Theatre is not a rite of passage to movies and television - Krishna Kumar of Masquerade
What are the most significant trends that have risen in the past decade in the Chennai theatre scene?
A significant trend in the city’s theatre scene — hoping it is a trend — is that of shorter performance time. And that of indigenous scripts dealing with indigenous issues.
Could you elaborate on your observation about the evolution of scriptwriting, especially in Chennai?
Partially thanks to local theatre festivals giving a platform to local groups and creative talents, and also thanks to the promotion of playwrights through competitions, scriptwriting has received a shot in the arm. For starters, even if no consistency of quality of scripts has been achieved, seeds are being sown; aspiring writers now have an incentive to create and a platform to express. However, we do need an ecosystem of writers, theatre companies and actors coming together to create plays holistically.
What are the most interesting styles of scripts that you have noticed over the years?
I have sadly yet to get excited by scripts created locally. Aspirants are still caught in their own personal thematic fondness. There is no distinctive style noticeable. The current body of produce doesn’t underline any style or genres.
Body movement has become as important an element as any other in most plays. Why do you think more and more artistes are giving emphasis on it now?
Except for a handful of artistes, I do not see any emphasis on the body as a tool of expression. Of course, workshops are advertised with movement modules as content. But, we’re a long way from physical theatre. There are more entrants aspiring to create verbal humour than physical movements.
How can one prepare to be physically and mentally fit to prepare for a movement-based show?
A greater emphasis on a self-regulated and disciplined daily training approach in order to process a focussed evolution of artistes is a requisite. And a longer production span of 12 to 15 weeks, before one can even project a performance schedule, is essential. If one’s mind is consumed with a performance date even before rehearsals begin, then there cannot be any room for physical and movement exploration. Mental discipline is a vital part of physical discipline.
What are the other new elements that directors have employed in this decade?
Music is becoming an integral part of many a production since 2016, as can be seen.
What are the various genres of music that you have seen been performed during plays?
While there are productions that are more musically intrinsic - both of the western and traditional Carnatic kind, still, in theatre in Chennai, music is only a mood component. Musicals are rare.
What's your view about the kind of themes and subjects that Chennai plays have touched upon?
First, one needs to agree that, since the last three years, there has been a focus on conscious choice of themes and subjects. However, except for two or three groups, there still exists a vacuum when it comes to identifying theatre groups with standard, identifiable artists who do not trade horses from banner to banner. Groups do not have a unique identity. What we call broadly groups is two or three people. There are no identifiable or unique repertories. Under such conditions, there’s no consistent exploration of themes or subjects. One of the reasons why there’s a lack of distinct performance styles.
According to you, who have been the most promising directors and actors from Chennai?
By promising, if you mean the younger generation... Someone still emerging... I do not see any. One artist who has shown a passion to explore genres and themes is Chandrasekhar of Veshadhaaris. John Pradeep is doing a lot of interesting explorations, but more in the area of storytelling and playback. Again, as I keep repeating, the existing, established artists who CAN give back have to consciously, proactively establish and promote ecology to nurture talents. What we have are short-term workshops that touch and go. In fact, we’re working towards setting up residency and long-term training sessions. A small start is being made with the establishment of our own Masquerade Studio Space. We hope to take this as our mission as we enter the next decade.
What have been the most informative and useful feedback that you have received from your audiences over the years?
We were very active in the first four years of this decade. And we went dormant from performance mode, to introspect and evolve before hitting performance mode for 3 years. The audience we have nurtured and built to understand our style of process oriented theatre is being appreciated now. Over the last two years, we’ve received heartwarming responses that chide us when we try to prioritise commerce over content. Full houses to our 2013 Mrichchakatika, 2014 The Island, 2016 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Antigone and The Wailing Maid Junction this year has shown that devised performances that we evolve with base scripts are preferred by our audience.
Can you give a definitive answer to what the city’s theatre audience wish to see on stage?
I don’t think we can really affirm what they wish to see. But to assume and lower down their intelligence with mere laugh lines and thread-bare plots as excuses to string together rehashed political and social comments in funny vein for few quick bucks is condescension on their intelligence. Art should help refine the aesthetic quotient of the audience. A critically savvy and refined audience not provoked by reactionary politics can really help push the boundaries of the artistes’ community.
Where do you see the state of Chennai’s theatre scene in the next decade? Where are the changes that you wish to see and the areas that need improvement and support?
KK: We need established groups to step up their contribution in setting up a theatre ecology. Artistes and groups must nurture upcoming aspirants with responsibility than use them for commercial ends. Boasting an English stage culture of 70 years, we must look to establishing learning and curating centres.
Lastly, could you share a message for all aspiring theatre directors in the city and what they can do to elevate themselves to the next level?
Please stop looking at theatre and stage as a rite of passage to commercial movies and television world. Each is a world in itself with different values and mission. Respect the stage for what its strengths are. Train hard!