamic compared to the proscenium style entries. He added however that this type of an entry is befitting only for a grand character and not for anyone else. An entry of Macbeth, with the combo of song and dance, is appropriate but the case is not so for Rosse and Angus.

The Empty space is filled with a lot of possibilities and theatre keeps exploring those possibilities. Waiting for Godot is a modern tragicomedy. In spite of being so modern, it goes back to the use of empty space and has a minimalistic set design with mostly a tree in it. Talking about the art of acting and production, the discussion then went forward to how technology has thwarted human expression and finally about the Method acting of Stanislavsky who tried to make the audience believe in the reality of the event and not the fact that a conscious actor was playing the role of it.

After a lot of chit chat, we moved on to the acting part. Sir declared that a fully fledged workshop on a play takes at least 9 months whereas we only had a couple of hours. In that brief time span, we learnt a lot about performing the witch scene. Sir had the scripts ready for all of us and we too were raring to go.

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The next two hours were over in the blink of an eye. In the meantime, we learnt a lot not only about playing the weird sisters but also how to act like a crooked tree and make strange noises which would go with the supernatural setting. We were divided into groups of three and were given full license to be as ‘weird’ as possible. Needless to say, we had the experience to savour. For that duration, Macbeth wasn’t a mere text written in dry ink only to prepare an answer from, it became a living and breathing entity. It felt as if the Bard had risen from his ‘downy’ sleep only to spend a little time
with our bright-eyed bunch, without anyone having to ‘move’ his ‘bones’.

Apart from all the education, Heritage also gave me a platform to come across some fascinating people for which I will always be grateful to them. I hope they keep re-organising such events again and again!

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Image Courtesies:
Sayan Mukherjee (Facebook)
The Heritage College
Shakespeare Society of Eastern India
Google Images

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