“What has happened in community theatre is people have started loving themselves in theatre. My hope is to help people love the theatre in them,” says Dubai-based theatre veteran, Shanker Ramachandran.
The 62-year-old Indian expat in collaboration with En_Act, the UAE homegrown Performing Acts company, is teaching a masterclass-style course on acting; the two-hour sessions over Zoom take place each weekend until September.
Ramachandran has 35-odd years of working with the stage as both an actor and director. “[Over the years] everyone who worked with me would say, ‘why don’t you document your experience? ’But it never worked out until the pandemic. Because it brought to a standstill my work – at least 30 per cent of it. And my wife also prodded me and said, ‘You have to leave the body of knowledge you’ve created, especially since every piece of work you’ve worked with is researched’,” he recalls.
And so he began to etch out a programme that would help other serious craftspeople take their performance to the next level. “The workshop is titled, ‘From Play to Performance’. What I have tried to do is take my embodied experience of 35 years and convert them into [modules],” he explains.
The first act of the programme began with research, on oneself. “If you move to being an actor-director the only tools you have – of course you have your script, and support (lights, costume, jewellery) - but the main thing you have is yourself.
“How do you understand your visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory systems that create you? And how every emotional has the interplay of all these systems?”
“And then I move to say…I consider myself still a student of theatre, of Natya Shastra [Sanskrit treatise on Performing Arts]. I ask people, what is the meaning of bhava [becoming], rasa [emotion]? What feeling are you working on, what response do you hope to elicit? What is the process of creating an emotion? Because emotion is also a pattern.”
Ramachandran, besides having many years of experience in the performing arts field, is also a certified master practitioner of NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), making his explanations of translating emotion into action that much easier to understand.
One module deals with the script and its intention. “You have to take every dialogue and ask, ‘what is the intention of this dialogue, the action, the emotion, the backstory?’”
The approach is deep dive. “Before they speak a dialogue I ask them, ‘what was your internal dialogue?’,” explains Ramachandran.
There is a chapter on breathing exercises, walking exercises, eye movement, agility. And another one on analysing the script and the character.
“Then there’s a module on monologues,” he explains. “Here I tell them generally people are using only vocal anchors to differentiate different parts of a monologue, so the module helps you decide where I am going to hold spatial anchors. Why am I moving where I’m moving, why am I demarcating the monologue into six parts?”
Drawing from life
“I help people draw the emotion from two shifts of memory; one is called affected memory and the other is called observed memory. Affected memory is, you have lived this emotion before, so you can actually introspect, reflect and recreate that emotion and transfer it to the character. Or you may have never experienced this emotion. Then you say ok, have you seen people who’ve lived them? Then comes the topic of saying an actor by definition should be representative, he/she should perceive life all the time, should become sensitive, not judgmental. Life comes in many forms by when it gets recorded in your memory consciously, you can draw from that,” he explains.
“Now,” says Ramachandran, “We are going to move to taking a script and applying all of this. The play we are taking ‘Ek Aur Dronacharya’. Why was this play written, why was it written in the 70s? What was happening in India at the time? There were, you know, a number of scandals that came out in Bihar, UP, where people – teachers – were getting paid and they were leaking question papers, etc. And so Shankar Shesh wrote ‘Ek Aur Dronacharya’. The idea was today’s professors are as ‘corrupt’ as Dronacharya’, which is one interpretation of the Dronacharya of [Indian epic] ‘Mahabharat’.”
For Ramachandran, whose drama credits include ‘Ashadh Ka Ek Din: Hindi’, ‘One Day in the Season of Rain’ and ‘Ghosts’ to name a few, theatre is serious business. “It is the only medium of [communication] that represents all senses – visual, auditory, kinesthetic – and it’s live,” he says.
You see, he goes on to explain, “there are two types of community theatre: One where people look to theatre, say they had a good evening and go home. The type of theatre that I do is at the end of the play even someone who has come with their significant other look at each other and say can we be quiet for some time? I’ve been provoked to think. To me, that is the role of theatre.”
These workshops are not for the middling; they are for those serious actors who want to hone their craft, to create characters that are believable, to do justice to the story. These modules are for those who are in love with the theatre in them.
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‘From Play to Performance’ workshops are held every weekend; each module lasts two hours and costs Dh75. En_Act also runs acting classes for beginners both children and adult. These are conducted by theatre veteran and En_Act founder Rashmi Kotriwala.