- Complied by Samyuktha Shiva, II B.A. English
- Image credits: Krishna, II B.A. English
Azra Kader – 3rd Year Fine Arts
P. Kavyashree – 2nd Year English
Mariam Anna Alex -1st Year Fine Arts
Nandita – 4th Year Fine Arts
N: When we started practicing,the initial sessions were just normal warm up exercises, games, etc. We never really understood the significance of it though. We thought ma’am was simply trying to get us to do some physical activity because eventually in theatre you would need stamina. With time we stared doing vocal training, and intense sessions. All these things mattered when the actors started getting into their characters. Because in acting, one has to be comfortable with themselves and their co actors, physically. When this happens it automatically translates to good acting as well. I remember in a few rehearsals when the cast didn’t have theirusual partners, they said they couldn’t connect at all, because they had developed a bond with their partner. It was an action and reaction type of thing: one led to another naturally. They knew their partner, they knew how their partner would react, they could connect with their partner, and that became the factor that propelled them into being a good actor on stage. So if you don’t have your partner to bounce off emotions and ideas on, and it’s just somebody reading out lines, then you simply lose track of what you’re doing and your own emotions.
K: Even towards the end; the last few days before the show, we were still doing trust exercises. This helps because when you’re on stage, if you miss a dialogue you’ll need to trust and depend on your co-actor to help you with it. You will need to solidify your communication and really understand the people you’re working with, and these exercises helped us to do just that.
When you’re put in a room with a bunch of strangers, you really don’t know how to react. Mangai ma’am, our director, gave us the medium to react. All the exercises she gave required us to be creative, not just by ourselves but with the person next to us. As we put our ideas out and observed other ideas, we realized we were truly getting to know each other. There was something about the exchange of these ideas that eventually led to a spark: a connection. Slowly, the action-reaction became involuntary and we inherently started reaching out to our partners. Mangai ma’am, didn’t like us sticking on to just one partner, so she would always call us out on that and push us to pair up with different people. This again, led to us knowing, understanding, and bonding with each member of our group, and most importantly feeling comfortable and at home with them.
N: The exercises she made us do brought us out of our comfort zone. It made us imagine and explore a new space, but what brought the cast closer was us knowing that we were all on the same boat. None of us were being vulnerable alone; we had people with us going through the same emotions, feeling just as vulnerable. It allowed all of us, no matter how different we were, to share the same space, act and react, and do it all together.
KS: After every rehearsal we would sit in a circle, and discuss how the rehearsal went. It was almost a ritual. Ma’am would give us her comments and we’d do the same for each other. We all had to share something we liked about any co-actor’s performance and also what we thought one good aspect of our own performance was on that day.
N: The play by itself is very emotional. Initially, we didn’t realize the intensity, but when we put all the scenes together and the play was set, watching it made us extremely emotional. Some scenes would make one cry, and other scenes would make another. Then we’d talk about it and share how we feel and why we feel the way we feel. So talking about what’s on our mind, how whatever affects us the way it does, or even a few memories, eventually led to rehearsal and the people around us being a comfort zone in each of our lives. I don’t know how it would’ve been if this play was a comical one, but maybe the reason we became as close as we are; as fast as we did is because of how emotionally vulnerable this play is.I remember days where I felt perfectly fine, my usual happy self, but then I’d step into the rehearsal hall and almost immediately I’d feel a multitude of emotions. It was as though everything I had been suppressing all day, every thought and every feeling, finally decided to come out for I felt safe in that space, I felt like it was okay to be vulnerable.
K: The circle also helped us understand how to connect with our own characters and in the process we connected with each other as well. In fact, it was weirdly evident, because during the first few rehearsals our circle would be a pretty big one, but during the last few rehearsals the same number of people sat a lot closer to each other, forming a circle that was a lot smaller, probably reflective of our emotional proximity.
Mariam: I’ve been dealing with set work for the past few years, I did it in school, and even for a few plays in college. And usually, set people don’t get much importance, but it was different here. The work we did was given a lot of importance, and so were we. I’m not somebody who opens up easily. But the way I’ve gotten close to the people working in this play, and how fast I did, is crazy to me. And so when it all ended, I couldn’t help but get emotional. I went back home after it got over and I asked myself why I felt the way I did. As a person who doesn’t connect to people too fast, what I was feeling for a group of people I met only 6 months ago, and the work I started only then, was different. Through theatre, and working on the set, and being with people who gave importance to my work, I allowed myself to open up and let myself get close to them. There have even been instances when they’ve taken care of me like no one else ever could.
