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Theatrical retreat

A unique theatre residency program teaches students the art of clowning in the Himalayas.

art and culture Updated: May 22, 2011 14:29 IST
Shweta Mehta

Thespians are now taking a hike. In an unusual programme, the theatre folks and students of the Theatre Garage Programme are taking a trip to the Himalayas to learn the art of clowning this month. The brainchild of theatre artiste Ashwath Bhatt, the 15-day residency held in the hills has been finding many takers since it started in 2007.

“A lot of people didn’t have faith in the project and questioned whether aspirants would be willing to travel all the way. But those who are keen have always managed to make time,” says Bhatt, who has had takers from not only from Mumbai and Delhi but even unlikely cities like Hyderabad and Guwahati.

Bhatt, who toured Europe and South Asia for nearly two years with the Berlin-based Flying Fish Theatre Company, used that time to think about how he wanted to teach, on his return to India. “I was introduced to clowning at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), and was very fascinated by it. I wanted to introduce it here because of our social background and the way we live,” he says.

And contrary to popular definition, Bhatt denies that a clown is a joker as seen in a circus act. “It’s far deeper than that. This is more character-based and very liberating. It’s about finding your inner child,” he explains, adding, “You could be at an airport, looking serious in a three-piece suit, but suddenly, you turn into a clown. They are as fragile, vulnerable and emotional as us. The way we are structured, we take on a lot of masks. In that sense, the red nose, is the smallest mask, and it really helps in finding your real self.”

Bhatt is also among the few practitioners in the country, who follow the principles of the Alexander Technique to train their students in voice and body movement. “It’s an intense process, which requires up to 15-16 hours of dedication per day, so at times, I’ve even discouraged people from coming,” he says.

To make his classes more accessible, Bhatt has deliberately kept his fee affordable. “I’ve been told that I can get away with charging Rs 25,000, but this is not a commercial project,” he reasons. “And for people who can’t afford it, I’ve even given out scholarships in the past.”