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Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Lab for the Future of Theatre for Children and Youth


The following is a translated version of a news item I came across in Rheinische Post, to which I subscribe online. In the light of some comments and discussions we have been having here famously, I thought this news article merits a reproduction (in full as is normal the courtesy to be adhered to when one reproduces something) to show what we are not doing in our own backyard.
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Düsseldorf (dto). “We only want to play!“ is the title of the 22nd N(orth) R(hine) W(estphalian) Children’s and Youth Theatre Seminar that is happening this Saturday (Apr 29) in Düsseldorf. The future of youth would be thematised in the form of several seminars, theatre performances, and discussions. The campaign is supported by Artistic Director Sönke Wortmann and the Junior Soccer Team of Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Theatre artists across the entire NRW are currently experimenting with the Language, Presentation, and Aesthetics in the area of contemporary theatre for children and youth. The proposed project revolves around a sensory Culinary Experience of the stage, movement in public space, the “aimless idling in an empty space”, fairy tales, Biblical stories and societal changes. Three public seminars with their focal points on the themes “Economising of Living Conditions,” “Attitudes of Generations” and “Images of Cultural Hostility” are the crux of this Lab about the Future.
The official festive opening takes place in Düsseldorf on Sunday (Apr 30). The key figures of attraction include the main patron of this event Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, Heinz Winterwerber (Mayor of Düsseldorf), Wolfgang Schneider (President of the International Union for Children’s and Youth Theatre), Artistic Director Sönke Wortmann, Theatre author Lutz Hübner, Felicitas Loewe (Chief Dramaturge of the Theater Junge Generation [Theatre of the Young Generation] in Dresden) and Film director Rolf Losansky; the high point would be the appearance of the Youth Soccer Team of Fortuna Düsseldorf.
On the opening night on April 30, the currently running theatre production “The Last Show” would be performed. The musical play deals with Performance Pressure and the cult of Beauty Obsession, and is aimed at 14+ age group. In the following five days, there would be further performances at Datteln, Bonn, Cologne, Essen, Moers, Hagen, Gelsenkirchen, Bad Münstereifel und Oberhausen.
On the last day of the seminar, May 5, all the projects at the Lab for Future would be brought before public as open performances at the Children’s and Youth Theatre space. In every room and corner these artistic experiments would be exhibited. The audience would be able to go through the entire theatre house and meet finally at the main auditorium. The 22nd N(orth) R(hine) W(estphalian) Children’s and Youth Theatre Seminar would eventually conclude with a prize distribution.
* * * * *End of Article* * * * *
What is happening in Chennai in theatre in general is: people are doing too much arbitrary performance work and unnecessarily putting pressure on each other by raising the commercial stakes. One might say that we need to be really extra-sensory with sponsors. This is my take. From “beggars for sponsorship” days we have just progressed to “glorified beggars for sponsorship.” By pushing ourselves unnecessarily into packaging and project proposals and statistics and presentations of power-points in cds and laptops, we are moving theatre into an unrequired area of management culture.

