This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A Thesis Presented to The Division of The Arts Reed College
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Bachelor of Arts
Indumathi Manohar May 2012
Approved for the Division (Theatre)
This thesis has been at least ten years in the making. From my mother, who put me in dance classes and whose impeccable artistic sensibility and cultural heritage I hope to inherit, to my father for being always encouraging and inspiring, to my Kathak teachers for giving me the gift of dance, to family and friends in India for being magnanimous spectators and to my thesis advisor Kathleen Worley for being a inspiring mentor, supportive counselor, and without whose wit and patience in the face of my gloomiest angst, I could not have completed my thesis. To my teachers at the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography; I thank especially Guru Maya Rao, Madhu Natraj and Ramya Nagaraj for the amazing decade of Kathak that has prepared me for this. To David Adler, the David Adler Fund and the Reed Theatre Department for choosing to fund my Kathak performance in August 2011 in conjunction with research towards my thesis. To the wonderful professors on my orals board who have been supportive of my production and made a difference in my years at Reed: Kate Bredeson for being encouraging (particularly of my playwriting efforts) and an inspiring director; Carla Mann for being an electrifying teacher and forever changing the way I see dance and my body, and Mary James for being the best advisor a lost freshman could ever hope for. To all the professors in my Reed career, (particularly in my senior year); thank you for being patient and supportive. To my childrens; Jill Evans, Jesyca Hernstadt, Claire Lewis, Colin Trevor, Stella Ziegler, and Gracie Rittenberg, for giving me a reason everyday to keep on going. To my energetic stage managers Alexandra Smith and Alan Cline, who made the cold Annex cosy and comfortable and made sure I didn‘t lose my mind. To my designers, Heather Chan, Autumn Dobbins, Zach Horvath and Shruti Korada who were so extraordinarily patient, forgiving and generous with their creativity and impassioned with their ideas. To crew and the many unseen hands, that I never got to thank in person, that put in hours at the costume and construction shop, under the guidance of the Reed Theatre Department. Thank you all for making the world of Shakuntala more vibrant and poetic than my lonely imagination could ever have made it.
To Elizabeth Dinkova, valuable collaborator and indispensible confidant, fierce director, fellow dance enthusiast, theatre fanatic and friend, thank you for the crazy rewarding theatre experiences and thank you for having faith in me and my artistic vision when I needed it the most; here‘s to a future of more insane theatre. To all my friends at Reed who are a part of the story that did not involve thesis writing and production, thank you for making sure that part existed! To all my buddies who've been with me since freshman year: Cris, Misch, British-kritish, Tsering and JTran, thank you for always being there for me even when I went away. And to all you other folks (you know who you are) thanks for the beer pong, ice cream cake and indecipherable foreign accents. To Neesma for making me feel like the best friend in the universe (you bring it out in me, babe), thanks for the Bollywood dancing, heart-to-hearts, matching clothes and excited girly screaming. To Jayasrima for the thayir sadham, tamil movies and long conversations, inge thamizhla yethavadhu writepannanu. To Shrooti for reminding me that I love the things I‘m doing; thank you for the music, dance and nutella banana strawberry crepe poutine midnight expeditions. To Shabub for his inspirational energy; thank you for the sleepovers, microwaved icecream and getting that drag glam on. To Lyooke for the late night pizza and potted plants; thank you for giving me the power to articulate ideas about myself and my mind. To ex-roomie-dormie Liz, thanks for the pasta, cards and chocolate Easter eggs; it‘s been a pleasure knowing you. To Sasha for words under trees and in hallways and us eighthousand miles way. To Dean for peace of mind, monks, metta, mudita, the first noble truth and the fact that I still don‘t know how to pronounce his last name. A mi familia de la Casa, Aaroncito, Christeena, Lily, Tomasina y Yogan, gracias por un año fenomenal de baile, tequila, y conversaciones hasta la madrugada. To the people who thesised before me; to Natalie for the inspiring dancing and delectable dining, Yasin-child for his inordinate love of jeggings and to Mahoova for just being her foul mouthed, chain-smo— just, thanks. Thanks for being you. I‘ve probably mentioned everybody who‘s likely to look here for their names, but a big thank you to all of you for the hugs, smiles and well chosen words, I might not have noticed it then, but it has made all the difference now. Thank you.
―Today the joy of storytelling is stifled by the fear of achieving no impact‖ — Bertolt Brecht
When I first began this thesis a year ago, I wanted my supporting production to be my best one ever, until my advisor dryly pointed out that that probably wasn‘t the best thing for my future in theatre! I may not have made the earth-shattering life-changing impact I had naively hoped for and expected of my very first directorial venture, but I have been inspired by the great ones in theatre that appear in the following pages to tell a story ―clearly, beautifully, entertainingly‖ and to take baby steps towards my own future in theatre.
Indumathi Manohar April 27, 2012
Table of Contents
Abstract ....................................................................................................................... vii Introduction: .................................................................................................................. 1 Chapter One: Sanskrit Drama........................................................................................5 A Brief History ............................................................................................................... 5 Kalidasa and Of the Recognition of Shakuntala ............................................................... 11 Presentation: abhinaya, mudra and mime ........................................................................ 14 Content .............................................................................................................................. 15 Structure ............................................................................................................................ 16 Audience Response ....................................................................................................... 17 Chapter Two: Epic Theatre ......................................................................................... 21 Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) .................................................. 21 Marxism: Materialism, Historification and Dialectics...................................................... 24 Dramatic vs. Epic Theatre................................................................................................. 28 Structure ............................................................................................................................ 29 Content .............................................................................................................................. 30 Presentation: Gestus and Verfremdungseffekt ................................................................... 31 Sanskrit and Epic Audience Response.......................................................................... 35 Chapter Three: To Be More Brechtian is to Be More Indian ..................................... 39 Habib Tanvir (1 September 1923 – 8 June 2009) ......................................................... 40 Chapter Four: Shakuntala: An Indian Fairytale .......................................................... 45 The Production .............................................................................................................. 46 Content (or playwriting) ................................................................................................... 51 Structure (or translating text to performance) .................................................................. 52
Process (or working as a company) .................................................................................. 56 And After ...................................................................................................................... 59 Thoughts on the Process (or “Hindsight is 20/20”) ......................................................... 59 Conclusion (or “Your production was so Brechtian/Kathak!”)................................... 61 Production Program .................................................................................................... 63 Bibliography ................................................................................................................ 67
This thesis explores the correspondences and differences between Sanskrit drama and Bertolt Brecht‘s Epic theatre in relation to Vasudha Dalmia-Lüderitz‘s article entitled ―To Be More Brechtian is to Be More Indian: On the theatre of Habib Tanvir1‖ Research was conducted in conjunction with a production that integrated techniques from both approaches to theatre: Shakuntala: An Indian Fairytale, Reed College Mainstage Theatre, December 1-3rd 2011. Chapter One examines the origins and aesthetics of Sanskrit drama, which influenced the classical storytelling dance form of Kathak. Chapter Two discusses the principles and practices of Epic theatre. Sanskrit drama and Epic theatre are then discussed through the lens of the categories of presentation, content and structure outlined by Dalmia-Lüderitz. Chapter Three examines the work of Habib Tanvir, whose encounter with Epic theatre inspired the return to his artistic roots in Sanskrit drama. Chapter Four discusses my process in directing the production in light of my research on Sanskrit drama, Epic theatre and the directorial processes of Brecht and Tanvir.
In the article To Be More Brechtian is to be More Indian: On the Theatre of Habib Tanvir by Vasudha Dalmia-Lüderitz in Fischer-
Lichte , Erika, and Michael Gissenwehrer. The Dramatic Touch of Difference: Theatre, Own and Foreign. Tübingen: G. Narr, 1990. Print.
For Appa, Amma, Ditcha and Yameeni
―No truly worthwhile theatre, that is, no socially meaningful and artistically interesting theatre, is possible unless one works within one's own cultural traditions and context.‖ — Habib Tanvir
When I first thought a year ago about my senior thesis, I decided I wanted to bring something of my cultural context eight thousand miles away from India to Reed. In search of some semblance of roots, I turned first to language. Being the child of a Tamil family in a cosmopolitan city educated in an English medium school that taught Hindi and Sanskrit, in the middle of a Kannada speaking state, it was not easy to find something I could call my own. I had not studied theatre academically before I came to college, as there are very few avenues that allow a student in India to do so. Therefore, I thought I knew only as much about Indian theatre as I had studied about at Reed, in theatre history and intercultural theatre class: classical Sanskrit text-based drama and the dramaturgical treatise, the Natyashastra. Significantly less informed in the contemporary Indian theatre scene, I‘ve grown up believing what most people in post-colonial India believe about the distinctions among theatre, classical dance and folk performance. Text-based Western realism, performed in the quiet orderly darkness of the proscenium is ―theatre,‖ while all forms of traditional Indian theatre, many of which have their roots2 in the codified physical vocabulary and staging conventions set forth in the Natyashastra, including virtuosic classical dance, such as Bharatantyam and Kathak, and improvisational oral-narrative-based folk forms, such as Yakshagana and Kathakali, are relegated to less cerebral dance halls and outdoor performances. Even though I had previously known that in Sanskrit the words for dance and drama are both the same word (natya), it was not an intuitive leap that Kathak, the north-Indian classical dance that I have practiced for almost a decade, could be dignified by the name of theatre.
It is not inaccurate to say that western realism is to Aristotelian theatre what classical dance and folk performance forms
are to classical Sanskrit drama.
2 Reed, therefore, opened my eyes to expand the definition of theatre from the narrow confines of text-based Aristotelian theatre to the diversity of movement and storytelling forms around the world. To my surprise I found that a group of Indian playwright-directors, including Habib Tanvir, had made the same discovery almost forty years ago. They rejected the hegemony of text-based western realism and began to incorporate local dance-drama traditions in a move to reinvent oral traditions in a new text base. This text base consisted of both transcriptions of oral improvisational drama and original literature written to be presented as improvisational performance. Curiously, their championing of traditional forms coincided with an interest in the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, who himself was interested in traditional Asian forms of theatre as an alternative to Aristotelian theatre. Having encountered the indomitable Brecht in nearly every theatre syllabus at Reed, from acting, directing and playwriting to theatre history and intercultural theatre classes, I was more than a little interested in investigating his work. All of these ideas came together when my adviser Kathleen Worley pointed me to the providentially titled article, ―To Be More Brechtian is to Be More Indian: On the Theatre of Habib Tanvir,‖ which explored the similarities between the form, content and theatrical techniques of Brecht‘s Epic theatre and that of Sanskrit drama framed in the context of Habib Tanvir‘s theatrical explorations. The author of this article, Vasudha Dalmia-Lüderitz, indentifies the characteristics that are common to epic theatre and Sanskrit (―traditional‖ or ―folk‖) drama: The absence of illusion, the use of ‗distancing devices‘ such as masks, the social typification of character and the frequent disregard for psychological interpretation and finally, the episodic narrative structure, held together by a narrator, are all categories large enough to be amenable to comparison, if not total identification with the most diverse forms of theatre variously classified as ‗traditional‘ or ‗folk.‘ We find then [Brecht‘s] ‗epic‘ theory being linked with these ‗traditional‘ and ‗folk‘ forms, which in their turn have repeatedly been proclaimed to have been encompassed by the classical Sanskrit aesthetic theory, organized around the concept of rasa. (Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 221)
3 Despite the enumerated similarities in presentation, content and structure, Epic theatre and Sanskrit drama have different ideas about the ideal audience reception and the purpose of the theatre in society. According to the sage Bharata, good audience response involves people singing along and throwing roses at the actors' feet, but the most successful plays are those met with a divine sort of silence. In Brecht's view, a good audience, far from being peaceful, charges out of the theatre and changes society. I was interested in directing a play incorporating techniques from both approaches to theatre, for the proper synthesis of which I undertook some academic study of Sanskrit drama and research on how Brecht worked with actors physically to create performance. I staged selected scenes from a Sanskrit play, drawing on the absence of illusion, the distancing techniques, the episodic narrative and the disregard for psychological interpretation in favour of the social typification of character present in both Epic and Sanskrit drama. I chose the Sanskrit golden age poet Kalidasa‘s play The Recognition of Shakuntala as much because Shakuntala‘s story is familiar from my childhood, as because of the opportunity it presented to explore both approaches to theatre. What then is the result of directing a play using comparable approaches from differing ideologies? In other words, where does my conception of the objective of the theatrical experience stand in relation to Brecht‘s and Bharata‘s? Habib Tanvir, Bertolt Brecht and I form a strange trio of directors working within western and eastern frameworks of theatre. Brecht escaped Aristotelian theatre through Epic theatre, finding support for his work in forms in which the knowledge of performance techniques are carried in the body, such as American vaudeville and the stylized techniques of Asian forms. Tanvir trained in western realism both in India and in the UK before he returned to his regional Chhattisgarhi roots. I study Brecht academically while carrying in my body the knowledge of Sanskrit performance techniques. I come from my roots in Kathak to an academic study of the rejection of western realism and a validation of those traditional forms. I approach my traditional roots with the awareness of Tanvir‘s return to the familiar and Brecht‘s turn to the foreign.
4 In the following chapters I will introduce the reader to the origins and aesthetics of Sanskrit drama and Epic theatre before discussing the specific conventions that lend themselves to the categories of comparison, namely presentation, content and structure, outlined by Dalmia-Lüderitz. I shall then explore the similarities and differences in Habib Tanvir‘s and my own engagement with Sanskrit drama and Epic theatre in the unique circumstances that gave rise to our work.
