World Theatre Day: How an Actor Found Herself on Stage
(This story was originally published on 27.03.18 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives on World Theatre Day. )
When I think about theatre, it is hard to differentiate it as a vocation or a job that I do, for it has been far too intimately enmeshed in my journey as a human being. It has influenced my thought process, my interaction with the world at large and my belief in modes of expression being the most powerful vehicles for change. It has allowed me to dig deeper in order to understand human nature, why we do what we do and how to view those doings with as little judgement as possible.
In a nutshell, theatre has given me a window into community living, community loving and community learning. What is it about theatre that makes it so humane?
One afternoon during our first few days of Piya Behrupiya rehearsals, I remember our director Atul Kumar telling us, “if you don’t find synergy and chemistry and fun amongst yourselves, how will it ever permeate the audience?” We were nine actors and three musicians, all relatively unknown to each other. After the audition rounds in Bombay had finished and we had been selected, we were made to take a dive into a month-long residency at his space in Kamshet.
As a first of its kind of an experience for me, it was daunting. Atul’s prowess as a director lies in tangential explorations outside of the script and here we were, tackling the master himself - William Shakespeare and his Twelfth Night. I remember with each passing day, I was slowly starting to let down my guard and understanding the lack of shame it requires to truly experiment through trial and error. There is no place for egos, and the fear of making a fool of yourself must be dispensed with right from the beginning, or there will be no moving forward.
A few of the actors there had graduated from NSD but I felt like I had just joined school. I remember often indulging in self-flagellation whilst watching them find their characters much before I did. One evening, when I came close to a breakdown, Atul came up to me and said, “this anxiety you are carrying - it’s fabulous. Something will come out of it.”
And suddenly, after accepting the push and pull it was going to take, it happened. I found my clown.
I felt such a tangible change within and that’s when I understood the beauty of a rehearsal process - it’s dynamic. Anything can happen. I can still never point a finger on what exactly it was other than a culmination of it all. However, this experience holds greater gravitas for me when I look back at it because it undid me in all other aspects of my life.
Knowing that we can invoke truth together as a cast helps me reach for it in my relationships. Making light of myself on stage helps me take myself less seriously, in life. And if a mistake on stage can lead to a spontaneous new reaction, it helps me embrace mistakes in life as a means to growth rather than terming them as failed attempts. Key word here being ‘helps’. These are all difficult things to achieve but having a profession that provides such direction is such a source of light.
Today, when I watch theatre in Bombay, I feel like the experience of watching a good play can be equated to a hug. Its live form makes everything about it so ‘alive’, that an honest production can have an osmosis-like effect and in one uninterrupted motion I am left with a new seed for change or a cathartic release for that moment or questions regarding its relevance.
And when a play manages to do that with truth, it is most exciting. It is magic.
I had the opportunity to hear the invigorating and impassioned Anamika Haksar talk recently at an event organized by Junoon (founded by Sanjana Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar). She said,
Having experienced this so personally, I utterly concur.
(Mansi Multani is an actor and singer, whose career spans over 550 shows on stage. She is best known for Piya Behrupiya (Atul Kumar), Stories in a Song (Sunil Shanbag) and What is Done is Done (Rajat Kapoor))