Curtain Call: I didn’t mind being “shameless” to sit near my guru
Pune: So, I became a student of Dubeyji in his 10-day workshop. Little did I know that he was going to be my guru for the rest of my life. The workshop was for five hours a day. Those fifty hours offer me a lot of insight even today. Even though I had learnt most of the exercises in previous workshops, it was the narration of his experiences and a little peek that he offered about his process that opened up a lot of possibilities.
I enjoyed doing those exercises. But I would wait for him to speak after every exercise, where he would explain their importance and also give examples of how he used them while directing plays. He used to sit in a normal plastic chair and we would sit on the floor. I would wait for everyone to sit so that I could go and sit at the very front, in whatever space I could find, so that I didn’t miss any word and not get distracted by anything else. Those might be the only days when I didn’t want to be a back-bencher. Everyone else had noticed it and it had become a standing joke to keep some space for me whenever he called us to listen. But I didn’t mind being shameless! The workshop sessions always went beyond the scheduled five hours and I wouldn’t have had a problem if they continued even after that! As mentioned in the previous article, the sessions ended with all of us singing various songs. It started with a song or two on the first day and by the end of it we were singing for nearly three quarters of an hour. We weren’t good at it, but it was a good way to unwind after all the theatrical exercises.
Of the many things that have stayed with me, and those that I use while directing and also try and impart while conducting a workshop, three things have made a world of a difference. First and foremost – the art of surrendering to the creator. He told us that whenever you are watching a play or film, just surrender yourself to that for the duration of its runtime. Do not question the logic while watching it. Analyse it after you have watched it. It made a lot of sense to me. As a viewer, if I continue to be critical while watching it, there is a good chance that I will not enjoy anything!
Second, he emphasised on the concept of “before”. What has happened before is as important as what is happening now. Everything that is taking place in the play has some history. Once we find that, the current events start making more sense. I directed my first play immediately after I did this workshop and I remember using this new-found knowledge fully and it helped me a lot. We improvised a lot of scenes that might have happened before the events in our play took place. These scenes were unscripted and based on an idea, mostly about something that was mentioned in the play. This helped the actors understand their characters, their motivations better and it definitely showed in their performance.
And the third thing he taught us through a theatre exercise was to understand the text and the sub-text. It was such a simple and beautiful exercise and it remains my favourite till date. We had to narrate the paragraph that we had learnt by heart to an imaginary toddler over and over again until she or he understood it. But the catch was that the toddler was never going to understand it and we were not supposed to get angry at it or give up explaining! I think we did this exercise on the fifth or sixth day of the workshop and suddenly all of us realised that for all this time, we were only saying the lines, without understanding their meaning fully.
I remember I had read out a story at a function where I was one of the recipients of a theatre fellowship. He was invited to be part of the celebrations and he too had graciously accepted it. While everybody else was congratulating us, he was the only one who was talking about our pieces that we had performed that day and what changes we could have done to make it better. I tried to hold on to every word he said, not knowing when I will get that chance again. But as it turns out, there were many interesting interactions still in store for me!