Chapter One: Sanskrit Drama
―At once accessible to all and impervious but to the few, the [Sanskrit] theatre was the image of civilization itself‖— J.A.B. van Buitenen3
A Brief History
Sanskrit drama has a long tradition, though most scholars agree that it could not have begun until after 200 B.C.E. Our most valuable source of information is the Natyashastra, dating to the second century C.E. and attributed to the sage Bharata, though it was probably the cumulative work of many scholars. The Natyashastra tells us in great detail about the divine origins of natya and of the Natyaveda (the knowledge of natya), which was committed to text in the Natyashastra. Unlike Aristotle‘s dramaturgical treatise, the Poetics, which discussed already established conventions of Greek tragedy, the Natyashastra claims to predate the first theatrical performance on earth. The Natyaveda, it claims, existed in the mind of the god Brahma before the very first performance. Though natya was created for the gods, it was shared with the human realm as the fifth Veda. The Vedas are a body of texts dating from 1500 to 400 BCE during the Vedic civilization of the late Bronze and early Iron age, containing hymns, knowledge and incantations originating, scripture tells us, not from human agency. Further, in contradistinction to other ancient Sanskritic texts, the Vedas are said to have been received into the human experience directly, a body of work that was heard, rather than remembered. During the Vedic civilization the verses of the Vedas were passed down with astonishing accuracy for hundreds of years, using mnemonic techniques, before being committed to text well after the 150 BCE terminus ante quem for Vedic Sanskrit literature. While the knowledge of the Vedas was, and is still, in many parts of rural India, restricted to the Brahmin or priestly class, Brahma, we are told, gave Bharata the Natyaveda for all classes of people including the
Van Buitenen, J. A. B. Two Plays of Ancient India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.3
6 lowest rungs of society. Like Shakespeare‘s verse, Sanskrit literary drama was written for all classes of society, from bawdy humour for the illiterate masses to philosophy for the educated elite. [Sanskrit drama] straddles several language barriers in northern India with an ease which seems to deny that they were barriers, and yet became the most lofty expression of a typically Sanskritic culture. It provided a spectacle for all classes of the population, yet at the same time it was mainly directed to the most highly educated among the audience. It drew on epical and folk lore which was the common heritage of all, yet presented the well-known stories with a subtlety that could be savoured only by the connoisseur (Van Buitenen, 3). The Natyashastra tells us ―that theatre began when the god Brahma taught the dramatic arts to the priest Bharata and his 100 sons. Brahma provided nymphs to do the dancing and had the heavenly architect Vishvakarma build a theatre‖ (Brockett, 607). Brockett notes that ―this tells us much about the importance of theatre in the culture and its recognition of the value of female participation, but it also illustrates the difficulty of dating events as Indian culture seems indifferent to chronology and record keeping‖(Brockett, 607). This indifference to chronology stems from the cultural belief that time is cyclical. The Sanskrit world view of the cyclical nature of the universe throws light on the curious indifference in Sanskrit drama to the Aristotelian unities of action, time and place. Actions occur, but pinpointing the exact time and place is irrelevant considering that everything humans encounter happens in a universe which is going to repeat itself cyclically; in essence, every action is happening everywhere all the time. The theatre is well placed to explore these actions; the traditional Sanskrit playhouse is built to represent the universe, including the three regions of heaven, earth and hell. The Natyashastra tells us that the demons attempted to destroy all natya because the very first theatre performance depicted their destruction at the hands of the gods. ―Then by their black magic (maya) [the demons] managed to freeze speeches, movements and even the memory of the performers‖(Rangacharya, 4). The king of the gods, Indra, then goes into dhyana (mediation) and realizes that natya is being destroyed by the maya (black magic) of the demons. The story calls attention to the power of the theatre and throws light on the belief that the Sanskrit stage is
7 protected by the gods from the machinations of the demons. However, natya could not be safe until Brahma had a little chat with the demons, addressing their concerns that natya was created for the glorification of the gods and for the humiliation of the demons. Brahma pacifies them saying that he created the Natyaveda to show good and bad feelings of both the gods and the demons and manages to convince them to get on board with the idea. The dhyana of the gods is also translated as concentration or attention and maya of the demons as illusion. A theatre performance, this story seems to suggest, cannot be successful, therefore, if there is a battle between the attention and illusion. This is the origin of the practice of performing a sacrifice on stage to pacify both the gods and the demons in preparation of a successful performance. Blood sacrifice has been replaced over the centuries with rituals and incantations to symbolize sacrifice, and to this day, no indigenous Indian theatre performance begins without worshiping the stage and the gods, and pacifying the demons to allow the play to proceed without obstacles. Barbara Miller notes that In addition to its ritual function [the preliminaries] gave some of the performers a chance to move around on the stage, to stretch their limbs and vocal chords before what was undoubtedly the ordeal of a performance. Meanwhile the audience filtered in and was drawn into the mood of the play to be performed by the songs, dance and verbal dialog of the preliminary entertainment (Miller, 46).
The Natyashastra presents a refreshingly positive view of usefulness of theatre in the world. The speech that Brahma gives to the dissenting demons begins by extolling the universality of actions and emotions represented in the theatre, with something to offer to everybody. With the shrewdness of a street hawker selling cure-all magic potion, Brahma markets natya‘s virtues and the necessity of its being a part of every individual‘s life not only for pleasure and education but also for the soul, topping all that off with the phlegmatic assertion that after all nothing exists in the world that is not already present in the natya. I have created the Natyaveda to show good and bad actions and feelings of both gods and yourselves. It is the representation of the ways of the entire three worlds and not
8 only of the gods or of yourselves. Now Dharma, now Artha, now Kama, humour or fights, greed or killing; right for the people going wrong; enjoyment for those who are pleasureseekers; restraint of the ill-behaved or tolerance of the well-behaved; money for those who want to make a living and stability to disturbed minds; Natya is the representation (anukarana) of the ways of the world involving those various emotions and differing circumstances. It gives you peace, entertainment and happiness, as well as beneficent advice based on the actions of high, low and middle people. It brings rest and peace to persons afflicted by sorrow, fatigue or grief or helplessness. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, no action that is not found in Natya (As usual in such contexts, the same ideas are repeated in different words in another half-a-dozen verses)(Rangacharya, 5). But before we move on to Epic theatre, I‘d like to put Kathak dance into context in relation to its connection with Sanskrit drama.
―Katha kahe so Kathak‖ – Anonymous
Sanskrit drama influenced all succeeding Indian classical dance and folk performance in its physical vocabulary, its aesthetics, as well as in the ultimate goal of storytelling. Kathak is one such classical dance form. The word Kathak comes from the Sanskrit word katha, or story, kathaka meaning ―one who tells stories.‖ A common saying passed down from teacher to student, even today, is ―katha kahe so Kathak,‖ translated as ―he who tells stories is a kathaka‖ or ―that which tells stories is Kathak.‖ Kathak places an emphasis on the storytelling aspect of Sanskrit drama in which every Kathak dancer takes on the role of the Sutradhaar. The Sutradhaar or ―holder of the strings‖ (a throwback to, as well as a metaphor for, the puppet master directing the course of the story and the way it is presented to the audience.) The Sutradhaar in Sanskrit drama presents the story of the play to the audience, playing the role of both mediator and on-stage director; he comments on and explicates action and serves as a visible and vocal stage manager of sorts. In Kathak, historically a solo performance tradition, every individual dancer is a Sutradhaar. Kathak has its origins in the wandering bards of northern India who travelled from village square to temple courtyard performing stories of religious and moral significance accompanied with music and expressive gestures of the face and
9 hands to indicate tangible details like character and action, and abstract concepts such as mood, season and time of day. In the 14th and 15th centuries, during the Bhakti (―devotion‖) movement and the fervent worship of the divine couple Krishna and Radha, Kathak moved away from the elite Brahmanical temples to the folk forms of the countryside, developing mnemonic syllables, or bol, to tie movement to music. During the 16th century Mughal era, kathakas were drawn in increasing numbers from the temple to the riches of the royal court and Kathak soon acquired its modern form. In addition to becoming a fast-paced virtuosic dance, it dropped the demi-plié stance in favour of upright carriage and the tight pirouettes (chakkars) of whirling dervishes. It acquired a more improvisational flavour with an emphasis on percussive footwork and on presentation and entertainment rather than on inner spirituality and themes of religious and moral significance. Most importantly, there was a move to a more naturalistic approach to physical expression, favouring mime to soften the rigidity of stylized mudras, or hand gestures, in order to render the story being told accessible to the uninitiated audience of the court. During the British Raj, Kathak and other forms of temple dance became increasingly identified with the nautch, or dancing girls synonymous with prostitutes. Female Kathak dancers, or tawaifs, were regarded by Victorians as no better than courtesans with the intent to seduce and lead the empire astray. With decreasing patronage the dancers indeed became prostitutes and for several decades the Indian dance movement was kept alive by female dancers underground and outside polite society. In the early twentieth century there was a surge of nationalism and the desire to reimage dance as a classical tradition and common cultural heritage for the newly independent India. This reimaging of courtesan dance into classical dance was an effort undertaken by Brahmin women such as Rukmini Devi who worked to bring dance out from the shadow of nautch and into mainstream society. It was further championed by respectable male dancers and legitimized by dance‘s connection to the Natyashastra. Most respectable middle class families in India today, my own family being no exception, encourage their children to study music and learn classical dance forms to be in touch with tradition,
10 just as children here are encouraged to learn the piano or ballet as indisputable products of their classical culture. As students of Kathak, we never actually read the Natyashastra, but took it from our gurus that the rules of dance as it is today came from the ancient Brahmanical tradition that produced the Natyashastra Kathak dancers, we were expected to know every single and double-handed mudra as a matter of course, while chanting the Sanskrit names of the mudras in verse designed to enable easy recollection of the various forms. This pedagogy, in the unique teacher–student tradition, or gurushishya parampara, of never doubting the spoken knowledge of the teacher (that no doubt preserved many an oral text), has been in play through the centuries. Though we heard about tawaifs in popular stories of courtesans with golden hearts, such as Umrao Jaan and Devdas, we skirted the courtesan issue in class in favour of Kathak‘s respectable Brahmanical origins. Ironically, the Kathak we learnt was mostly presentational, virtuosic and technical (nritya, or abstract dance), with very little storytelling of the Brahmanical traditions and little use of abhinaya, or gestural and facial mimetic expression. Storytelling pieces depict sections of the great Hindu epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, Krishna-Radha episodes from the Bhakti tradition, poetry from Mughal and Sufi traditions and popular secular stories that have also been adapted into famous Sanskrit plays. The story of Shakuntala is the perfect example of a secular romance that is part of the dance-drama canon, as well as a Sanskrit play. Story-telling pieces were reserved for only the most advanced students who performed in public, as the choreography and accompanying music of a particular school of Kathak is an energetically guarded trade secret. I was able to gain entry into this secret when I spent the summer of 2011, supported by Reed College‘s David Adler Theatre Fund, training to perform. The dance form has certainly evolved, the rift between Sanskrit drama and associated classical dance forms has widened, and I now face trying to reconcile Kathak as the same form that was mentioned in the Natyashastra with what I learned as a student. However, though it is far removed, its association is not unrecognizable and in fact quite the contrary. The substance of Sanskrit drama (the sweeping portrait of different classes of people, of love and death) remains as relevant today in India as Shakespeare is to the western world;
11 modern Kathak owes as much to classical Sanskrit drama of the early common era as do Bollywood conventions today. Kalidasa and Of the Recognition of Shakuntala
―In literature drama is best, and in drama, Shakuntala‖ —Arthur W. Ryder4
Shakuntala‘s story has been a part of Indian mythology from its roots in ancient oral tradition and dance-drama performance, first appearing in written form as an episode in the epic Mahabharata, then as a full length Sanskrit play in the 5th century; it has been adapted many times in India and abroad, into an opera and into several European languages. Recently, it has been adapted into a never-ending Hindi soap opera and continues to be immediately recognizable by Indian audiences today. Briefly, it is the love story of the hermit maiden Shakuntala and the valiant King Dushyanta. King Dushyanta is hunting in the forest and decides to stay and protect the forest hermitage from rampaging demons. He meets Shakuntala, daughter of the hermit father and is entranced her beauty. After a brief dalliance and declarations of love, the King answers the call of duty and returns to the city. The pain of her separation causes Shakuntala to disregard her duties in welcoming a sage to the hermitage. The Sage Durvasa, known for his quick temper curses her to be forgotten by the King. After, her friends plead on her behalf he relents and makes a provision that the curse would be broken when King saw the ring he gave Shakuntala as a marriage token. The ring is however lost in the river on her journey to the city and the King fails to recognize a beautiful and very pregnant Shakuntala. After he apparently publically humiliates her, Shakuntala calls on her divine mother to whisk her off to heaven. A fisherman recovers the ring in the belly of a fish and the King‘s memory is restored. After the King does seven years of penance including wallowing in despair and battling the demons for the gods, he is reunited with Shakuntala and their son.
Kalidasa and Arthur W. Ryder. Shakuntala and Other Writings. New York: Dutton, 1959. Print.
12 Kalidasa, also known anachronistically as the Shakespeare of India, was a poet on the golden age of Sanskrit drama. His fifth century play Abhignanashakuntalam (Of the Recognition of Shakuntala) is the most famous literary adaptation of the story. Abhignanashakuntalam is identified according to the precepts of the Natyashastra as a nataka dance-drama. ―The nataka celebrates a reality of the highest type, the ideal hierarchy that is dharma; its characters are drawn from a rather restricted circle of epic heroes and heroines‖ (Miller, 43). The characters are ―not so much stylizations of familiar individuals as they are personifications of role types embedded in Indian culture. Drama is a celebration of hierarchy, not in the sense that the powerful always triumph but rather that in a well-ordered universe identities are in some sense given and not acquired, and that relations are reasonable and not arbitrary‖(Miller, 43). It is a twenty character strong, seven act play, written in different dialects and filled with side plots, contemporary social commentary and rich allusion to other classical legends. According to the precepts of the Natyashastra, which predates it, the play is dramaturgically perfect; and according to Goethe, who immortalized it in his verse, it is a play that encompasses the beauty of heaven and earth5. Kalidasa‘s version of Shakuntala, in keeping with the prejudice in favour of textbased theatre over performance-based theatre, continues to be used to give legitimacy to the dancedrama versions of the story. And in keeping with the prejudice in favour of classical ―national‖ Sanskrit drama over folk dance forms, the Natyashastra continues to shed a glow of Brahmanical respectability over the courtesan entertainment of Kathak. Very little is known of the poet Kalidasa‘s life, though Ryder notes facetiously that he must be a great poet because ―the world has not been able to leave him alone‖ (Ryder, 2). Kalidasa‘s name points to a well-known story of an original Kalidasa, who was born to a Brahmin but was abandoned and adopted by an ox-driver. The princess of the kingdom who seeks a husband rejects all her suitors
Wouldst thou the young year's blossoms and the fruits of its decline,
And all by which the soul is charmed, enraptured, feasted, fed? Wouldst thou the earth and heaven itself in one sole name combine? I name thee, O Shakuntala, and all at once is said.