K : The set people were extremely hard working, and just seeing how much time and effort they were willing to put in our play was emotional. After each show ended, everyone else would just be running around, talking to their friends, hugging each other, but the set volunteers wouldn’t waste a minute. They’d immediately come onstage and star working on the set for the next show. Be it staying back after college, or huddling behind the English department to finish the set work, they were willing to do anything. You could see how genuine they were and how much they wanted to help. During the last few rehearsals we called the set volunteers to sit with us in our circle as well. This allowed us to get closer, and get to know each other extremely well. We started forming a bond as strong as the cast shared with them as well.
I always knew this whole process would come to an end, but weirdly now that it’s over, it still doesn’t feel like it is. Maybe its because I see all of them here in college. We still share the same bond.
KS: I remember during one of the first few rehearsals Mangai ma’am said we as a cast have somehow owned our script. I didn’t really understand what that meant then, but now I do. I now understand how essential owning the script was for us actors. Before, I had a different idea of acting. I figured one could just fake it. But one day I realized that’s not how it really works. Mangai ma’am isn’t too liberal with compliments. She compliments you only when you really deserve it. I hadn’t gotten any for a while. For a longtime I didn’t really get into the shoes of my character. I didn’t think of how my character’s relationship with other characters would be. But one day, the associate director, Srijith sir, asked me and my co-actor to work a little on our scene and how our characters could interact with each other. And so we proceeded to make a few changes, minor ones that too. But the way we approached our characters changed. It was then that I truly felt like I had become my character and that it was her saying the lines, instead of me. I felt like I was her; I was Jashodha. It was after this that Mangai ma’am complimented us. She said that she could see the beautiful bond between us and how authentic it was. This is one thing that taught me a lot as an actor. I understood the importance of truly empathizing and stepping into the shoes of your character, and how greatly just this one step can change the intensity of your performance. Only then can you do justice to your character.
A: When they first told me I would be playing Manorama, I didn’t know too much about who she was. I was familiar with what had happened in Manipur, and the naked protest outside the army office there. But then ma’am gave me a day or two to read up on Manorama and share how I felt about what had happened. The things I read truly shocked me. I couldn’t help but wonder how I was going to pull this off and portray a character like Manorama. For a long time, the intensity of the character and what had happened to her didn’t hit me as much as I wanted it to. But then, as we did a few exercises that required us to be emotionally vulnerable; andthings somehow changed.
During one of the first sessions, we were all made to take one object; any object and sit down with it. Ma’am then began talking. She asked us to imagine the object to be someone that we hold close to our heart; someone we’re emotionally attached to. Someone we could share all our feelings, our good days and our bad days with. After a while, I really can’t comprehend what happened but we all started to cry.
KS: She then asked us to leave the room and she hid the objects, we had to come back inside and find it. As we were searching for the object she asked us to picture our mother in the object and call out to her. First I didn’t realise what was happening but then later one by one we started to understand what exactly the intent behind us calling out “Amma” or “Ma” was. As soon as it hit us, we all understood the magnitude of what we were doing, and how emotional it could really get. We then brought out the same emotion for a scene in the play as well.
A: All these exercises allowed me to feel and accept things I didn’t even know were buried deep within me. Once everybody was talking about the play and what it made them feel, as well as incidents that happened in their lives. I couldn’t wait to share. But when it was my turn, I couldn’t get a word out. All my friend had to do was place her hand on my thigh and say ‘It’s okay, Azra’ and I immediately started to cry. I felt things I didn’t even know I felt. It was cathartic. I felt as though a weight was lifted off from within that day.
By the time we did our shows, I knew each line by heart and the exact way I would deliver it; including the pauses and the pitch. Everyone said I did a good job with how I did my scene but the one day I truly felt connected to Manorama was ironically when I messed up a little. It was one of the last shows, something happened, maybe it was the fact that it was all coming to an end, or maybe it was how my co-actor acted right then, I really don’t know, but something within me snapped. I felt as though I was Manorama. Not THE Manorama, but my own version of her. I felt and meant each word that was coming out of my mouth. I felt her pain. Until then I sympathized with her, yes, but that day I felt like I began to truly empathize with her. I understood her. In the process I may have messed up a few of my lines but till date I believe that was my best performance, and I’ll never forget the way the I felt right then. That day, I didn’t deliver my dialogues the way I had prepared; I forgot all about the pauses and the stress. The words just came out of me naturally, and whatever I did, be it gritting my teeth or the change in my tone, was all not a conscious effort; it was natural. What my sister, and a few others later told me, made me realize that what I felt translated on stage as well because they too believed it was my best performance, they too felt what I was feeling. It was real, and they could tell.