When Angels visit

Robin Payne and Tolis Papazouglou spent some time in the tranquillity of Sahyande Theatre. Me and Satoko had the honour to serve them and share thoughts, life and thoughts on life.

A Japanese, a Greek, a New Zealander and an Indian, dinner on-stage.

I had the serindipity to learn in her class, over a decade ago. She is a theatre director, and also has been director for many theatre schools, she teaches acting at reputed theatre courses and she is one of the best voice teachers in the world. Tolis is a theatre designer, director and sceneographer with a unique approach to theatre, culture, space and design.

During the days we spent together here, we talked about our days in Singapore, life in India, New Zealand, Japan, Greece, caste, Ambedkar, Beatrice and Tobi, Shogo Ota, Peter Handke, Peter Brook, Medea, Greek theatre, some new plays, classmates, Ibsen, seating for our Sahyande Theatre, representation, cooking, health and safety striffling creativity in the theatre and many many other things. Tolis and Satoko cooked the best food. We had a good amount of sprit. We watched my recent work (Criminal Tribes Act) and I took many notes and feedbacks from Robin and Tolis.

Look Sisyphus! It’s not the sticky mud anymore, there is some concrete on the path!

After a few days, we drove to Mysore, on the way we saw a mongoose, deers, elephants, peacocks, and many monkeys. It was sad to part. But we are all travellers, and there are crossroads ahead for us to meet.

I have been repeatedly seeing 11:11 on the watch, car, clock and phone. And this has been going on for sometime now. It became so frequesnt that I looked up in the Internet for some possible meanings. Internet said that seeing 11:11 meant that there is a message from the Angels.

It’s very special when Angels visit. Especially when they are theatre angels visiting theatre spaces. They inspire, and radiate such warmth. Thank you Robin & Tolis.

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Artist Statement

I make theatre to create shared imaginary experiances. In my area of practice and my primary interest in theatre, whether making new pieces for the stage, curating festivals, or when I am constructing a theatre building, I constantly strive to find this shared ground. Theatre gives me the possibility to imagine the world in a new light, it gives me the language to share this imagination with others, and opens up the possibility to coexits in a society.

Theatre is located in a space in between the bodies, the bodies of those doing an action and the bodies of those receiving that action. I experiment with this dynamic, intersubjective space and relationship to discover ways to exchange and share imagination, intentions, emotions, and to evoke cognition and experiances in the bodies. I see the spectators of my performances as vital co-creators of the theatrical experiance.

I believe theatre as a creative approach to life, which helps us to rethink the ways in which we live our lives, and renew the positions that we take in the society.

Sankar Venkateswaran

Photo: Caroline Chin
Walking in the sunlight!

Theatre Roots & Wings

Led by the artistic vision of Sankar Venkateswaran, Theatre Roots &Wings, since its inception in 2007, creates works in collaboration with a wide range of artists from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and are committed to the spirit of experimentation in theatre and dance.

Our intention is to create new contexts that allow the re-imagining of theatre, re-imagining theatre’s relation to community, nature, culture, and the individual’s relationships with the wider society. The company is based in Kerala and has its own studio space.

‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy’

How to be self-sufficient and sustainable with our theatre practice today? I ask this question primarily within the context of contemporary theatre in Kerala, and will try to answer it from my perspectives on life and theatre.

The question is not only about the what and how of a play (which of course is very important), but more about a repertory and the repertoire of plays – the actors who make and run the shows, their livelihoods, the stories they tell, the interventions they make, and the structures that organize and sustain the composition of the group in relation to its audience base and a space.

Theatre in kerala has a formidable history, but the cultural infrastructure for contemporary theatre and dance is surprisingly negligible. Theatre is spread across an array of cultural domains in Kerala ranging from professional touring troops, amateur groups, independent experimental theatre groups, street theatre collectives, soloists, women’s theatre groups, children’s theaters, and college theatre clubs and university drama and theatre departments. This is besides the space of traditional, ritual and folk forms of theater, dance and performance.