13 on grounds of their weak intelligence. One of her suitors decides to take revenge on her by deceiving and humiliating her. He dresses an ox-driver from the street in the garb of a scholar and provides him with a learned retinue, on the condition that he stays silent at all costs. In a series of hilarious apocryphal questions posed by the princess and answered by his retinue, Kalidasa convinces the princess that he is the most intelligent man in the kingdom simply by staying silent. At the wedding, the princess learns of the deception but forgives Kalidasa and asks him to pray for learning from the goddess Kali. His prayers are miraculously answered and he names himself Kalidasa, or servant of Kali. Kalidasa then rejects the marriage to the princess on grounds that she is his superior and his teacher and he would never disrespect her by being intimate. Furious, the princess curses him to die at the hands of a woman. Many years later the curse is fulfilled when a woman Kalidasa loves murders him to collect the monetary reward for his poetry for herself. To an Indian audience familiar with the concept of karma, this story would make perfect sense. The princess is disappointed in marriage in payment for her arrogance in dismissing suitors, and Kalidasa pays for rejecting the princess even though she forgave him for his deception. In the story of Shakuntala, as it occurs in Indian mythology, the gods conduct this give and take of punishment and reward to keep karmic balance in the universe. An Indian fairytale in accordance with Hindu philosophy is one in which fortune favours people who fulfil their duty or dharma and misfortune befalls people who do not fulfil their dharma, and it will continue to plague them until they do fulfil it, whether in this life or the next. Misfortune befalls good people who have sinned in a past life or have to pay for the sins of a parent. In the Shakuntala story the gods send the nymph Menaka to break the curse of Kaushika so that he may not attain powers matching those of the gods, which would throw the balance of the universe into chaos. Shakuntala, born of Menaka, must pay for getting in the way of Kaushika's dharma. Her curse is to be forgotten by the king who must in turn pay for unjustly rejecting her. In this way the gods, who keep everybody in their places so that everybody can eventually be happy, balance everything. The King pays by suffering guilt for
14 seven years and fighting on behalf of the gods, and Shakuntala is blessed with a child to rule the world in compensation for her grief at being rejected. Given the above introduction to Sanskrit drama, Kathak and Shakuntala, we can examine Vasudha Dalmia–Lüderitz‘s article comparing the three aspects of Sanskrit drama, that parallel those of Epic theatre, namely presentation (―the absence of illusion and the use of ‗distancing devices‘ such as masks‖), content (―the social typification of character and the frequent disregard for psychological interpretation‖) and structure (―the episodic narrative structure, held together by a narrator‖). I shall conclude with a discussion of Sanskrit drama aesthetic theory and desired audience response to anticipate its comparison with Epic theatre. Presentation: abhinaya, mudra and mime Sanskrit drama, including Kathak, is performed today just as it has been for centuries, in temples, in dance halls and in the open air on makeshift stages. The set is sometimes elaborately decorated, to be aesthetically pleasing and symbolically auspicious, neither representing an illusionistic world nor claiming that to be an aim of the theatre. In fact, the audience is reminded throughout that it is watching an artificial word through distancing devices, such as elaborate costumes, masks and non-realistic props. There is no pretence that the actor is the character she is portraying; it is believed that the actor bears the role of the character and presents it to the audience, just as she may wear a costume or a mask. In folk drama, costume pieces serve to highlight social status and character type; in Kathak, this is achieved through the use of physical vocabulary. The vocabulary of gesture situates characters in relation to each other, the space and to society. Kathak, like other dance and drama traditions born from the precepts of the Natyashastra, makes use of two different kinds of physical expression to convey meaning, stylized gesture or natyadharmi abhinaya and naturalistic mime or lokadharmi abhinaya. The classical vocabulary of gestures was employed to convey images, ideas, and narrative sequences from verses- information external to the character himself. In this way
15 the gesture language could function as a kind of sign language. […The] actor first recites the verse in a kind of slow chant. Then he repeats the verse in gestures, explicating every verbal element with visual precision- to the great delight of connoisseurs (Miller 75). Mudras form the alphabet of natyadharmi abhinaya and when used in conjunction with movement of the body in parts or as a whole, convey everything from physical objects like windows, watermelons and weapons, atmospheric and seasonal aspects like daytime, the moon or rain, character types such as the spurned woman, or the woman waiting for her lover, action verbs like to kill or to speak, and feelings and states of mind and body, such as sadness, being noble or pregnant. The gestures are given meaning depending on the ensemble of the body and its movement and the relationship between actors. For example, the same mudra can represent a flag and the act of vomiting, depending on how it is used. Abhinaya is used in conjunction with verse set to music and rhythm, the body of the dancer explicating, embellishing and adding meaning to the words. Repeated verses are physically interpreted in a multitude of different ways to convey the same narrative, to the delight of dance connoisseurs. Different mudras can be used in different relationships to each other to express a greater range of narrative information; more or less living up to the claim that all that is in the world can be expressed through natya. Content The stories of Sanskrit drama, Shakuntala included, display social typification of character which leads to the disregard for psychological interpretation. Social typification comes out of the ancient tradition of improvisation, in which actors improvise dialogue and action within the confines of social status situated in a specific mythology. Even today, in some forms of folk drama, actors perform after having met their co-actors just moments before the show, relying entirely on archetype and mythology to generate dialogue. While abhinaya and social typification of character was useful in ancient performance when characters spoke a language or dialect foreign to the spectator, in modern performance, it is especially useful because the language of the verse is usually lost upon the audience. However, characters from mythology, including a register of individual gods and demons,
16 and archetypes from Sanskrit drama, such as hero, heroine, villain and clown, are recognizable enough even to audiences today that the narrative can be gleaned from context and physical cues without relying on the text of the song. Moreover, in several dance-drama pieces, recognizable mythological narratives, such as the exploits of the god Krishna, are danced to generic praise of god lyrics devoid of actual narrative; in which case the storytelling is told purely physically. Through typification of character, sages therefore are wise and often temperamental, heroines are ―goddesslike, but sexually and emotionally vulnerable‖ (Miller, 27), good kings are noble, fools are ugly, gods are jealous etc, without the need to sufficiently explain any psychological motivation for their actions. An example of this is the extravagant anger of Sage Durvasa in cursing Shakuntala, when she is lost in thought of her lover and fails to properly greet him. The Sanskrit non-realistic bias in presentation and content has influenced Bollywood and has become so internalized that it‘s easy to see that the acting in western films in general is more realistic than the acting in Indian films. That is to say, characters in Indian films fill the archetypes of hero, heroine, villain, vamp, bereaved mother, father figure, using well established physicalizations (mother feeding grown-up son, love struck woman lowering her eyes, etc, all of which come directly out of dance-drama) rather than with interiority and individual psychology. These physicalizations of characters in relation to each other are recognizable as examples of Brecht‘s Gestus, as we shall discuss in the next chapter. Structure Sanskrit drama is characterized by episodic narrative structure, held together by a narrator. This is born out of the improvisational tradition in which scenes from well-known stories are performed episodically. Much of Indian performance relies on improvisation within an established structure, whether that structure is restricted to one melodic scale or raga, or to character types within one mythological epic. In classical dance this could be in the physical interpretation of music and verse, and in folk drama the improvisation of dialogue, poetry and non-verbal narrative within a
17 scene. To help keep the audience abreast of the action, a narrator figure who can intervene and influence the direction of the production at any time whether it be the Sutradhaar of a folk performance or the M.C. of a classical dance performance, informs the audience of the specific context of the play. Sanskrit drama also makes use of metatheatrics, extreme shifts in the pacing of different acts. In Kalidasa‘s Shakuntala, actors appear in the roles of director and actor in a prologue addressing the audience about a new play written by himself. Scenes in the play happen over the course of an afternoon, in a day, or over six months. All of these devices draw attention to the fact that the play is art and not reality and must be observed as a connoisseur would, by being immersed and engaged without being lost in it.
The role of the audience as interpreter, connoisseur and consumer of culture necessitates active feedback to the performers. In both classical Sanskrit drama and performance traditions that followed, Kathak included, the audience is expected to express its appreciation and enjoyment at moments when the performer is especially clever, inspired or when they are moved by her performance. The Natyashastra mentions that one way an audience expresses its admiration is by throwing flowers at the feet of actors, but a tradition that continues today is the vocal appreciation of a performance, either in hushed tones of awe or loud enough for the performer to hear. The actual vocalization varies across different linguistic regions of India, but at a Hindustani (north-Indian classical music associated with Kathak) concert one is most likely to hear ―aha,‖ ―vah, vah!‖ The Natyashastra informs us that Sanskrit drama is arranged around the central concept of rasa, variously translated as state of mind, taste, flavour or essence. The Natyashastra states: ―nothing has meaning in drama except through rasa‖(Brockett, 607). Rasa is produced through the aestheticized emotion of the gestures, movement, costume and dialogue for the audience to relish. There are eight rasas, (erotic, comic, pathetic, furious, heroic, terrible, odious and marvellous)
18 enumerated in the Natyashastra and later additions include three more (peace, parental love, spiritual devotion). The rasas are related to eight basic human emotions, which can be portrayed on the stage (pleasure, mirth, sorrow, wrath, vigour, fear, disgust, wonder) to make possible the realization of the appropriate rasa. There are also thirty-three transitory emotional states and eight types of character temperament. Basically, the Natyashastra is concerned with how emotional states (the bhavas) are to be presented on stage through words, actions, costume, and makeup in the manner required to induce the appropriate rasa. Although a play may include elements related to more than one bhava and rasa, one rasa must dominate, for the final aim is to induce a sense of harmony and composure. For that reason, all plays end happily. Death and violence do not occur on stage, and right and wrong are clearly differentiated. During a play, joy and sorrow may be mingled, but at the conclusion all must be resolved into harmony with good triumphant over evil (Brockett, 607).
Sanskrit plays therefore, unlike Aristotelian tragedies, always end with good triumphing over evil. Not only is this a product of the aesthetics of natya, but also it fits in with the optimistic Sanskrit worldview that evil and good work in cycles. If evil seems to have the upper hand, it‘s only a matter of time before order is restored, as it always is. Sanskrit drama has been so influential in Indian culture that we can see clear expressions of its aesthetic in all kinds of performance, from classical dance, such as Kathak, to Indian film industries, such as Bollywood. The point of interest, then and now, is not whether good triumphs over evil but rather in how, despite obstacles, intrigue and intricacies of plot, the story manages to conclude in the desired fashion. When the story concludes in harmony, there is a resolution of sentiments sufficiently general to abolish the mundane distinctions between audience, actor and author. Thus, the formal and the purposive aspects of dramatic theory are inextricably linked. Emotional reintegration is seen both as a ―goal‖ and as the ultimate criterion of selection for the elements, determining which and in what order language, character, and theatrical effects are employed (Miller, 43). The abolition of distinctions between audience, actor and author is the ultimate aim of Sanskrit drama, calling for a kind of audience engagement that is very different from the one
19 presented by Brecht as the aim of Epic theatre. As the rasa-bhava theory implies, the audience is invited to feel and impelled to enter certain states of mind by corresponding on stage representations. In an ideal theatre, specific bhavas necessitate corresponding rasas, removing the distinctions between the pretence and maya of the stage and the receptory dhyana of the audience. Rasa is the ultimate aim of Sanskrit theatre; education, social justice, politics and entertainment are only secondary concerns. The success of a Sanskrit play is not predicated on the character‘s psychological development or the clever plot, though Kalidasa‘s play has both, but in delivering the intended experience of rasa. The connoisseur not only appreciates the smallest details of the emotional states that are presented in each gesture, line, or verse but also becomes aware of his own emotional pleasure. Van Buitenen writes that ―when the spectator begins to be more and more aware of [his pleasure] he has the rasa, he has the mood‖ (Buitenen, 24). This, as we shall see in the next chapter, may appear to be in complete opposition to Brecht‘s ideal audience engagement. While dialectics of the theatre are explored in Sanskrit drama, it is in the integration of emotion and intellect, actor and audience that characterizes a successful performance.
