I was talking to my mother today and somewhere thru the conversation we drifted to my early days in school when i used to take part in skit and drama competitions. We don’t call that theatre in India not when you’re 10 -15 yrs old. But we do take it as seriously. We didn’t have theatre as a subject in school, it was more in the form of competitions and invited voluntary participation of students. I was extremely interested from a very young age.
I remember the first time I was on the stage for a play, I was in the 4th grade. And the play was based out of a village. In India in small towns and villages a common form of entertainment used to be watching this guy make his pet monkey perform tricks like jump over a stick, go through a ring etc. Just a street circus of sorts. So a scene in this play had a guy play same. I was one among the villagers who come and watch the guy do his stuff and then had to disperse. We all converged to see his act and then he was to declare that the show was over, which was our cue for dispersing and then he’d fold up his belongings and walk out. During the actual performance, soon as he declared that his show was over, the others dispersed, I was just so engrossed in the play that I stood there watching him fold his belongings and then a few seconds later I sort of woke up from the moment and turned around to see myself standing there alone. Startled, I ran to the back-stage.
Apart from it being a very stupid thing to do and a forgettable moment for an actor on theatre, it did make me realize how real theatre was and how i loved to watch him do his thing right in front of me.
I later went to the senior school and continued to participate in theatre. In one of such scripts I was playing the role of a brahmin priest. It required us to have a bald head look. Now the work around in the make up room was to have us wear a football bladder on our heads. The color of the bladder is usually close to the skin color for no known reason to me. But we were to wear that bladder on our heads and there was a hole on the top of it through which a long braid of hair to look like a priest. Funny it sounds now that I read it. The issue was that the bladder was tight. A tight-fitting, air tight rubber membrane like thing on your head on a summer evening in india isn’t the most pleasant thing to wear. On top of that the room we were sitting in didn’t have fans (I have no clue why we were made to sit in that torture chamber, probably because that was close to the backstage to make our entry easier). Oh and we were wearing polyester kurtas which are bad for summer season. They make you warm. In my knowledge there have been very few instances which have tested my patience more than this. I had to sit with all that make up and bladder on my head for a couple of hours. I finally got onto the stage and this time luckily everything was flawless. I went back home and told mom all of this and she was in splits. It still leaves her in splits.
I later participated in a couple of more skits and plays with a little bit of dialogues this time around. And then came the opportunity I was looking for, a lead role. The script was about a husband who has a very dominating wife and he always lands in trouble with her or something of that sort, I barely remember. We practiced extensively for that. I was probably in the 9th grade by then. And there was a moment in the play right in the beginning where the husband asks the wife to find him a glue tube to seal an envelope or something, and the wife hurls the tube at him, which he’s supposed to catch. Since the scene was within the first 5 minutes of the play, I was a little nervous still. I generally take a few minutes to warm up and ward off the stage fear. The initial minutes are a little nervous after which I dive in and play it out well. But this was the beginning and in the nervous energy I fumbled and dropped the stick of glue my ‘wife’ threw at me. That left the crowd in splits because it really helped the character get it’s image right early on. And I didn’t realize it until later when we’d won the first place and one of the judges mentioned this while explaining the decision. We’d won a competition where I was the lead role. I still beam at that achievement. It’s one of the few things I was good at, and had I known they teach acting as a degree in colleges I’d have gone for it rather than studying computers.
I later also acted and directed in a play in my undergrad school where there was a moment I blacked out half way into the play and I was supposed to abuse the character standing in front of me. The dialogue went something like “Shut up you Idiot!” and I blanked out staring at my friend, not knowing what to say next. He realised I’d blanked out, and so he says in a not so hushed voice “Shut up! “, and I go “Shut up you Idiot!” with both of us barely able to contain our laughter on the stage. Gulping the laugh we carried on and of course that remained a story in the group for a while.
I think it’s the realism of a theatre act and mishaps and cover ups like these which attract me so much to the art. The energy of looking at the audience’s eyes and talk to them directly. To be able to look at a distance and say something, to be able to throw your voice, to interact with someone else on a stage for real, to choreograph, to understand a character, to live another’s life and to be perfect at that moment of deliverance without second takes.
I wish to go back and write a few plays and act in a few as well, and probably learn the art academically.