All the world’s a stage. If you’re interested in theater but haven’t dabbled in it yet, college is a good place to start; especially if you see yourself doing it professionally a few years down the line. Neerja Deodhar tells you more.
FORMING YOUR OWN TROUPE
This should ideally be your ‘opening scene’ or the first step you take if you want to do anything related to plays or musicals. The key isn’t just to pick talented classmates who are interested in drama; no it’s much more than that. It’s about choosing the right bunch of people, preferably with a similar perspective of theatre and getting them to work together. To find people for your troupe, you could either ask classmates to audition or show you some of their work. Sometimes you may feel the need to approach a particular person for a role or to write a script for you.
PEOPLE YOU WILL NEED IN YOUR TROUPE
- Prop and costume designers
- Musicians, singers and dancers (for musicals)
- Technicians for lights and sound
- Poeple to handle production
Once you have the essential troupe members, sit together and brainstorm about a name for your troupe! You will also need to find a place to practice and have regular rehearsals. It could be a corner in the canteen or cafeteria, but make sure that you take permission to use the place.
There will be disagreements over a few scenes and roles especially because there are so many different ways of interpreting even one dialogue of an entire script. People will occasionally come late for rehearsals but the trick is to overcome these issues and focus on the big picture. A lot of people prefer joining the drama clubs in their college as opposed to starting their own.
Of course, you could avoid this step and still perform in plays as a gypsy – a performer who moves from show to show or even from one city to another, or if you are solely into mono-acting i.e. a theatrical performance by a single person performing one or more roles.
Once you have a team in place, the next step is to decide what kind of pieces you will perform.
Picking a script: You will have the freedom to decide whether you will stage scenes from famous scripts like Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion or write a modern day adaptation of an old play. Antara Telang, who directed a play for Ithaka, St. Xavier’s theatre fest says, “It was a great learning experience and a lot of fun because I adapted my favorite Roald Dahl short story into a play.” You could create an entirely new, original script; something which may be based on the experiences that you or any of your troupe members have gone through. Usually the director and writer set the tone of the play, decide the theme that will be followed throughout and maybe incorporate a message too, in the play while writing the script.
Choosing a genre and theme: The most interesting part about writing your own play is deciding which genre of drama your play will fall into.
MAIN GENRES IN THEATER
- Romance, like in Tumhaari Amrita.
- Farce, which is often over-acted, slapstick humour
- Historical Drama, like in Andha Yug.
- Satire which takes a comical look at a current event while making a political or social statement.
- Tragedy, which involves the suffering of the main character and getting the audience to empathize with him/her.
Commonly staged themes are alcoholism, drug addiction, caste prejudice, religious intolerance, sexuality, poverty and class divisions, violence against women and and even natural phenomena. Choose a combination of genre and theme which makes the characters of your story come into conflict with each other, confrontations between actors on stage should not be boring!
Improv: Improvisation, better known as ‘Improv ’is a theater format which is unscripted. It is created in the moment! There is very little or no pre-planning. The action in the play, the story and even characters are created on the spot. If your actors are confident enough, you could stage an improv play which could be very funny. Otherwise, this format is also useful to increase the creativity and spontaneity of actors and writers both and is an excellent acting exercise.
Play formats: 1. 10-minute play: Popularized over the past 20 years and now a staple of most play festivals and many play contests. Useful with beginning playwrights because it can produced and staged without a lot of technical requirements.
2. One-act play: An act is a part of a play and is defined by elements such as rising action and climax. An act is usually 30-60 minutes long.
3. Short play: A more popular format recently, the short play removes the intermission and generally runs over an hour but less than an hour-and-a-half.