Chapter Two: Epic Theatre
―Brecht was mainly concerned with the play as the telling of a story to an audience, clearly, beautifully, entertainingly.6‖ — Carl Weber
Bertolt Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956)
Born Eugene Berthold Friedrich, Brecht was an influential German playwright, director and poet who lived and worked in the first half of the 20th century. Erwin Piscator, German Expressionism, Beijing Opera, Marxism, Charlie Chaplin, American vaudeville and popular forms of entertainment are among the influences that shaped his ideas about theatre, which changed and developed as his career progressed. Brecht is known today for theorizing and practicing Epic theatre and developing the related mechanisms of Verfremdungseffekt, variously translated as ―alienation‖ or ―distancing‖ effect, and the stage vocabulary of Gestus, from the German for gesture. As an alternative to Aristotelian dramatic theatre, Epic theatre forwards the social mission of art as rhetorical instead of cathartic and the aesthetic effect to be cerebral instead of ethical. While his work is sometimes dismissed today as either Stalinist propaganda or else good theatre despite its unfortunate politics, Brecht has undoubtedly had a lasting influence on both Western and Eastern theatre. Brecht began his career in Germany, influenced by the theme-driven expressionism of the time that reacted against the plot based ―well-made‖ Aristotelian drama. His first play, Baal, was a cynical portrayal of the romantic excesses of its eponymous character that wanders from one degradation to the next ending in utter dissolution, in a world with no meaning. Brecht‘s attempt to ―balance emotion with reason and poetic instinct with scientific discipline‖ led to‖despair at the gap between the romantic sense of human possibilities and the brute reality of human actions‖ (Harrop
Weber, Carl. ―Brecht as Director.‖ Corrigan, Robert W. The Making of Theatre: From Drama to Performance. Glenview, Ill: Scott, Foresman, 1981. Print. 214
22 and Epstein, 271). Soon after, Brecht would find intellectual validation in the Marxist dialectic between the triumph of individuality and the mass producing mechanization inherent in modernity. In 1924, he read Karl Marx, whom he characterized as ―the only audience for his plays,‖ and met Karl Korsch, a Marxist theorist, and Erwin Piscator, a director, who were to have a profound influence on his politics and theatre. In 1927, Brecht became involved in Piscator's directors‘ collective based in the Piscator-Buhne in Nollendorfplatz, Berlin, where he worked closely with Piscator in laying the basis for what became known as Epic theatre. In 1928, Brecht became famous with the success of The Threepenny Opera. ―But rather than shocking bourgeois audiences, the play was a huge success. Theatre-goers loved its impudent songs, while Brecht‘s stinging critique of capitalism did not attract much attention‖(Windisch and Brandon, 2006). In response to this he developed a highly politicized didactic style of anti-bourgeois theatre, which he termed ―learning plays‖ or Lehrstücke that stem from Epic theatre ideas of adopting attitudes towards issues, characters and audience. In 1930, just a year after Piscator‘s only work The Political Theatre was published, Brecht published his own understanding of the theory and practice of Epic theatre. By this time Brecht was officially considered to be a communist and his books and plays were being banned in Germany. In 1933 he escaped the Nazi regime, which stripped him of his citizenship in 1935. Brecht spent fifteen years traveling and living in Denmark, Switzerland, France and the U.S. He wrote extensively in exile as he gained further validation of his theories. In the spring of 1935, in Moscow, Brecht watched performances by Mei Lanfang and was prompted to write his essay on the ―alienation‖ or ―distancing‖ effect in acting, Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting, comparing Chinese opera to Epic theatre. Brecht has had a complex relationship with Asian and other indigenous theatre traditions. When Brecht watched a Beijing Opera performance by Mei Lanfang in 1935, he was astounded by how apparently Epic Asian theatre forms were. In 1936, he wrote an essay ―to refer briefly to the use of the alienation effect in traditional Chinese acting‖ (Brecht, Willett, 91). All the comparisons and discoveries he made could have well been made in
23 relation to Sanskrit drama as well. Illustrative examples of the similar aesthetic can be seen in the following passage about costumes and gestural language: Characters are distinguished by particular masks, i.e. simply by painting. Certain gestures of the two hands signify the forcible opening of a door, etc. […] All this has long well been known, and cannot very well be exported (Brecht, Willett, 91). However, he was perfectly prepared to ―import‖ some of these techniques and to recognize correspondences between his Epic theatre and what he understood of Chinese theatre. In the US, he encountered the films of Charlie Chaplin. Brecht considered Chaplin a master of Brechtian acting in practice, particularly in the use of Gestus; Chaplin was so skilled that every emotion and action could be understood through physical action only without the need for dialogue. Brecht tried his hand at screenwriting in Hollywood but was blacklisted along with a large number of foreign and native writers, actors, producers and directors during the Red Scare. When his work came under anti-communist scrutiny by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947, he briefly testified before them as never having been a member of a communist party, allegedly smoking an acrid cigar and commenting wryly on the presence of translators, and promptly returned to Europe the day after his testimony. He returned to Berlin in 1949 when the new socialist state of the German Democratic Republic offered him his own theatre, known today as the Berliner Ensemble. He enjoyed a popular career producing and restaging his most famous plays, including Mother Courage and Her Children, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and Life of Galileo. In 1956, Brecht died at the age of 58 of coronary thrombosis, just a year before Habib Tanvir visited Germany on his tour of Europe. There are a couple of things that make it difficult to talk about Brecht and Brechtian theatre. First, he was prolific in writing about the theory behind his praxis. However, Brecht was not merely a theoretician who sometimes directed in order to exemplify his principles, but a director who constantly modified or reconstituted his theories on the basis of what he learned in practice (Rouse, 1984). His changing and developing theories through the course of his pre-exile, exile and post-exile
24 work produced volumes of differing and sometimes contradictory definitions of the mechanisms of his own theatre. I, therefore, am focusing on the writings throughout his career that inform the basic principles of his work, particularly with the Berliner Ensemble, recognizable today as the hallmarks of Epic theatre. Second, because of the very specific demands he makes on his audience in its interpretation and reception of Epic theatre, Brecht faces a divide in theory and practice, manifested in the divide between Brecht‘s ideal audience, the scientific spectator, and the reality of an audience more accustomed to dramatic theatre. The theory/practice divide, an unavoidable consequence of writing about theatre, will be recognized and reconciled to the best of my abilities when they arise. Marxism: Materialism, Historification and Dialectics
―Brecht was a Marxist, and proud of it. Here was no fly-by-night intellectual acting out a brief romance with the revolution before returning excused to the comfort of bourgeois patronage. […] This unshamefaced political allegiance has annoyed the critics no end.‖— Dave Riley7
Brecht was an unapologetic Marxist, as is evident in his work, from the anti-militarist, aggressively anti-bourgeois poetry of his youth to his mature post-exile plays. At the age of 21, he joined the Independent Social Democratic Party in the 1919 democratic elections of the fledgling Weimar Republic. While he never actually became a member of a communist party, that marked the beginning of his life-long association with communism. Brecht‘s encounter with Marxist philosophy made a profound impact on his work and world view Marxist materialism posits that matter precedes thought, that the world exists outside and independently of humans, that thought is a reflection of the material world in the brain and that the world is in principle knowable. Brecht therefore set psychology, sentiment and emotion as
Riley, Dave. ―Bertolt Brecht: the man who never was.‖ A review of The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht by John Fuegi, Green
Left Weekly #177, 1995
25 antithetical to what he wanted to achieve in the theatre. Characters in his plays are less psychological explorations and more the products of the their social and economic conditions; his plays depict social typification of character and the lack of psychological interpretation. Brecht, through Marxism, found a way out of the irrational, interior, psychological and emotional expressionism of the time towards a rational, material theatre. Marxism led him to believe that all internalities were but secondary responses to the quantifiable facts of human existence: labor, market and production. Therefore, the material and the socio-economic realities of human existence govern the outcome of human endeavors. History was not written by an unkind and unknowable fate; it was the outcome of human struggles, and the laws governing these were known. This scientific and rational explanation of life gave Brecht a strong foothold in the shifting sands of an aimless existence. He clung to this new-found belief and determinedly rejected psychological or emotional explanations for man‘s behavior— a principle that was to have a crucial effect on his theatre. (Harrop and Epstein, 200) Dialectical materialism further posits that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions and weaknesses that contribute to its systemic decay. Brecht believed therefore that the modern world of economic efficiency had given rise to modern problems that could not be adequately addressed for the modern ―scientific‖ spectator by dramatic theatre. Traditional theatre couldn‘t begin to address such everyday occurrences, as Brecht puts it eclectically, as ―housing shortage, export of pigs or speculation in coffee‖ (Brecht, Willett, 67). He was not interested in outdated human relationships or feudal preoccupations with the passions and tragedies of kings. He was tired of theatre that encouraged the audience to ―hang its brains up in the cloakroom along with its coat‖ (Brecht, Willett, 27) and that sought to delude the audience into a stupor of self-identification and emotional engagement that left little room for critical inquiry. Marxist dialectical structure, which provided the tools for critical inquiry, formed a crucial part of the aesthetics of Epic theatre: the dialectic between actor and character, actor and audience, the individual and the masses, the bourgeois and the proletariat, the
26 performance and the reality, the foreign and the familiar, the historical and the contemporary. Dialectics, in fighting against systemic decay, presented opposing arguments to the audience to force a reevaluation of the realities of existence. Brecht‘s theatre became an exploration of the realities of human existence in terms of empirical human relationships of power, justice, authority, individuality and socio-economic status, deeply relevant to contemporary politics and expressed through historicized narratives, often situated in foreign cultures. ‗Historicizing‘ is key to ‗Brechtian theatre.‘ Brecht by no means ‗historicized‘ only historic plays; he also ‗historicized‘ contemporary plays because contemporary plays, thanks to contemporary subject matter, thanks to its routine everyday nature, is particularly prone to escape its own historicity. It creates the impression of having always been as it is. (Wekworth, 37) Marxism stresses that man is a product of his history. Brecht believed that when art is removed from its historical context, man himself is removed from that context: ―He himself is dehistoricized,‖ becoming a ―faceless observer, for whom past happenings have always been and never will change, limiting his capacity to see the present in any way altered and therefore losing the capacity to think and act‖ (Wekworth, 37). His theatre therefore sought to situate man as a product of his social and historic conditions and in doing so rendering even the familiarity of contemporary conditions strange. Brecht wanted to repurpose the theatre so that it played a more direct role in influencing the shape of society by developing a historicizing scientific theatre that aroused critical inquiry in the spectator by rendering the familiar in a new light so the spectator might recognize that he was capable of enacting change. To that end he launched a polemic against the dominant western theatre paradigm that was in opposition to his idea of the modern theatre: illusionistic dramatic theatre based on the Aristotelian five act structure, three unities and emphasis on the illusion of theatre, passive empathetic reception and catharsis. In his 1930 essay The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre, Brecht
27 writes about the core aesthetics of Epic theatre, the refunctioning of theatre and the radical ―separation of elements‖ in opposition to Aristotelian theatre and Wagner‘s Gesamtkuntswerk, or total work of art, which considered Aeschylus‘ plays the most perfect expression of theatre, combining all six Aristotelian aspects of drama as explicated in his Poetics. The great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production […] can simply be bypassed by radically separating the elements. So long as the expression ‗Gesamtkunstwerk‘ (‗or integrated work of art‘) means that the integration is a muddle, so long as the arts are supposed to be ‗fused‘ together, the various elements will all be equally degraded, and each will act as a mere ‗feed‘ for the rest. The process of fusion extends to the spectator who gets thrown into the melting pot too and becomes a passive (suffering) part of the total work of art. Witchcraft of this sort must of course be fought against. Whatever is intended to produce hypnosis, is likely to induce sordid intoxication, or creates fog, has got to be given up. (Brecht, Willett, 38) He goes on in this essay to illustrate, through the use of an oppositional table, the dialectic of dramatic and epic theatre through the same radical separation of the elements that he proposes for the modern theatre.
28 Dramatic vs. Epic Theatre
Plot Implicates the spectator in a stage situation Wears down his capacity for action Provides him with sensations Experience The spectator is involved in something Suggestion Instinctive feelings are preserved The spectator is in the thick of it, shares the experience The human being is taken for granted He is unalterable Eyes on the finish One scene makes another Growth Linear development Evolutionary determinism Man as fixed point Thought determines being Feeling
Narrative Turns the spectator into an observer but Arouses his capacity for action Forces him to take decisions Picture of the world He is made to face something Argument Brought to the point of recognition The spectator stands outside, studies
The human being is the object of inquiry He is alterable and able to alter Eye on the course Each scene for itself Montage In curves Jumps Man as process Social being determines thought Reason
Epic theatre seeks to destroy the theatrical illusion, emphasizing diegesis (storytelling) in place of mimesis (imitation), so that the audience is always aware of watching a play, in order to engage more directly with the issues presented, rather than the emotions involved. Walter Benjamin, in the
29 following description of Epic theatre, touches upon the episodic structure, juxtaposition and montage needed to break audience empathy and create distanced acting. Epic theatre proceeds by fits and starts, in a manner comparable to the images on a film strip. (..)The songs, the captions, the gestural conventions differentiate the scenes. As a result, intervals occur which tend to destroy illusion. These intervals paralyze the audience‘s readiness for empathy. Their purpose is to enable the spectator to adopt a critical attitude (towards the represented behavior of the play‘s characters and towards the way in which this behavior is represented). So far as the manner of representation is concerned, the task of the actor in epic theatre is to show, by his acting, that he is keeping a cool head. To him, too, empathy is of little use. For this way of acting, the ‗actors‘ of dramatic theatre are not always and not completely prepared. By imagining what it means to ‗play at acting‘ we may come closest to understanding what epic theatre is all about. (Benjamin, 21)
Given Brecht‘s table and Benjamin‘s description, we can now examine Epic theatre through the lens of Dalmia-Lüderitz‘s categories, namely presentation (―the absence of illusion and the use of ‗distancing devices‘ such as masks‖), content (―the social typification of character and the frequent disregard for psychological interpretation‖) and structure (―the episodic narrative structure, held together by a narrator‖), concluding each section with a brief comparison to the corresponding categories in Sanskrit drama. Structure Epic theatre is foremost narrative, as opposed to plot-based. Unlike dramatic theatre whose objective is catharsis through the resolution of conflict, the objective of Epic theatre is the recognition of the alterability of established social structures through the unfolding of an interrupted narrative. Each scene exists independently, with eyes on the course, making use of montage to present an argument. As a playwright, Brecht ripped up the traditional five-act play, and wrote episodic narratives punctuated with frequent interruptions of narration, song and dance. This is very similar to the structure of Sanskrit drama, though it is done for a different reason. Sanskrit drama, including its many folk forms, is a celebration of all the art forms, music, dance and costuming coming together in
