Narrator: It all started two months ago. I’d just quit my job. I badly needed a break, and I happened to be very interested in doing something creative with my time. I had already taken to sketching, guitar lessons and writing my blog during the last weeks at work, but somehow, the sudden freedom to do anything with my time was overwhelming and anti-climactic. I did go on a four day trip to Bangalore, but after that, I hardly did anything at home – apart from watching TV, playing games and being a waste of space and oxygen, of course.
I found out something about a theatre workshop, and decided to sign up for it. Funnily enough, I had quit my job for “going into the theatre field”, even before I had heard of the Spotlight Initiative. Fate, it seems, had planned this all along. As Paulo Coelho once wrote: When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
So I signed up for Crea-Shakthi’s Spotlight Initiative 2015. It seemed too good to be true – just 800 bucks? I went ahead and if I may say so, it’s the best 800 bucks I ever spent in my life. I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to it. Looking forward – obviously, since it was going to be a lot of fun, and dreading – since I’m a perpetual social misfit and I find it extremely hard to make new friends.
Narrator: At last, it was May 15 – the first day. I reached the place – Vidya Sagar – easily, since I’d been there once before. There was a small crowd of people scattered in different groups- the group closest to me was mostly girls and a guy who was very innocently introducing himself to everybody – Teja.
Teja: Hi, my name is Teja, what is your name?
(more introductions followed)
Narrator: I later found out that he had Asperger’s or something (still not sure). It was at that point that it struck me – this guy is supposed to be medically affected, which supposedly causes social awkwardness, but there he was, easily the most polite person you’d ever meet in your life. So what’s my excuse for being socially awkward? I don’t have an answer.
Anyway, after waiting for a while, the Crea-Shakthi team arrived and we all went inside the school and were briefed on what would happen. Then we were left to introduce ourselves to each other. I reluctantly went about it, asking people’s names and forgetting them within an eye’s blink. After a while of doing that, we were split up into two groups and had various Ice-breaker sessions.
Those were fun – there was this game called Quick Gun Murugan, where the directors would point at one person who would sit down immediately and the people immediately on each side of him/her would have to quickly tell each others’ names. The slower one to do that would have to squat in the centre of the circle. I was pretty quick – to fail (cue comic sound). The circle steadily filled up with squatters complaining to/about Der Squat Master.
Squat Master George: Guys, squat! No talking. Heels on the floor. If you don’t, it will hurt, da…(smiling throughout)
Another game we played was boat, elephant and gun. The person who was pointed at would react by becoming the front of a boat, the trunk of an elephant or being shot in the head – and the people beside him/her would become the oars, ears or mourners respectively.
Then we played something called Big, Bigger, Biggest. One action/emotion to be shown in increasing levels of intensity. That was quite fun as well. One guy found himself as the the only guy and he slyly slapped his butt, expecting the girls to imitate, only harder. Instead, he got his butt kicked. Literally. Well, he asked for it. 😀
The next activity was building a scene – one person would be given a character and would start a scene, and one by one, others would come in and adapt to that scene after interpreting it. Sometimes, we got it right, sometimes we got it wrong.
Afterwards, we did an activity -I forget the name – where small groups of us had to imitate inanimate objects of various rooms of a house, in a way that the others would be able to guess what room we were depicting. I was in a group depicting a bathroom. I was the wash basin. From what I remember, this activity was supposed to improve/ focus on our body language.
After all this, we were again divided into groups to perform a 2 minute scene. Each group got a director and the scene was supposed to be a silent scene (with a reason for the silence). In my group, the director was Gobu. I was a lone bank robber and the other four were hostages. I was supposed to load all the money in a bunch of bags while the hostages tried to shuffle out the door. It went well, mostly. I did a little improv on stage when I felt it was dragging too long and wasn’t getting enough laughs – I got frustrated and mimed shooting myself. There was a slight problem – there wasn’t any reason for me to be silent in the whole thing.
That was the end of the first day.
Narrator: Over the next few days, we started the sessions by doing random walking and variations such as walking on fire, ice, sludge, water etc. There were also some energy exchange excercises, mirroring, and trust falls. And the voice excercises – man, I sucked at those, and still do. I can’t go beyond level 7 without using a bit of throat. For a brief while, I think I managed, but I never quite learnt to be loud enough without using my throat. The physical excercises were pretty tough since they required flexibility and not many of us were flexible enough. We as a group are pretty out of shape. Most of us were muttering under our breath at the disposal of the short tempered Fitness Fiend.
Fitness Fiend Chandini: GUYS! Shut the fuck up! Blah blah blah……fucking…blah blah …for fuck’s sake…blah blah..fuck..blah…(you get the gist – I lost count of how many times she said fuck on that day)
There were other games – Pip,pop, boing, build a story, Jack and Jill, Goldspot etc. that we played from time to time.
I tried to socialize a bit. It was a disaster. I felt like an old man, especially when talking to the girls.
Nobody believed I was 24.
During the first week, each day we’d have a person conducting a workshop half the time and during the remaining time, there would be voice and physical excercises, after which we would put up 2 minute performances in groups at the end.
We had workshops by Dushyant (cue claps)- on Creashakthi’s background and stage grammar, body language etc., Actor Ashok Selvan (cue claps)- general Q&A on acting for stage and screen, Victor Paulraj (cue claps)- stage and lighting design, Victor Jayaraj (cue claps)- mime, Vaidhya (cue claps)- acting. All those workshops were really informative and helpful.