However, there are no theatre houses with resident actors, equipment and technical staff, no city or state theatres, nor state funded touring theatres. Even the notion of box office and tickets are new in the ecology of contemporary theatre in Kerala.

What is there is the KSNA, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi; under the ministry of culture, government of Kerala, it is the apex body for the promotion of music and drama in Kerala. They have various programmes, many of them aimed at theatre are competitive events like professional and amateur drama competitions, awards and fellowships. Apart from these, there is a theatre festival since 2008. The international theatre festival of Kerala, a non competitive annual event for theatre which has its impact on our theatres, the merits and demerits of it will be topic for another post. There is also a public relations department of Kerala, which organizes a national theatre festival, often at irregular intervals and serving as a state mouthpiece. Theatre groups are asked to apply with DVD’s in short notice (yes, DVD’s) and then a few people sit and watch it in 4x to 32x speed before selecting a few, and a random programme is put together.

The picture, is rather confusing for me. What stands out are a number of discontinuities in the history of theatre practice in Kerala. The various initiatives to nurture the field, as well as the many movements that were set against the then mainstream touring theatres have not only weakened the already feeble frameworks of theatre but also have failed to deliver anything substantial, so far. Some have even disrupted the organic growth of the field. I am saying all these because theatre practice in Kerala is still far from being a suatainable choice of livelihood (except for those who teach in university drama departments), and regular theatre going culture is non existent in our society. (Who wants to go to the theatre anyway, when you have have an infinite choice of TV channels enriching our cultural lives every day, especially in the evenings)

Ok. The way KSNA shifts its priorities every five years or so due to changing governments has contributed a lot to the discontinuities in the creation of a comprehensive staging history as well as in the nurturing of a theatre going culture. The central government policies and funding seem to benefit only when there is an aesthetic-policy/polity compatability. The idea of theatre of the roots is one good example of policy intervention in Indian theatre. The cultural policies and funding priorities of independent India focused on de colonising Indian theatre and dance. Which resulted in a series of reinventions, where anything western and foreign was out and Indian epics, myths, traditions and folklore and ‘Indianness’ took centerstage. In a few decades, most of our celebrated theatres ended up making beautiful fairytales instead of looking around and reflecting the life that surrounded them. You could not see people like you and me on stage, but larger than life, super human heroes like Duryodhana, Rama and Ravana.

Many experiments has been done in Kerala theatre, to varying degrees of success and failure. And many of those experiments have alienated the audience from the theatre (not in a Brechtian sense of the word).

The question is about the now, because as of now, theatre is not a sustainable enterprise and there is zero sustainability, let alone perpetuity. Theatre practice is heavily dependent on (inadequate) support, either by the state, private funding agencies or individual philanthropists. To add to its woes, it has, historically positioned itself as away as possible from capital. Sure, there are exceptions, but the story above applies to my case as well as most cases. The state or cities have no substantial policy for contemporary theatre and dance. There is a void, a void created by the absence of a mainstream practice, a comprehensive staging history and a lack of policy.

But this does not stop theatres from doing what they want to do. They improvise, adapt and sometimes get tired. Then revitalise and continue. Otherwise they know they will perish. This is the context, the crossroad where I along with a few others working in the field find ourselves thinking, questioning and planning. To perish, or not to perish?

We are talking about revitalising the theatre, we are thinking about sustainability, self sufficiency, and perpetuality.

If there is a will there is a way(slippery mud slope!)

Sankar Venkateswaran.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for visiting me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

So the journey began some twenty plus years ago, and soon I found the good company enroute. The way seemed shorter but it’s a winding uphill path and it will take the time it takes.

I shall try to recollect and record all memories and stories in future posts. And also I hope to archive the innumerable conversation that happen around life and theatre in Sahyande Theatre, Attappady, Kerala.

Watch this space. Thank you,

Sahyande Theatre

Sankar.