30 the service of a story; song and dance sequences were as necessary in classical Sanskrit drama as they are in Indian cinema now. Each scene, in both approaches to theatre, stands alone as an episode within a larger narrative, instead of fitting within the traditional structure of the dramatic plot (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). As opposed to dramatic theatre‘s focus on the plot and consequently the ending, Sanskrit drama and Epic theatre focus on the process, the way the story unfolds rather than the ending itself. The spectator is released from the emotional confines of awaiting the release of suspense and is allowed to critically examine the workings of the world. Further, in order to present the issues in the play more clearly, Brecht broke the fourth wall, directly addressing and implicating the spectator in the moral decisions of the narrative. Additionally, to remove audience attention from the suspense of the narrative, Brecht made use of scene titles and brief summaries to clarify action to the spectator so that he was free to engage in a social examination of the action rather than with emotional experience. Banners sometimes were hung to remind the spectator of his social role of critical engagement: ―Don‘t stare so romantically!‖ was recommended for productions of Drums in the Night The narrator figure and scene titles here can be compared to the Sutradhaar of Sanskrit drama, including his contemporary classical dance iterations, who clarify the plot as well as provided social commentary on the action. Content Brecht describes Epic theatre as presenting a picture of the world as opposed to an experience, in which the human being is a process rather than a fixed point, an object of inquiry and one who is altered and alterable, in contradistinction to an object taken for granted and one that is unalterable. Epic theatre creates such a world in the theatre through non-illusionistic presentation, as we shall see in the next section. Epic theatre puts social being before thought and posits reason as its objective. Therefore, as opposed to psychologically motivated characters seeking to produce ready empathy for an emotional experience, characters are products of their socio-economic status, or else defined by their relationships with other characters in the play. Hence lists of characters are less likely
31 to contain individual names (Ruth, Peter, etc.) and more likely to be designate roles in terms of function and relationship: the Officer, the Son, the Husband, the Woman, the Coolie, the Prostitute etc. This typification of character is shared with Sanskrit drama as we have seen in the previous chapter. Characters in both schools of theatre are presented to the audience without the illusion that the actor becomes the character. Presentation: Gestus and Verfremdungseffekt The Brechtian stage is generally spare, much like the Sanskrit stage, facilitating diegesis instead of mimesis. Further, all technical elements, such as lighting and stage machinery, as well as stage hands, are allowed to be visible. A set device ubiquitous to both Sanskrit drama and Epic theatre is the half curtain, used to mark divisions between scenes or to conceal and reveal action in such away as to draw attention to the mechanisms behind the illusion. This manner of presentation breaks the incomprehensible magic of seamless and secretly managed scene changes, draws attention to the material reality of producing a play and strengthens the Marxist notion that nothing happens without humans manipulating material conditions. In Epic theatre, character and action is being presented in such a way as to deter uncritical empathy; non-illusionistic production elements serve to highlight the fact at all times that the action on stage is not meant to be realistic, so that the audience may be critically distanced. It is important to note, and we shall discuss this in the audience response section, that despite Brecht‘s emphasis on critical and distanced engagement, he ―often complained that people no longer approached theatre naively‖ (Wekworth, 10). In order to hear naïve responses to aid in the directing process, Brecht often invited children to view rehearsals, to test if his blocking translated into an understanding of the story even if they didn‘t understand the full import of the scene. Brecht was interested less in character than in character interaction, remarking that the smallest unit of humanity is not one person but two. He would therefore storyboard the play into
32 beats of action from the perspective of a director. Successive frames of the storyboard would reveal the dynamic changes in character responses to one another. To Brecht, blocking was the backbone of the production; ideally, he thought, blocking should be able to tell the main story of the play—and its contradictions—by itself, so that a person watching through a glass wall, unable to hear what was being said, would be able to understand the main elements and conflicts of the story. (Weber, Corrigan, 214) To the end of creating clear physical characterizations of attitudes, social status and eliciting audience responses, Brecht insisted that each actor create a Gestus, a physical state of being that revealed both character and the actor‘s attitude toward that character at a given moment. Character Gestus is the total accumulation, the ―ensemble‖ of physical and vocal behaviour the actor displays when showing us ―character‖ on stage by way of his/her social interactions. It is the totality of the body and its movement and gestures, the face and its mimetic expressions, the voice and its sound and inflections, speech with its patterns and rhythms, costume, makeup, props, and whatever else the actor employs to achieve a complete image of the role he/she is presenting. It was important for Brecht that such Gestus was memorable for the audience and, consequently, quotable. Equally important was that Gestus defined social position, the character‘s status and function in society, and that it yielded an image of socially conditioned behaviour that, in turn, conditions the functioning of society. Not only individual characters take on a Gestus towards one another, a scene, indeed a whole production, can also have a Gestus by taking a stance towards the third and most important partner: the audience. For example, a Gestus of provocation. Of encouragement. Of appeal. Of confusion. Of mockery. Of reassurance or commiseration. Or indeed a Gestus of shaming (Wekworth, 72). In performance Gestus extends beyond a single character; the Gestus of all characters in the scene or Grundgestus contributes to the interpretive attitude of the entire stage picture. Practioners of Brecht‘s theatre have often made the mistake of equating Gestus with gesture. So pervasive has been the erroneous call to actors to ―make a bigger Gestus!‖ that Manfred Wekworth, who worked closely with Brecht at the Berliner Ensemble writes to correct the misconception. He clarifies that Gestus is more than gesture; it is in fact the ―language of theatre.‖
33 [Spoken]Language […] is not in fact the ‗language of theatre‘, at least not primarily. The spoken word is just one means, alongside gesture, facial expression, and movement, that the actor uses to make himself understood. The language of theatre, however—and this is Brecht‘s discovery— is the Gestus. The Gestus that the actor takes on as a ‗whole stance‘ in a particular situation determines everything else: tone, gesture, bodily posture, movement (Wekworth, 67). In Sanskrit drama, mudras, which are give meaning when used in conjunction with movement and character, take the place of Gestus to illustrate a narrative that is frequently, as we discussed in the previous chapter, understood by an audience not versed in the language. Wekworth illustrates the importance of Gestus in an anecdote about Ernst Busch, a leading actor at the Berliner Ensemble who had played the role of Galileo for many years. Busch lectured an audience of eminent physicists into believing, if only for one evening under his spell, that his rudimentary and downright incorrect theories on physics were true, so powerful was his Gestus in conveying the wisdom and conviction of seasoned teacher and passionate philosopher. It was only the next morning that the physicists realized that he had been talking nonsense. While successful Gestus, as seen in the example of Busch, can lead the audience into certain realms of unquestioning engagement, it is the interruption and juxtaposition of Gestus that facilitates the necessary break from empathy needed for critical distance. The juxtaposition of gestic images presented in a distanced style of acting breaks down the audience capacity for empathy, leading them instead to question the onstage actions, producing Brecht‘s Verfremdungseffekt. Brecht notes, ―The actor doesn‘t have to be the man he portrays. He has to describe his character just as it would be described in a book‖ (Brecht, Willet, 68). Brecht‘s key piece of theory addressing acting is the Street Scene essay, in which he discusses the actor‘s distanced attitude toward a role and diegetic attitude towards the audience. He explains Epic acting through the analogue of the street scene in which an eyewitness or demonstrator recounts for a spectator the details of an automobile accident, identifying the participant through gestic alterations in vocal and physical traits. The eyewitness is distanced from his subject yet draws in the audience to be engaged with the story
34 instead of being mystified by the illusion of the theatre or impressed with his skill as an actor. The spectator is aware that the eyewitness is not in fact the chauffer or the victim and is able to concentrate on the story being told rather than being distracted by the accuracy and magic of the portrayal. By showing off the hidden workings of the theatre and thereby breaking its illusion of reality, he sought to achieve a demystification of the theatrical magic. The demonstrator need not be an artist. The capacities he needs to achieve his aim are in effect universal […] it is important that he should not be too perfect. His demonstration would be spoilt if the bystanders‘ attention were drawn to his powers of transformation. He has to avoid presenting himself in such a way that someone calls out ‗What a lifelike portrayal of a chauffeur!‘ He must not ‗cast a spell‘ over anyone. He should not transport people from normality to ‗higher realms‘ (Brecht, Willet, 123).
The actor takes on a mediating or presentational attitude toward the audience, communicating narrative conditions and character action, so that the audience can focus on the issues presented rather than on the maya of theatre. Joseph Chaikin clarifies that the purpose of the Verfremdungseffekt was not to make the audience indifferent about the play, but to propose a different kind of engagement: [people] think ―distance‖ means ―not caring.‖ […] the V-effect is a means of presenting these events so that the audience can have an unsentimental view of them. It is anything but indifference. […] If the actor is involved with the moral arguments of the play, acting at a distance has the power of spotlighting the forces at work, though it should be difficult for the actor to distance himself from something in which he is passionately involved — if two people nearly burn to death in a fire, their retelling in no matter how detached a way, is different from two people who are trying to arouse in themselves the fantasized dread and peril of being in a burning house. Yet even in moments of greatest crisis, the actor must be relaxed muscularly — no display of strain must deflect the audience‘s attention from the problems at hand (Weber, Martin, Bial, 210).
When the actor achieves this critical distance, writes Brecht, he makes use of distancing devices to break the audience‘s instinct for empathy.
35 Once the idea of total transformation is abandoned the actor speaks his part not as if he were improvising it himself but like a quotation. […T]here are three aids which may help to alienate the actions and remarks of the characters being portrayed: 1 Transposition into the third person 2 Transposition into the past 3 Speaking stage directions out loud (Brecht, Willet, 138)
These distancing techniques are integral to Brecht‘s plays. Other distancing devices are the use of masks and non-realistic movement. Similarly, both the literary traditions of Sanskrit drama, including Kalidasa‘s play, and the tradition of improvised folk drama make use of masks and non-realistic movement, various forms of narration, including narrating one‘s own actions, past action and current action, as highlighted in Brecht‘s three aids. The purpose of these devices is to stop an empathic response in order to promote a more critical engagement. Carl Weber‘s impression of Epic theatre can be well said of Sanskrit Drama: […P]eople on stage behave like human beings; there was not a trace of ―acting‖ in that performance, though the technical brilliance and perfection of every movement was stunning. The economy of the set, of every prop used, was absolutely overwhelming […] And it was astonishing how the idea of the play was brought across without pushing, without hammering it into the audience.(Weber, Corrigan, 214)
Sanskrit and Epic Audience Response
Brecht writes that Epic theatre implicates the audience, arouses its capacity for action, forces it to make decisions and bring it to the point of recognition. As Wekworth notes: Simple empathy on the part of the spectator is prevented so that he from a conscious distance, can go beyond the subjective horizon of the stage character to discover relationships and contradictions unknown to the character himself but which actually make his behaviour recognizable and accessible (Wekworth, 123). As we have seen, it does this by breaking theatrical illusion and interrupting the capacity for empathy and presenting the world as a set of alterable conditions that can be recognized as being
36 subject to change. Walter Benjamin writes of the job of Epic theatre, stressing the presentation of conditions that bring about action through the constant awareness that the action on stage is occurring in the theatre, in order to make the familiar strange so that the audience can consider it in a new light: The job of epic theatre, […] is not so much to develop actions as to represent conditions. Epic theatre, in contrast [with dramatic theatre], incessantly derives a lively and productive consciousness from the fact that it is theatre. This consciousness enables it to treat elements of reality as though it were setting up an experiment, with the ―conditions‖ at the end of the experiment, not at the beginning. Thus they are not brought closer to the spectator but distanced from him. When he recognizes them as real conditions it is not, as in naturalistic theatre, with complacency, but with astonishment (Benjamin, 4).
In contrast to a dramatic audience, the ideal Epic audience, according to Brecht, is a relaxed critically distanced one. He often referred to his theatre as the ―smoking theatre,‖ because he believed smoking to be conducive to distanced critical judgment and hostile to being swept away by waves of emotion. Brecht writes of the spectators in the street scene analogue: ―The audience was not ‗worked up‘ by a display of temperament or ‗swept away‘ by acting with tautened muscles; in short, no attempt was made to put it in a trance and give it the illusion of watching an ordinary unrehearsed event. […]This encourages the spectator to identify with the demonstrator rather than the character he is demonstrating, trying to decide in what way the incident is meaningful‖(Brecht, Willet, 203). Further, like the Sanskrit audience, the ideal Epic audience is a relaxed audience. Benjamin writes of the relaxed audience: ―If we imagine a person attending a dramatic spectacle we tend to visualize the opposite. We see someone who, with every fibre of his being, is intently following a process. The concept of Epic theatre (developed by Brecht, the theoretician of his own poetic praxis) implies, above all, that the audience which the theatre desires to attract is a relaxed one following the play in a relaxed manner. […] This attitude, Brecht thinks, should be a considered and therefore a
37 relaxed one- in short, it should be the attitude of an interested party‖(Benjamin, pg 15). A relaxed interested attitude, according to Brecht, is the most natural state of the audience, a naivety and freshness of engagement that only children unschooled in dramatic theatre posses. Brecht illustrates the opposition of audience response beautifully in his 1957 essay Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction: The dramatic theatre‘s spectator says: Yes, I have felt like that too—Just like me— It‘s only natural— It‘ll never change — The sufferings of this man appall me, because they are inescapable — That‘s great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world — I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh. The epic theatre‘s spectator says: I‘d never have thought it — That‘s not the way — That‘s extraordinary, hardly believable — It‘s got to stop — The sufferings 1obvious in it — I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh (Brecht, Willet, 71).
Sanskrit drama does not see the responses of the dramatic and epic theatre‘s spectators necessarily mutually exclusive. Similarly, would be simplistic to make the distinction between the desired audience response in Epic theatre and in Sanskrit drama irreconcilably oppositional. In Sanskrit dramaturgy, the word most often used to refer to the spectator is sahrdaya or ―connoisseur.‖ It is a compound word that also means ―with heart‖ (Van Buitenen, 23). The connoisseur, therefore, is emotionally moved to remove distinctions between himself and the author, to achieve a state of intense investment. However, he also maintains a critical distance, as one admiring art not just for what it is in the moment, but critiquing it for what it signifies. Like the connoisseur who at the same time delights in allowing himself to be moved by a piece of art, and maintains a critical evaluative distance and awareness of his own pleasure, the Sanskrit drama spectator may respond in all of the ways described by Brecht.
Manfred Wekworth writes of Epic theatre what is true of Sanskrit drama as well; that for all its critical distance, entertainment is the ultimate aim:
38 Aristotle wanted to arouse pity and fear in the theatre in order to purge the audience of pity and fear. Brecht ‗merely‘ wants us to wonder. For wondering purges the spectator of his tendency to take things for granted, a tendency whereby familiarity stops him from seeing things as they really are. Thus one discovers for example that something that seems unchangeable has actually only been unchanged for a long time. Or that eternal truths are the gaps that time inflicts in our knowledge.[…] If Aristotelian pity really arouses fear and suffering in the spectator, Brecht‘s wondering is by contrast a rather cheerful affair, because it leads to discoveries. And discoveries tend to satisfy curiosity, meaning they are fun. And that‘s why I am claiming that ‗Brechtian theatre‘ should above all else be fun (Wekworth, p.11).
Chapter Three: To Be More Brechtian is to Be More Indian
―The connection between Brecht and contemporary Asian theater is, in fact, better described as one of ‗cross-cultural appropriation‘ rather than ‗influence.‘ This appropriation is a creative, dynamic process of reinterpreting and retooling certain of Brecht‘s ideas or techniques rather than a stiff imitation of a transparent model.8‖— Michael Bodden
While Kathak was being integrated into polite society and while Brecht was looking to the east to reinvigorate the theatre of the west, Indian theatre was being influenced by the West. There was a move towards local language productions of western playwrights, called the ―new Indian Theatre.‖ The new Indian theatre, which emerged under the impact of the West, was totally different from the ancient and medieval performing arts. It had taken shape in imitation of an alien theatre, fundamentally opposite to the Indian in its world-view and aesthetic approach. According to the Indian view of life, the purpose of drama and theatre was to create a sense of bliss and equilibrium (shanthi rasa) by delineating different human situations, mental states, and emotions, whereas the purpose of the Western drama and theatre ―was to reveal struggle and conflicts of life in various forms (Suvarova, Jedamski, 259).