Narrator: Next came the splitting – we were split into two productions. (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO not cool! This is Divide and Rule all over again!)
I found out that I was to be a part of the Friday production. Then we were all asked to read lines from the scripts so the directors could choose their actors for casting.
Narrator: It was time to announce the cast for each director. I was cast into 3 plays. Woohoo!
We started reading our lines with each director in turn. People could barely hear me. I had to speak-
Narrator: (whispers) OK!
Sukanya: (not amused) That wasn’t loud.
Chandini: You have to be louder…
George: Louder, da…
And so it went. The hours turned into days and days turned into weeks. I started to get the hang of it and gradually became a little bit louder. People were starting to get all irritable. Rehearsals weren’t going so well some days and sometimes, scripts themselves were revised. It was a nervy few weeks. People weren’t showing up sometimes and rehearsals were cancelled for certain plays some days due to lack of actors. The initial weeks of continuous fun seemed long gone. There was a bit of fun with the breaks, the random chatting, the tea kadai and RSS everyday.
There was the occasional great run through, though. When Chandini of all people walks over to you with a wide smile and gives you a hug after a run through, you know you’ve done well. When you get to know her a bit, she’s quite different from the first impression you get of her (loud mouthed). She’s quite fun when not losing her temper :).
Adorable George always has a smile on his face, no matter how a run through goes. As Sukanya says, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Such patience!
And Sukanya, well, she has her way of explaining small details, getting you into the character and making sure you have fun doing that. She’s very receptive to suggestions too.
I enjoyed working with all three directors. (No flattery, guys, I swear)
The last week was pretty much a mixed bag – some good runthroughs, some not so good. We started rehearsing with the props. A lot of things felt different with the props as compared to miming the props.
The tickets sales were inching forward at snail’s pace for both the productions, which was a mood-killer. We were all trying our best to get as many people to buy tickets as possible. It looked more and more likely that we’d have to resign ourselves to perform to a sparsely filled hall.
Anyway, when we rehearsed with the musicians for the first time, it was such a different experience. The plays were just taken to a different dimension. Those guys had an amazing effect on the production. It was a whole new level of fun.
Then, a day before the show, we went to the venue – THE Museum Theatre! I was nervous as soon as I entered. What a huge dome! I wondered how I could possibly project my voice adequately over there.
There wasn’t much time to sit and wonder about that, though. Soon we started the whole runthrough with the 27th production guys watching. It went reasonably well, with a few confusions still remaining. Then we sat down to watch the 27th production guys perform. Watching them perform on that stage for the first time was really great. We now had a rough idea of how it would look.
Narrator: Show Day had finally arrived. I wasn’t nervous. I was pretty chilled out. I found that quite odd. I reached the venue and nothing much happened for a while. The tech runthrough started quite late and we wondered if we’d ever finish it. Tempers were running high and sweat was flowing. The dreaded hour inched closer….
Finally the tech runthrough was done. Only an hour to show…
We were handed sandwiches (nothing like those wonderful RSS ones, though) and instructed to change into our costumes. The audience had started coming in. Nervousness creeped up on me. I wondered how many of the 550 seats would be filled.
Then, we huddled backstage, each director giving a mini speech for encouragement and inspiration. All of a sudden, Smarabh enters the circle.
Smarabh: Guys, guys, oooonly 450 seats are filled.
Realisation dawned on us all.
Oh fuck…shhhhh! Guys, don’t shout.
A few inspiring speeches later, we all chanted on the count of three: (Some tamil chant which I don’t quite understand – maeera pochu)!
It was time. The announcements started, the intro music started playing.
My entire body was tingling. I began worrying that I might black out on stage.
The music stopped. So did my heart. Or did it start beating faster? I don’t really remember. The lights faded in. My cue to enter. Here goes…
I entered the stage and unleashed the scene with full energy. All the while, my body was tingling with nervousness. I may have rushed with my lines a bit. But it was ok. I finished the scene and went back behind the wings. I’ve never been more relieved in my life. The tingling had finally dissipated. I felt normal again.
It all went by so quickly. I wished everyone before and after they went on stage. Hugs were exchanged all around. It was all overwhelmingly emotional – the thrill of performing, the sadness of it finally ending. I finished my scenes in all the plays and finally it was the last scene – and the curtain call. I didn’t want to leave the stage. But we all had to.
There was chaos backstage – people had left stuff, I was missing part of my personal prop and my goddamn slippers. Twenty minutes later, I finally found them after one of the lights guys told me where to look. When I finally went outside, my invitees had already left. All except one friend. I spoke to him for a while, then went home. My show was finally over.
Narrator: The next day was so exhausting, with all the ushering duties and other stuff for the 27th show.
Then there was the storm of the Pundits. Crowd control was a nightmare, with a spot of rain causing chaos for a while. After a long, long while, everyone was finally in. I missed the first performer completely and part of the second performer’s bit, but I was able to watch the rest of it. What a crowd! There was no breathing space. The Pundits + Kanan Gill effect, I suppose. Overload.
The noise of laughter and applause was deafening. It was an amazing day.
And then, it was all finally over. I don’t know what to do with my time now. I thought I’d start writing in my blog again, but ended up writing about spotlight. Sigh…
Thank you, Crea-Shakthi, Pundits and all Spotlight participants, for an incredible one and a half months!