4. Full length plays: Generally, two or three acts with an act break (intermission or interval)
Straight plays v/s Musicals
A straight play is a piece of theater that relies on the spoken word to tell the story, as opposed to song and dance which is an integral part of musicals like The Phantom of the Opera. Both art forms are considered plays, but are usually presented in completely different styles. In a straight play, the drama or comedy often unfolds primarily through conversations between characters while a musical may have no dialogue at all. It is important to note that in a musical, all your actors must be able to sing! You will also need to choreograph the song sequences and a band to play the background score is essential. Directing and executing a musical is far more difficult than a straight play.
They are the most cost-effective way of staging a play. However it can be challenging to keep the audience’s attention. Street plays must be engaging and you should be able to make up for the lack of advanced technical support with an interesting plot and actors with strong stage presence.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Not all of us can afford the time or money that one has to spend to attend acting workshops. In such a situation, simple Acting Exercises can help you to better your skills:
- People watching: Observing people, their behaviors and the way they display emotion is one of the best ways to learn how to portray a character. Make sure you don’t creep people out in the process, though!
- Public solitude: Get your entire troupe to perform their daily routine in front of each other. The goal is to get them to behave more naturally in front of an audience and be less conscious of themselves.
- Line Repetition: Work in pairs. One person says a sentence like “You’re wearing a shirt.” The other must say the same line with other emotions such as “I’m wearing a shirt?” or “I’m wearing a shirt!”
- Vocal Warm-ups, especially for groups performing musicals.
- Freeze: Two or more people perform an improv scene and at any moment anybody from the troupe can say “Freeze!” All characters must freeze in their positions. The person who said freeze can go and replace any person by assuming the position they’re frozen in and thus add a new twist to the scene.
To an extent, Acting Techniques can be self-taught. They will help you to reach your full potential as an actor portraying the character assigned to you. The most commonly used acting technique is ‘Method Acting’ which involves adopting the lifestyle, habits, and traits of the characters in the play. This helps to gain a better understanding of why they feel what they feel and how to emote their experiences more accurately. It is essentially ‘becoming the character’.
DRAWING THE CURTAIN BETWEEN WORK AND FUN
Over time, you and troupe members will form a great rapport and have a lot of fun together, but this should not shift your focus away from the main goal. It’s very easy to get carried away, especially if you’re doing a play that is comedy-based. Separate work and play and maintain seriousness during rehearsals. Nitin Gupta, who played a role in Andha Yug, puts it this way, “Not everyone can work on such a prestigious script, and I was fortunate to be part of a group that did stage Andha Yug. Every character demands a lot of energy, intensity and passion.”
Being a theater actor or director is not a piece of cake and trying your hand at it in college can be difficult. The going could get tough because of various reasons. Your first hurdle will be getting the permission to form a troupe or club and finding a place to practice. Second, you will need to get the financing for lights, music, props, and costumes. Sometimes you may not be able to find the right actor to play a certain role. And how disastrous would it be if one person were to play multiple roles! What if he jumbled up his lines? What if he walked onto the stage, dressed like a man but wearing a woman’s wig? The ensuing comedy of errors may not make everyone laugh.
But probably, the biggest dramatic distress of all is rejection. People may not like the story, critics may not approve of themes and judges may not think you’re good enough. However, you should not let this bog you down.
FACING THE SPOTLIGHT
Once you have your script in place, the props, backdrops and costumes ready and the actors can say their lines perfectly, you’ll be ready to face the spotlight. Showcasing your talent and getting noticed is important if you want to do well in theatre. A lot of theatre festivals are held in various parts of the country, which are open to the youth. You could attend one to get a feel of what it is like to be part of drama competitions.
College Drama Fests and Clubs
Olio – St. Andrews College
Dramatics society – Lady Shri Ram College
Shakespeare Society – St. Stephens College
Ithaka – St. Xavier’s College
Theater festivals in India
Bharat Rang Mahotsav – Delhi
Centrestage – NCPA
Thespo – Prithvi/NCPA
Prithvi Theater Festival
Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival – Hyderabad
Aadhaar Theatre Festival – Bhopal
Nandikar’s National Theatre Fest – Kolkata
International Theatre Festival of Kerala