I am not speaking thus because am lazy or cannot meet up with the corporates and produce an hour of their own jargonizing… but because we are artists… people who can do what they cannot… people who bring relaxation and refreshment and rejuvenation to their workaholic lives. We must not seek them, they must seek us. If we commercialize art too much to the level of consumerism, the moneyed people would take (and have already started taking) advantage of our position.
I shall explain: if you looked at it, because people come to watch us perform, the product owners have a direct marketing reach through theatre. One might claim that there is more mileage in an ad in The Hindu because it reaches so many million people. One might claim that there is so much visibility in airing a video ad. True and false. Truth be told, advertisement only proposes to campaign, doesn’t promise to sell. And when has advertisers actually come to our doors asking us to buy. Those are the salesmen. So what guarantee is it that the ads are being noticed? Not every ad. Touch your heart and tell me: do you really go through all the ads in the daily each day… or collect each and every sheet that is tucked into your newspaper? You shake them off and read the news item! Whereas in theatre the visibility is concentrated and high. So, theatre has a better reach and power of sustenance. As a result we must be approached where we quote the price, not us approaching. We push ourselves to unnecessary desperation when we don’t need to. When so much theatre is happening and so many people watching theatre than before, corporates and product owners must consider it a privilege to reach out to their public through us.
How the hell does this relate to this post? I hear you! If we spend half our time on packaging and another quarter on publicizing the show, where is the time to produce meritoriously? Add to it, we are so bifurcated and divided that no three groups have identifiable incumbency of more than 3 people. So where is the question of having separate units inside the company that takes care of admin, tech, management, logistics and artistic areas? The same person has to do everything. That definitely brings down the quality and quantity of time one could put at rehearsals. And we are perennially producing and performing that we are not replenishing ourselves with newer ways of performing. As a result art is no more fresh. Just commoditised package of laughter or drama or musical!
Instead, we must stop spending too much time on chasing sponsors, start doing shows and more shows within given resources. If the quality of the story-telling is good, what need for people to notice the costume one wears or the colour filters one uses to wash the backdrop or the quality of the sets and backdrops? What did our forefathers rely on? Body, voice, gestures, movements, and playing space! But today all is topsy-turvy. Actor has vanished. Performer has been closeted, theatre has been pushed to background, and instead the proletarian need for crass entertainment has taken over the minds of those who do theatre more than those who come to watch. As a result we are giving stupid stuff that would safely meet the footfall requirement of the sponsor. The sponsor has stealthily started deciding what we do. It must stop!

If this be today, where do we have time to train new people, whet youth and teens to do the right kind of art? They are uninformed or less informed or misinformed because the informants don’t have a clue about what information to give. If theatre has to get professional, we need to start focusing on our youth theatre scenario, create a cultural climate by catching them in their teens before adolescence over-enthusiasm takes them over to think performance, going on stage and speaking lines and changing colorful costumes and taking curtain calls are the only things that count about theatre.
Now of course, there is this new found craze to do backstage… it means, less rehearsal time, more dating opportunities and getting drunk at cast parties at someone else’s expense. Of course, there are some cast parties that don’t happen or happen late or tepid or insanely boring, where you're even required to come in dress codes. But that’s not in our purview. The long and the short of the matter is we are losing the happiness of doing theatre and falling prey to bureaucratic work patterns rather than artistic passion.
What must happen in Theatre in Chennai:
People must speak honestly and work with integrity. One can be truthful and honest and yet carry on with life. After all, we come from the great country which bore the great person who said: “Hate a person’s action, not the person” – Mahatma Gandhi. I am sure we are all capable of speaking our minds. Except, we speak it only when we have decided we are ready to lose something. We must speak and act truthfully to retain a thing for its real value. WHAT WE REALLY NEED IS MORE HONESTY WITH OUR ART, MORE INTEGRITY TO OUR WORK AND MORE SELF-RESPECT. And we must develop the strength to say no to any and every work. More than work, we must stop encouraging passers-by with desultory attitude to someone else’s production money by refusing to work with them whether in our own shows or someone else’s.
That is the statement for the season.

11 comments:

Srini said...

Dear (sir) KK,

Though about theatre, as ever I found more than a point or two with which I can associate. I am convinced of my qualification to comment on this one more than your more "sophisticated" posts on theatre. Of course this is not going to be about the seminar happening in Dusseldorf, but about your own passionate views as ever!

I agree with you in toto. Commercialisation is bad - and everywhere! Though things such as better standard of living, more stakes etc are all too palpable because of this so-called wondrous phenomena, there is little peace of mind. And as you have rightly pointed out once an aesthetic field gets commercialised, then we must really do something about it. You were also correct about the kind of attention paid to ads even in the number 1 newspapers and what it creates. But as ever I liked your pick on the present culture: in this post the backstage stuff.
I have been wondering of late why there are so many more people willing to go backstage. Now I know, though I am sure that like anywhere there's a dedicated soul or two as well.

By the way I have obliged to your request for a short poem; and it's right now on my blog. Please do check it as and when you find time...

Cheerio :)

Krishna Kumar said...