By the middle of the 20th century, urban theatre had moved away from Sanskrit drama based indigenous theatre to western realism. Indian theatre, born out of classical Sanskrit drama was being relegated to popular rural forms and the cities were taking to Western playwrights, The dichotomy between urban bourgeois theatre based on western playwrights (both in English and in translation) and the rural traditional Sanskrit drama continues to be strong today. However, a new generation of
Bodden, Michael. ―Brecht in Asia: New Agendas, National Traditions, and Critical Consciousness‖
Mews, Siegfried. A Bertolt Brecht Reference Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1997. Print. p. 380
40 theatre practitioners started questioning the nature and development of the modern stage originating in the West, as well as its relevance and usefulness within the Indian context. They sought a theatre more relevant to the Indian experience than the imitations of western theatre had been. They returned to an examination of Sanskrit-based indigenous theatre through the lens of Western theatre practioners who had been influenced and inspired by the East, Brecht being one of the most influential. Indian theatre ―rediscovered the self in the Western mirror‖ (Suvarova, Jedamski, 259). It is ironic that it was only after the West began to look to the East to invigorate its theatre that India began to take its own traditional theatre seriously: The West became ‗disillusioned with its naturalistic and realistic styles‘ and in the search for a ‗more imaginative, ‗total theatre‘ were led to the performing arts in Asia, including India. […] This prompted Indian theatre people to take a fresh look at their own theatre heritage. As if through a mirror, the modern Western stage techniques, first and foremost the employment of music, song and dance, ‗showed to the Indian directors their own aesthetic conventions of age-old folk and ritual drama, which they had rediscovered under the influence of the West‘ (Suvarova, Jedamski, 266).
One among these theatre practitioners who rediscovered Indian theatre under the influence of the West was Habib Tanvir. Just as Brecht found validation of his principles in Eastern theatre, Habib Tanvir found creative justification in Brecht for moving from the dominant paradigm of realist theatre back to indigenous forms.
Habib Tanvir (1 September 1923 – 8 June 2009) ― [Tanvir] is a Midas turned upside-down: whatever he touches loses its sheen, it becomes rough and turns to Chhattisgarhi.9‖— Sudhanva Deshpande
Deshpande, Sudhanva. ―Habib Tanvir: Upside-Down Midas― Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 37 (Sep. 13-19,
2003), pp. 3888-3891
41 Habib Tanvir was a playwright-director living and working for the majority of his creative career in rural central-India, in the state of Chhattisgarh. He is known today for his unique style of theatre incorporating folk elements with ―a stress on ‗Indianness‘ [as] an expression of resistance to modes of thinking which were the obvious result of decades of colonization‖ (Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 224). Much like Brecht in his politics, Tanvir actively participated in the left-wing cultural movement during his early, post-university years, particularly Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and Progressive Writers' Association (PWA). IPTA employed folk forms to interpret contemporary social and political themes, an experience which shaped his later conscious return to his cultural roots. When he arrived in Delhi with his first play Agra Bazaar in 1954, he found that the scene was dominated by amateur and collegiate drama groups which offered English plays in English, or in vernacular translation, to a socially restricted section of the city's Anglophone elite. These groups, as also the NSD (National School of Drama, Delhi) a decade later, derived their concept of theatre, their standards of acting, staging, and direction, from the European models of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. There was little effort to link theatre work to the indigenous traditions of performance, or even to say anything of immediate value and interest to an Indian audience. Agra Bazaar, set in the market place and teeming with bazaar life would go on to become a classic because it offered an experience radically different, both in form and content, from anything that the city which had grown up on western sensibilities had ever seen. In the 1955 Tanvir left the country trained in acting, directing and production at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and became an associate of the British Drama Board. There ―he learned many things, including British discipline, the principles of blocking and some tricks of a director‘s craft, but mostly he learned what he did not want to do. It seemed to him that western theatre, particularly English theatre, was too rigid to allow free movement that Indian theatre demanded. Western theatre, following Aristotle, demanded the unities of time, space and action, while Indian Theatre, both the ancient Sanskrit and the rural, broke these
42 unities constantly, admitting only one unity, rasa‖ (Deshpande, 3889). Tanvir describes a scene, typical of Sanskrit drama, a Hindi adaptation of which he would stage in 1958, that breaks the unities: In act II of Mrichchhkatika, the Samvahak is being pursued by a couple of fellow gamblers. It is a street scene. He first enters a temple and then Vasantasena‘s house in the course of the chase. In both instances the scene is enacted- replete with dialogue and visualssimultaneously inside as well as out in the street. Some translators have divided this act into Part I Scene i, Scene ii, Scene iia, Scene iii, etc, refusing to face up to the fact that Sudraka, the playwright, had no use for such unity of space. Unity of time is likewise broken…The judge orders an officer to go on horseback to the Pushpakarandak garden to see if a female dead body is lying there. In the very next line, the officer confirms the existence of the dead body in the garden. The point here is that the officer has not gone off the stag(Deshpande,3889).
Between 1956 and 1958, Tanvir travelled widely, observing the theatres of Europe and saw several major productions at the Berliner Ensemble, which shortly after Brecht‘s death, was at the height of its creativity and exuberance (Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 222). Of all the European dramatists whose work he had encountered, Brecht impressed him the most, because of his openness to popular forms and his disregard of Aristotelian dramaturgy. Tanvir was struck by the straightforward aim of Epic theatre: storytelling through narration, song and dance, allowing the audience to make its own conclusions about the social issues presented. I find him very contemporary, full of humour,… poetry and meaning. So it was natural to take Brecht, especially because he‘s so open in his form, he has imbibed so much from the East, even Eastern techniques, that for any Eastern man to take to Brecht to try out his own Eastern techniques is a natural thing (Tanvir quoted in Dalimia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 224) Dalmia-Lüderitz notes that he therefore decided ―that ‗to be more Brechtian meant for him to be more Indian,‘ to explore and exploit techniques already available in Indian traditional forms‖ (Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 224).
43 However, it must be noted Tanvir was not merely going back to his folk roots in a vacuum. He was interested in its relation to contemporary, urban, modern social issues. Tanvir did not insist on the authenticity or purity of the folk form. He recognized that it would evolve as the lives of the villages touched by urban culture would. He was more interested in the interpretation of contemporary values through these forms to transform the body politic of theatre and involve the urban younger generation. Dalmia-Lüderitz notes that this was not to ―establish an urban hegemony, but rather to expand the urban to meet the rural and thus transcend the dichotomy which had evolved, the estrangement which had set in as a result of colonial cultural and social policies‖(Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 224). Tanvir was concerned not with the integration of Brechtian theatre with Indian theatre, but with the integration of rural forms with urban theatre. In 1959, ten years after Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble with his wife and collaborator Helene Weigel, Tanvir established the Naya Theatre company with his wife and collaborator Moneeka Misra, The group produced classics from Western and Indian traditions performed by local and mostly illiterate villagers, but it was not until the 70‘s that he achieved the unique process and style of production that he is known for today, theatre based on the local improvisational folk form nacha, performed by rural performers in their local language, Chhattisghari. During this phase of exploration, he rejected the use of pre-determined blocking (unlike Brecht who believed that blocking was the back bone of the play) and the use of standard Hindi and allowed performers to do their traditional theatre. Nacha is a skit-based form arranged around a loose narrative that is based almost entirely on improvisation without the use of pre-determined blocking, and Hindi was a foreign tongue to them, rendering them stiff and self-conscious. Tanvir, therefore, by being extremely open in his directorial process, succeeded in bringing out the best in his performers in a form most natural to them. Dalmia-Lüderitz notes that in order to coordinate all the improvisation, music, song and dance of nacha, ―Brecht‘s theatre acquired immense significance, for by means of narrative comment and analysis, episodes which seemed disparate could be linked, or those where the links seemed obvious could be taken apart and subsequently so interlinked that the joints appear
44 visible‖ (Dalmia-Lüderitz, Fischer-Lichte, 225). Tanvir believed that his Chattisgarhi actors were trained to perform the most diverse plays. He would go on to produce original work, such as Charandas Chor and Chattisgarhi adaptations of western playwrights, including a 1978 adaptation of Brecht‘s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan. As directors, the differences between Tanvir‘s synthesis and my own synthesis of Epic and Sanskrit drama lies in our treatment of material and our target audience. Through the artistic appropriation of Brecht, Tanvir was not concerned with interculturalism or the integration of the familiar and the foreign but in creating a form relevant to both rural and urban India, for an Indian audience. My production, however, sought to integrate the two approaches to theatre in order to open doors to both cultures. My play was not produced for an Indian audience familiar with Shakuntala and Kathak, but for the Reed audience who I had to educate in a foreign form. Finding a way to initiate the audience presented its own problems and rewards, as will be discussed in the following chapter. There is a popular saying in India about how Indians do not appreciate Indian practices and traditions unless a foreigner, specifically from the west, expresses interest in them. Though I find this overly cynical and simplistic, I do agree that sometimes looking at one‘s own from the other side lends a greater clarity, both to its deficiencies and its merits. Tanvir made a rediscovery of his Indian roots when he encountered Brecht‘s work. I have similarly made a rediscovery of performance techniques I‘ve taken for granted and an appreciation of Indian theatre through the academic pursuit of theatre at Reed.
Chapter Four: Shakuntala: An Indian Fairytale
―The key test always was: does it work on stage? If not, throw it out. If it does work, and if it conflicts with the theory, throw away the theory.‖ –John Fuegi on Brecht‘s philosophy10
I first encountered a performance of Shakuntala at a Bharatanatyam (south-Indian classical dance) concert at a temple, when I was a child. I didn‘t know the language, but I understood the performance through the very clear Gestus. Further I knew the story and was familiar with the function and interpretation of abhinaya, including naturalistic mime and mudras. The dance-drama was socially significant but also entertaining. The dancers on stage were not ―acting;‖ they were presenting the story through non-realistic movement. The stage was bare and the costumes were decorative but simple and representative of character. The audience was vocal, relaxed and appreciative. I wanted my production to capture something of the naivety of my experience. As I had also heard the story from my grandmother, I chose the overarching production concept to be the telling of a bed-time story; it capitalizes on the clarity of consciousness on the brink of sleep, which is both subliminally alert to stimuli and vulnerable to imagination. However, I discovered that Kalidasa‘s text was different from my childhood conception of Shakuntala‘s story. An excerpt from my director‘s note in the program reflects this: When I read Kalidasa‘s play however, the force of my modern politically correct adult awareness altered my vision of the familiar fairytale. The simple magical story seemed a source of ridiculously idealized love, overt misogyny, and incomprehensible power dynamics. I then realized that the play was written much before any modern discourse on pin up girls, strong female role models, abuse of power, sexual freedom, gender inequality and the aggressive male gaze.
Fuegi, John. Bertolt Brecht: Chaos, According to Plan. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.
46 I look back, with amusement, at the vast gulf between Reed and 5th century India, and hope to unite them in imperfect alliance. I look back, with nostalgia, at the vast gulf between my present awareness and the blissful ignorance of childhood that allowed me to fully give myself up to a story, and hope to reconcile them in uneasy truce. I hope that you, the audience, who can see and hear the machinery of production, choose to pay attention to the storytellers and, with your awareness of the modern world, choose to allow yourselves to be enchanted by a fairytale.
I wanted the audience, therefore, to engage as a Sanskrit audience would by expressing vocal admiration and being aware of its own pleasure, with the naivety and critical interest of an Epic audience, while recognizing the dialectic of the fairytale world presented and the reality of life outside the theatre, and choosing to integrate the two.
My production, Shakuntala: An Indian Fairytale, presented a world that was neither Brechtian nor classically Sanskrit, but an integration of the two. This chapter will explicate the creation of the world of the production, my rehearsal process and an evaluation of the production. My production was in keeping with the general characteristics of Epic theatre and Sanskrit drama according to the three categories of presentation, content and structure as outlined by Vasudha Dalmia-Lüderitz. In directing, I used mudras, Gestus, and distancing devices such as non-realistic movement, scene titles and transposition of text into third person. My primary concern apart from the clear and simple retelling of Shakuntala‘s story was to educate the audience in a school of theatre unfamiliar to them. I therefore began with preliminaries following the structure of a Sanskrit play to introduce the audience to the rules of the stage; the dialectic and intersection of the sacred space and the liminal space. This was followed by two texts juxtaposing the Eastern theatre ritual of worship and the familiar Western theatre ritual of silencing cell phones. The play opened as follows:
47 Preliminaries: Actors warming up as the spectators enter the house, bowing in reverence to the sacred space, with a centrally located idol of the god Shiva, before the start of the play, followed by a Kathak style preliminary worship of the stage set to a secular Sanskrit verse designed to dispel ignorance, darkness, and death in the face of knowledge, light and life. Benediction Upon the Audience: A traditional Sanskrit verse as found in Kalidasa‘s script invoking the destroyer god Shiva as Nataraja, or the Lord of Natya, performed through the use of mudras. Introduction Upon the Audience: A contemporary hand gesture based set of instructions, intended to imitate mudra, urging the audience to please put their cellphones on loud if they wished one of the actors to answer the phone. I had to keep in mind that my audience was encountering Shakuntala‘s story and Sanskrit physical vocabulary, mudras, for the first time. Therefore, while the play began with the Benediction and blessing of the stage as is necessary in every Sanskrit performance, I used this as an opportunity to educate the audience in the role and importance of mudras. The actors juxtaposed the indecipherable mudras of the benediction with a ritual more familiar to the western audience, the injunction to silence cell phones and other noise-making devices. This announcement was as choreographed as the blessing, though hand gestures were more recognizable ones. When the blessing of Shiva upon the actors and audience was followed by a choreographed reminder to switch of their cell phones, the audience was able to understand the ritual of a foreign theatre through the ritual of the familiar theatre. However, the ritual of the familiar theatre was rendered strange in the manner by which it was presented. This juxtaposition formed a lens through which the rest of the production could be viewed; the audience was called upon to engage in a foreign world as though it were familiar, while simultaneously recognizing the strangeness of their own familiar world. . Presentation (or designing) Wekworth‘s characterization of the process and intention of Epic theatre became a model for my own: The interpretation of the [story] and its communication through suitable means of Verfremdung is the principle business of theatre. And the actor does not have to do it
48 alone, even if nothing can be done without reference to him. The [story] is interpreted, developed, and presented by the theatre in its entirety, by actors, stage designers, make-up artists, costume designers, musicians and choreographers. They all pool their artistry in this common enterprise, always without relinquishing their independence. (Wekworth, 153)
After much discussion, my designers and I decided to keep the world spare and minimalistic focusing on only what was necessary for the actor to communicate the story, heeding the Brechtian imperative to hide no working of the theatre, by removing even the curtains to expose lighting structures. Additionally, the technical crew, who would traditionally operate lights and sound in the hidden recesses of the booth high above the audience, was brought on stage. The lack of illusion was furthered by the designation of the liminal space, accurately described by Peter Ksander as ―offstage on,‖ the space in which the actors resided when not performing, rather than being hidden in the wings or backstage. Though originally the down left liminal space of the cast was designed to balance the presence of the tech crew downstage right, it was expanded to fill the entire area surrounding the acting space including the area between the first row of the audience and the performance space. Through the course of the play, the audience was educated to understand that the liminal space was not only a backstage space for actors to change costume or wait for their turn to enter but also a space from which they viewed the play, commented upon it, narrated action and addressed the audience, acting as an actor/narrator rather than actor/character. Actors in the liminal space, therefore became more than actors; they frequently took on the role of audience members. To stress this point, after the Benediction Upon the Audience, performed by three actors, the three other actors stationed among the audience expressed their admiration for the movement piece by calling out ―vah, vah!‖ and clapping to indicate the intention of the vocalization as paralleling that of applause in the western theatre. Throughout the play, poetry was greeted with ―vah, vah!‖ to which the performing actors would acknowledge with a smile or nod, as is the custom in Sanskrit drama, breaking the theatrical illusion. The actors were, therefore, more than the Reed audience capable only
49 of inquiry and judgement and unable to intervene, because they could influence the course of the play both through judgment and by physically engaging with the world. This interchangability of audience and actor, simultaneously drawing attention to the paradigm of interaction between them, and to the limitations of being an audience member merely witnessing action, is a concern of both Sanskrit and Epic theatre. Walter Benjamin notes of Epic theatre what would well be said of Sanskrit drama: Epic theatre is always intended for actors quite as much as for the spectators. […T]hrough the exceptional austerity of its apparatus, it facilitates and encourages the interchangeability of actors and audience, audience and actors. Every spectator can become one of the actors (Benjamin, 20)
The actors not engaged in the sacred space observed from the liminal space, vocally expressing their admiration for poetry delivered by fellow actors. The Reed audience was therefore introduced to and educated in the use of ―vah, vah!‖ to express admiration as a Sanskrit audience would. To clearly delineate the performance space from the offstage-on liminal space of the cast and crew, set designer Autumn Dobbins came up with a strikingly elegant black and white design, a bold white rectangle framing the glossy black surface of the performance space with a painted white rangoli (traditional rice flour floor design) at the centre to draw attention to the sanctity of the space. While initially she came up with much more elaborate ideas that involved the manipulation, creation and destruction of the set, we decided to keep the space spare and allow the actors, their bodies and the manipulation of costume pieces to do the talking. For that reason, we also limited the onstage set pieces to one cube. I not only wanted to keep the focus on the actors‘ bodies but also to explore the use of one set cube in a variety of different ways, drawing attention to the creative process through the Brechtian use of props in a manner that allowed us to reconsider their usage.