Thanks Srini, as always, that you found a voice of sanity in my piece. I don't even expect visitors these days to my posts. Am quite happy in my isolation sometimes because I don't feel like belonging to this mob of madness and mania for glitz and glamour in one way or other. So am just happy with a few ppl like you who go through and find time to comment as well. I know a handful of regulars to my posts but they don't leave comments anyway.

Anyway... it is sickening. What's happening and I am here shouting insanely saying we must not tank into a situation beyond a point. We need to seek financial backups unfortunately in theatre since it is an expensive work. But we should not create a situation of one-upmanship in commoditisation in the name of creativity. Creativity must be shown in the work of art and not in the work off art. So...

I shall visit your blog right away.

Srini said...

Quite Sir KK,

Quite apt the twin phrases: work of art and work off art. I truly surmise that the latter is rhe case.

But then Sir KK I think you must - and all of us must - in whatever is our field of love raise our voices whether it is going to herald fruits in the longer run or not. It is nice though as you have rightly put it that we do get to meet some like-minded people on this faceless interface here (well... I did have a glimpse of you when I was at Midsummer Night's Dream late last autumn... lol).
Thank you for the critical comment on the one hand - as ever without diplomacy to say the least, which I appreciate - and the effusively encouraging one on the other: both are important to me...

SS

Srini said...

Dear (sir) KK,

My new blog is at: www.onastarliteve.blogspot.com.

It is about the person who inspired me to write my novel. Just in case you are interested - no compulsions - you can visit me there, apart from the other two, over the next one year max during which I'd like to tell the full life behind my story... goodnight...

Anonymous said...

Hi KK: Please do check the site www.rebelz.in, new theatre group in Chennai, coming soon with its production!
Regards
RD

eternal flunky said...

hey kk... i didn really get what the first bit with all those names had to do wid the rest, i think i conveniently skipped it... you'r right, theatre is getting too bloody commercial.... forbid!!!
maybe we should do somekind of a random trip a bunch of us and perform to anyone and everyone on the way....if you could arrange some kind of an intrepid travellers sort bus... and we'l make a movie, and show the peepuls around here what its all about.... yes, i'v finally resumed reading ECAcid Test... and will finish rushdie in a flash....
p.s. you should write a blog on the whole well-knit group thing you have in mind.... seems everyone's got mixed opinions..

Krishna Kumar said...

Anon

i shall check the site. but could you give me a realtime contact for you guys? Curious to find out.

Krishna Kumar said...

No point karthik... flunky. When I shout, people think I am insane. But in a while when we have more groups than we could have for comfort, the situation is going to unnecessarily turn the heat on. Because rebelz or evam or stagefright or boulevard... all these guys are in for commerce as well as athma shanti or passion or hobby or stress release or whateva! so they all will up the stake of packaging to attract sponsor to ensure they don't lose money... and then they make money... and then seduce audience with publicity to get there... in the process create a situation of one-upmanship where no one wins. Because it would become competitive theatre to fill auditoria. That is why I say do theatre for yourselves irrespective of audience. From day 1 you focus on package and look to do a production that satisfies and entertains audience, how does distantiation come? What we like and what we think would go with the audience and us going out of the way to put in comedy or a creative device to please people are not what theatre is made of. So, let be. This too shall pass. Only those who do not bother about the outcome of the performance and go about the process of theatre-making would ultimately survive because your inputs are creativity, artistic involvement, discipline and rigourous attention to the text itself and not how it will be received. If you do things in the spirit of it, reception would ultimately good. Let's not take cudgels for this sinking ship of chennai theatre and lose focus. Let them be, let us be! There is enough room for enough and more players without biting each other's insecurity off!

Krishna Kumar said...

To add to it, flunky... if possible we shall help others. Good or bad, we shall support. But that does not stop us from pointing out the wrongs even if people mistake us for stoical and cynical bas****s

Srini said...

Dear (sir) KK,

Have come up with a quasi-academic piece after long; and after a long time - during which time I devoutly kept in mind your reference to my long posts in the initial days, which made me come up with shorter ones I truly enjoyed giving - I have come up with a long-ish post as well (lol)...

Srini said...

Dear (sir) KK,

Have come up with my first substantial post in my new blog...