50 The most significant design element, the costume pieces, formed distancing devices to allow the actors to become characters and objects simply by changing the configuration of the pieces. Heather Chan came up with simple white muslin non-gender-specific costumes based on the traditional Kathak silhouette, which necessitated bare feet, accented by colourful strips of cloth known as duppattas. The costume served to render the actor a blank slate upon which character could be built using duppattas, mudras and dialogue. The actors extensively explored the duppttas, which when worn in particular configurations signified particular character types; hermit, king, soldier, fisherman, hermit woman. Initially duppattas were also going to be used as props, but that idea was discarded later in the process, except for the fisherman‘s use of a duppatta as a net as well as a costume piece. Other props were mimed, in the tradition of Kathak and Sanskrit performance, though the natyadharmi (mudras) and lokadharmi (naturalistic) mime. While duppattas are not distinctive to any particular form of Indian dance-drama, costume pieces of some sort have always indicated character. The idea in folk theatre is that actors don the roles in the play by virtue of their masks and costumes, which are imbued with the power of the character. The actors are only the bearers and presenters of character, just as they bear and present their costumes. This presentation of character, as we have seen, is also a hallmark of Epic theatre. To carry the importance of the costume further I decided that all actors would play multiple characters and that multiple actors would play each character. By the end of the process we decided that the role of Shakuntala would be played by one actor only, drawing attention to the fact that this is her story. The removal of the duppatta rendered the actor a blank slate. On stage, both human and nonhuman characters, such as fish, deer and trees and the states of minds of characters, could then be expressed through mudras and movement. Off-stage, in the liminal space, the actors could take on the role of audience, watching and expressing admiration, the role of active onlooker interacting with the actors and commenting on certain scenes, and the role of narrator, addressing the audience and forwarding the story through narration.
51 The most significant non-illusionistic technique was of course the use of Kathak-based movement to further narrative. Scenes grounded in this technique served to establish both character and location (the opening Hunting scene) and to forward the narrative (the Departure scene in which Shakuntala is carried on a boat). Some scenes relied more on movement, while others relied on dialogue. Since we were using Kathak movement, it was clear to me that we should also use traditional Kathak music, working like a soundtrack to the play, as it would in a dance-drama piece. Sound designer Shruti Korada incorporated music early in the rehearsal process so the actors grew accustomed to it. We considered using recorded sound affects for various atmospheric sounds of the forest and the city but realized that this kind of auditory detail didn‘t fit with our simple aesthetic. Further, we decided that actors themselves could provide any sound effects required. Music provided me with the foundation for movement scenes just as Kalidasa‘s text provided the foundation for scenes with dialogue. To further aid the audience in our spare world, light designer Zach Horvath created a design that would play a part in directing the audience‘s eye to what was important on stage. We decided to incorporate the kind of side lighting often used in dance, which meant putting lighting trees on stage, adding really beautiful vertical lines to the bare set. Light depicted the difference between the forest and the city and served in many scenes to divide the performance space into sections, transforming the bare set into an architecture that provided information to the audience. Content (or playwriting) It is clear that Kalidasa‘s play both displays ―the social typification of character‖ and the ―disregard for psychological interpretation‖ that we have discussed in the previous chapters. The characters in Shakuntala, much like the unnamed characters in Brecht‘s plays known only by their social role (such as the Wife or the Woman), could well be known as the King, the Maiden, the Sage without loss of information, so important are their social roles in the world of the play. My goal as a director, a goal I identified comparatively late in the process, was simply to tell most effectively and entertainingly the story of Shakuntala to an audience who was unfamiliar with the tale, using
52 techniques from Brecht and Sanskrit theatre as the script allowed. To that end, Kalidasa‘s script was both my sharpest weapon, if I knew how to wield it, and my most significant stumbling block. It provided a text base for the oral narrative that I was familiar with in dance-drama, so that I would not have to write the entire script myself. Cutting down a script of seven acts peopled with thirty speaking roles and a dozen more supporting roles was long and arduous, and I constantly second guessed myself about which episodes and characters were important to my production and which could be merrily and mercilessly done away with. Finally, I decided that I would remove extraneous characters and episodes and keep to the bare bones of the story as retold in oral narrative and folk dance-drama, rather than on the classical Sanskrit stage. However, large chunks of action usually told in dance-drama, such as the scene in which Shakuntala travels from the hermitage to the city, did not appear in Kalidasa‘s version. I made the choice, very early in the process, to focus the movement based scenes on just such episodes in the story. Further, because the narrative structure of Kalidasa‘s play alternates between direct action and reported speech, I lost key exposition in the shortened version. I therefore summarized these scenes using as much text as possible from Kalidasa and reworking it to connect scenes together. Structure (or translating text to performance) The already episodic narrative structure of Kalidasa‘s play was enhanced because I selected specific scenes from the play and strung them together while keeping the basic narrative intact. Further, certain scenes were simply narrated in order to maintain the continuity of the story. This might have worked for an Indian audience, one that was familiar with the story, but would likely prove problematic for my intended audience at Reed. In order for the audience to be able to freely engage with the way in which the story is presented so that they might critically compare it with their notions of the familiar and the foreign, the needed to know the basics of the story. A couple of weeks before opening night, my advisor suggested I use scene titles with a brief summary to announce the essential action of each scene. The use of narration and scene summaries to explicate
53 key action in scenes is a feature, as we have seen, of Epic theatre. They proved to be immensely helpful in solving the problem of presenting the play to an audience unfamiliar with Shakuntala‘s story, to allow them to sit back and watch the narrative unfold, paying attention to the issues presented as well as the techniques used from a theatre tradition foreign to them. We played with having scene titles presented visually, but considering that each included a brief description as well, decided that a verbal introduction to each scene, delivered in darkness, as it is done in classical dance concerts today, would be the most effective. This choice also made the role of the tech people and stage manager even more visibly influential in the production, with the stage manager effectively taking on the role of the Sutradhaar. Before I get into the process of working as a company, I‘d like to briefly orient the reader to the general structure of the play, including scene titles and summaries as they were spoken in the production. The following are scene titles and summaries, both of which were delivered to the audience by my excellent stage manager Alexandra Smith. Subsequent information details techniques employed in each scene. 1. ―The Hunting Scene: The King hunts in the forest, some hermits stop him from killing a sacred deer and invite him to the hermitage.‖ This scene began with a deer hunt expressed through movement, introducing the audience to lokadharmi abhinaya. 2. ―The Hermitage scene: The King meets Shakuntala, a hermit maiden, and learns of her divine origins as the daughter of the nymph Menaka, which makes her a suitable match for the king.‖ This scene contained a brief introduction to mudras in the telling of the story of Shakuntala‘s origins, delivered by single performer, in the style of Kathak. An actor performed the role of a bee in the liminal space, providing supporting sound effects for the mimed presence of the bee in the sacred space. An actor in the liminal space serves as the addressee of the King‘s aside to the audience, but surpassing the power of the Reed audience by
54 being capable of responding to the King. 3. The Clown Scene: :‖The Clown disapproves of the King's hunting habits and his infatuation with Shakuntala. Some hermits interrupt their conversation to request that the King protect the hermitage from demons.‖ This scene further explored the vocal appreciation of poetry, as the performers in the liminal space greeted the King‘s poetry with ―vah vah!‖ 4. ―The Love Scene: Shakuntala and the King fall in love and consider themselves married. They kiss, which perhaps leads to other things.‖ This scene drove home the importance of mudras in the storytelling of Kathak. Actors in the liminal space served as audience members interpreting the gestures aloud for the Reed audience. 5. ―The Curse Scene: Shakuntala, lost in thought, fails to note Sage Durvasa the Irascible and is cursed to be forgotten by the one on her mind, her husband Dushyanta.‖ This scene made use of a single actor in the liminal space narrating the story directly to the audience while others performed the story in mime. 6. ―The Departure Scene: A voice from heaven reveals to Father Kanva that Shakuntala is pregnant with Dushyanta's child. He sends her off to join her husband in the city.‖ This scene made use of a movement scene popular in classical dance but absent in the Sanskrit text: Shakuntala traveling by boat (created by the actors with their bodies and the single set cube) to the city. Actors speaking in the liminal space surrounding the sacred space served as a disembodied voice from heaven. 7. ―The Court Scene: The playful mood of the court is interrupted by Shakuntala and her retinue. The King finds her beautiful but does not recognize her as his wife. Shakuntala's escort convinces the King to let her stay but Shakuntala is so distressed that she calls on her mother, the nypmh Menaka, who whisks her away to heaven.‖
55 In this scene two actors played the roles of Shakuntala and the King, one of them emoting their inner thoughts through movement. Shakuntala‘s disappearance is evoked through the use of duppattas. 8. ―The Fisherman scene: The ring mysteriously reappears and is taken to the King,‖ Many scenes in Sanskrit drama is narrated in song and this scene made use of musical delivery of dialogue. The fisherman catching a fish was communicated through lokadharmi abhinaya. 9. The Repentance Scene: ―The King is saved from his sorrow by the intervention of the god Indra who sends him off to fight some demons to prove himself worthy of Shakuntala's love.‖ An actor in the liminal space addressing the audience takes on the role of Indra simply by stepping into the space and rearranging his dippatta, stressing the importance of costume and the interchangeability of actor and audience. This scene began with a purely dance based fight scene, a popular aspect of the spectacle of Sanskrit drama. 10. The Reunion Scene: ―Lord Indra reunites King Dushyanta with Shakuntala and their son in heaven. They are then sent off to earth to live happily ever after.‖ In the last scene, the world of the play was opened up to include the audience, with Shakuntala walking down the side aisle to reunite with Dushyanta. The play closed with Bollywood music and actors inviting the audience to dance with them on stage.
56 Process (or working as a company)
―The audience has to see that there are a number of artists working together as a collective in order to convey stories, ideas, virtuoso feats to the spectator by common effort.‖ –Brecht 11
The production process for the actors is as important to me as the end result. It‘s almost as if the play at the end is just a very good excuse to get together in a room and engage in creative gymnastics. My mother, who is an avid consumer and discerning critic of the classical dance and music scene in Bangalore, has always maintained that only when the artist enjoys the performance can the audience enjoy it as well. I wanted the actors to enjoy the process, to come into rehearsal hungry to create something and to thoroughly enjoy presenting everything we‘d worked on with pride to an audience. I made it clear at the beginning that everybody in the room from the stage manager to the actors to the designers had an equal ownership of the play and the right to have their ideas considered. We were a team giving all our mental and physical faculties and best acts of creativity to conveying a story to the audience. I wanted the actors to understand and love the story, to give them the urgency and childlike enthusiasm to tell it. One of the most compelling reasons that a storyteller could have to tell a story is that she enjoyed hearing the story told to her, and to invest time and attention in listening to one is recognizing that compulsion. I wanted the audience to enjoy watching the story of Shakuntala unfold as much as the actors enjoyed performing it. It was important to me to create an environment that was conducive to the free generation of inspiring ideas by the ensemble working together on the production. There were certain rules that were followed in the rehearsal room. Before the actors entered the space they prepared themselves with the Lakshman Rekha exercise, which is a familiar exercise used in dance class. They crossed three lines (marked with tape by my enterprising stage managers). They were asked to leave behind mental baggage, stress, worry and negative energy before crossing the first. They engaged honestly with their state of mind, recognizing when they were tired and promising to offer the best of their
Brecht, Bertolt, and John Willett. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.
57 abilities in rehearsal that night before stepping over the second line. They stepped over the final line into the rehearsal space with smiles on their faces ready to engage with their collaborators with lots of good energy. The first week we primarily engaged in developing the physicality of characters (the hermit, the king, guards etc) and the physicalizations of simple scenes of narration (Shakuntala and her friends watering the garden, two hunters hunting in the forest, a fisherman catching fish). I encouraged the actors to come up with ideas and to use their bodies to contribute to every scene in any way possible, so they ended up playing the parts of the water, the boat, the fishnet, shaping their own movements in response to the other actors. We applied the idea of using bodies to construct the physical space of the narrative to different scenes in the play. My assistant choreographer Sasha Puchalski helped me to decide which scenes would be dialogue heavy, which ones would incorporate mudras in conjunction with dialogue and which ones would be mimed. As characters described the creepers and the trees, actors jumped into the space to take on the roles as if called into being. We spent one rehearsal coming up with numerous ways to tie the duppatta and a specific walk for each character. The actors were prolific in their contributions, and it became standard procedure to tinker during every rehearsal henceforth with different styles. The first few weeks, therefore, established a strong sense of ensemble creation of movement. Further, every actor became comfortable playing every major role, simply by wearing the duppattas and moving in the agreed manner. We most often rehearsed scenes completely out of order, spending a whole day on Shakuntala‘s garden scene and then jumping back to the Benediction at the very beginning. This helped to establish the episodic nature while generating a consistent tone for the entire piece. We played around with different groups of actors reading the same scene. Actors were assigned characters not because of some inherent personal quality; they owed their characters simply to the way their duppattas were tied. This collective ownership of the characters in a scene helped develop the tone and intent in the larger scheme of things. It became clear to everybody that we were all - bodies, costumes, words in the service of presenting a story to the audience. When the actors
58 took on roles, they presented them as fully formed characters from a story in relation to which they were merely middlemen and conveyers of information. There was no pressure on them to ―act‖ and delude the audience into imagining that they were themselves the characters being portrayed. The actors were aware of their responsibility to entertain the audience and aware of how the tech crew aided them in their common project. Throughout the process we kept in mind Brecht‘s words: So our playing speed needs to be quick, light and strong. This is not a question of hurry, but of speed, not simply of quick playing, but of quick thinking. We must keep the tempo of a run-through and infect it with quiet strength, with our own fun. In dialogue the exchanges must not be offered reluctantly, as when offering somebody one‘s last pair of boots, but must be tossed like so many balls (Brecht, Willet, 283).
Thoughts on the Process (or ―Hindsight is 20/20‖) It has been such a challenging and rewarding experience to study Sanskrit drama in comparison with Brecht. In pursuing an academic study of Sanskrit drama I have gained knowledge of the history and evolution of Sanskrit drama into the form of dance I practice today. The academic study of Brecht has given me the tools to study two theatre techniques in comparison. Studying Brecht and Tanvir as directors has been an inspirational first step towards creating a theatre vernacular of my own. I had a sign up on my wall during my production process that directing involves decisions, delegation and a fair share of drama with all the implications of that word. My two biggest challenges were learning how to make decisions confidently and comfortably and delegating responsibility fairly and effectively. Part of the reason why I was lost in the early stages was that I was struggling to find a balance between the two, between ownership and collaboration. Eventually, I realized that they don‘t have to be in conflict and that in theatre it is the very tension between the two that produces great creativity. Further, I gradually understood the workings of the artistic chain that led from the script to the actors and the production team. My assistant director, Elizabeth Dinkova, whose style of directing is a lot more decisive and authoritative, helped me see the fine line between being the artistic commander and allowing a degree of freedom within a defined space for my collaborators, and I am eternally grateful to her for it. Between her a single-minded drive and my languorous openness to exploring new directions, I think we managed a very productive balance. I learnt to better articulate the process of creation in the rehearsal room and to better facilitate creativity in the realm of designers, so that production of the play and the interpretation of the script were not in conflict. There are a few things I might have done differently if I had known then what I know now. The idea originally was to give both movement and dialogue scenes equal weight in the story, but
60 given the challenge of conveying an unfamiliar story through movement and the level of Kathak training my actors had, I decided to limit abstract Kathak movement vocabulary early in the process. Furthermore, one of the scenes, the Fisherman scene, made use of musical delivery of dialogue reminiscent of Sanskrit drama song sequences, which I significantly curtailed in order to maintain the clarity of the narrative that might have been lost in the singing. Had I known I would be using scene titles and summaries, I might have considered using more song and abstract stylized movement vocabulary. During the process, I was incapable of seeing if I had struck the balance between Epic theatre and Sanskrit drama and my dramaturg Gracie Rittenberg was especially helpful in providing a naïve view of Kathak and helping me balance the two. I also learned that it was easy to get so caught up in directing that I stopped paying attention to everything else. My assistant stage manager, Alan Cline, was stationed behind the only curtain behind the sacred space throughout the run of the production to aid actors in case they hurt their bare feet. I was completely incognisant of the fact that he consequently never got to see the performance until after the show. And when I said, ―You should have complained!‖ he responded, ―I did!‖ It was only later I realized that he could well have sat in the liminal space and seen the show; I still regret not addressing that issue. But then, looking back, if that is my only big regret, I‘ve certainly had a dream run, thanks to all my collaborators! I learned a lot from the audience. People who were familiar with Brechtian theatre were surprised to find that Brecht could be funny. I am glad I got someone to reconsider with naivety and freshness what they thought they already new; Brecht would be proud! It was also very gratifying to get feedback about the audience‘s understanding of Sanskrit drama, I was interested to note that whereas I regretted the fact that there was hardly any dance at all in the production, an audience member say the entire play as dance with dialogue rather than theatre at all. Someone at the theatre department post show discussion told me that I should have turned down the curtain call music because the closing lines of poetry had been greeted with ―vah vah!‖ by the audience. I had therefore succeeded in educating the Reed audience in some aspects of Sanskrit drama.
Conclusion (or ―Your production was so Brechtian/Kathak!‖)
I began this thesis expecting it to be difficult to reconcile the objectives of the two approaches to theatre. As I researched Brecht and Sanskrit theatre, what began as an experiment to bring two radically different theatres in uneasy dialectic has turned into a successful integration. Dalmia-Lüderitz‘s article comparing Brechtian theatre and Sanskrit drama claims in its title that to be more Brechtian is to be more Indian. My production is a testament to the verity of the comparison; the audience‘s most common response to a production that I had directed using predominantly my background in Sanskrit drama was, ―Your production was so Brechtian!‖ On the other hand, my mother, who has been trained in Kathak herself, recognized the techniques from Kathak. I realized that my production was read differently depending on the audience members‘ prior knowledge. The Reed audience was able to read a tradition that they knew and at the same time were introduced to a tradition they didn‘t know. My production allowed them to access the practices of the foreign theatre through the recognizable techniques of the familiar. This integration of dialectics, and the removal of distinctions between actor and audience, the familiar and the foreign, innocence and knowledge, narration and movement, fairytale and reality, dream and nightmare, Epic theatre and Sanskrit drama, art and life that was the fabric of this production of Shakuntala.
Shakuntala: An Indian Fairytale This production is dedicated to my parents. Adapted from Kalidasa Directed and choreographed by Indumathi Manohar Costume Designer: Heather Chan Set Designer: Autumn Dobbins Lighting Designer: Zachary Horvath Sound Designer: Shruti Korada THE CAST Jill Evans.............Priyamvada, the chief of police, a demon and a boy Jesyca Hernstadt..........a deer, Anusuya, a fisherman and a demon Claire Lewis...............King Dushyanta and a policeman Colin Trevor.......................a tree, a creeper, Madhavya the clown, Sage Durvasa, a policeman, a fish and Lord Indra Stella Ziegler...............................Shakuntala Running time is about 60 minutes; no intermission. THE PRODUCTION TEAM Technical Director…Nathaniel Bartos Costume Studio Manager…Corrine Larson Assistant Director……Elizabeth Dinkova Stage Manager……………Alexandra Smith Assistant Stage Manager………Alan Cline Assistant Choreographer……Sasha Puchalski Dramaturg………………Gracie Rittenberg Light Board Op……………Lisa Henderson Sound Board Op……………..Shruti Korada
64 Set construction and paint crew: Tsering Cairangben, Maureen Connors, Natalie Cowan, Autumn Dobbins, Milo Due, Adriana Escobedo-Land, Zak Garriss, Erin Guy, Marisa Kanai, Jenn Lindell, Zuzu Myers, Ben Moe, Tristan Nieto, Hugh Schlesinger, Alexandra Smith, Stephen Stack, Brynn Tran, Andrew Watson, Sofia Wright Lighting crew: Tsering Cairangben, Maureen Connors, Natalie Cowan, Autumn Dobbins, Milo Due, Adriana Escobedo-Land, Zak Garriss, Erin Guy, Marisa Kanai, Jenn Lindell, Zuzu Myers, Ben Moe, Tristan Nieto, Hugh Schlesinger, Alexandra Smith, Stephen Stack, Brynn Tran, Andrew Watson, Sofia Wright Costume Build Crew Phoebe Bauer, Liana Clark, Heather Chan, Erin Guy, Arion Russell, Walker Holden, Deirdre Quirk, Helena Pennington, Rebecca Thurber, Dagny Wise, Amelia Wolf Houce Office/Box Office Manager: Sharon Heichman Box Office Staff: Taylor Cross-Whiter, Emmeline Hill, Mathilde Mauw Poster/Program: Peter Ksander Special thanks to Carla Mann, Kathleen Worley and the Theatre Department for all their support, patience and encouragement! Preparation for this production was made possible in part by support from the David T. Adler Theatre Fund.
Director’s Note: Shakuntala is an iconic character for an Indian audience. Her story is familiar and much-loved, with a long history of oral narratives, dance performances, graphic novels and unending soap operas. I first encountered the story as a child, both narrated as a bedtime tale and performed as a classical dance-drama. I therefore present this production as an exploration of storytelling through narration, dialogue, mime and stylized movement, garnished with the use of lengths of fabric (duppattas) to indicate character and punctuated with vocal expressions of appreciation for poetry (―vah, vah!‖). I draw on my training in Kathak dance, which makes use of naturalistic mime and mudras, or stylized expressive hand gestures, in its movement vocabulary. As the source text, I draw on scenes from an English translation of the most famous version of the Shakuntala story, written by 5th century Sanskrit playwright Kalidasa, who is often referred to, rather anachronistically, as the ‗Shakespeare of India.‘ In Sanskrit tradition, as set forth in the dramaturgical treatise Natyashastra, heroic and romantic plays are the highest forms of drama, and not tragedy as is in the western tradition. Kalidasa‘s Abhijñānaśākuntalam (Of Shakuntala Recognized by a Token), being a heroic-romance, is touted as the highest form and the most perfect example of it. Kalidasa‘s play is a twenty character strong, seven act play, written in different dialects and filled with side plots, contemporary social commentary and rich allusion to other classical legends; I give you a heavily abridged version, focusing only on the famous romantic narrative. When I read Kalidasa‘s play however, the force of my modern politically correct adult awareness altered my vision of the familiar fairytale. The simple magical story seemed a source of ridiculously idealized love, overt misogyny, and incomprehensible power dynamics. I then realized that the play was written much before any modern discourse on pin up girls, strong female role models, abuse of power, sexual freedom, gender inequality and the aggressive male gaze. I look back, with amusement, at the vast gulf between Reed and 5th century India, and hope to unite them in imperfect alliance. I look back, with nostalgia, at the vast gulf between my present awareness and the blissful ignorance of childhood that allowed me to fully give myself up to a story, and hope to reconcile them in uneasy truce. I hope that you, the audience, who can see and hear the machinery of production, choose to pay attention to the storytellers and, with your awareness of the modern world, choose to allow yourselves to be enchanted by a fairytale. Upcoming Shows Dance/Theatre Performance choreographed by thesis candidate Claire Thomforde-Garner February 23, 24, 25 at 7:30 Mainstage Theatre RAW Parade Created by Thesis Candidate Erika Kurth One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace, directed by Prof. Kate Bredeson with a performance by thesis candidate Kenji Yoshikawa March 30, 31; April 5, 6, 7 at 7:30 Mainstage Theatre
Benjamin, Walter. Understanding Brecht. London: Verso, 1998. Print. Bodden, Michael. ―Brecht in Asia: New Agendas, National Traditions, and Critical Consciousness‖ A Bertolt Brecht Reference Companion. Mews, Siegfried. A Bertolt Brecht Reference Companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1997. Print. ht, Bertolt, and John Willett. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. Print. Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1968. Print. Dalmia-Lüderitz, Vasudha. ―To Be More Brechtian is to be More Indian: On the Theatre of Habib Tanvir.‖ Fischer-Lichte , Erika, and Michael Gissenwehrer. The Dramatic Touch of Difference: Theatre, Own and Foreign. Tübingen: G. Narr, 1990. Print. Deshpande, Sudhanva. ―Habib Tanvir: Upside-Down Midas― Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 37 (Sep. 13-19, 2003), pp. 3888-3891 Fuegi, John. Bertolt Brecht: Chaos, According to Plan. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print. op, John, and Sabin R. Epstein. Acting with Style. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1982. Print. Kalidasa and Arthur W. Ryder. Shakuntala and Other Writings. New York: Dutton, 1959. Print. Rangacharya, A. trans. Natyshastra, IBH Prakashana, Bangalore 1986 Rouse, John, ―Brecht and the Contradictory Actor.‖ Theatre Journal Vol. 36, No. 1, The Interpretive Actor (Mar., 1984), pp. 25-42. Riley, Dave. ―Bertolt Brecht: the man who never was.‖ A review of The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht by John Fuegi Green Left Weekly #177, 1995 Stoler Miller, Barbara. ―Kalidasa‘s World and His Plays.‖ Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa. Ed. Barbara Stoler Miller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. 3-41. Suvorova, Anna ―The Naya drama in India: Rediscovering the Self in the Western Mirror.‖Jedamski, Doris. Chewing Over the West: Occidental Narratives in Non-Western Readings. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009. Print.
68 Van Buitenen, J. A. B. Two Plays of Ancient India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.Wekwerth, Manfred, and Anthony Hozier. Daring to Play: A Brecht Companion. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011. Print. Weber, Carl, ―Brecht‘s Concept of Gestus and the American Performance Tradition.‖ Martin, Carol, and Henry Bial. Brecht Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2000. Print. Weber, Carl. ―Brecht and the American Avant-Gard: interview with Joseph Chaikin.‖ Martin, Carol, and Henry Bial. Brecht Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2000. Print. Weber, Carl. ―Brecht as Director.‖ Corrigan, Robert W. The Making of Theatre: From Drama to Performance. Glenview, Ill: Scott, Foresman, 1981. Print. Wekwerth, Manfred, and Anthony Hozier. Daring to Play: A Brecht Companion. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011. Print.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.