A few months ago, I was facilitating a creative project for a school as part of their gender awareness initiative. Fourth standard students were going to do a performance that was based on the idea of sports. As soon as I asked the question “So which sport shall we make a performance on?” there was absolute chaos. Everyone wanted to work on their favourite sport. Largely, two games stood out. Kabaddi and Badminton. I was first glad that cricket was not one of them! Then I realised that all the girls were shouting Badminton and the boys were cheering Kabaddi. So I said wonderful. We’ll take both the games and the boys will make a performance on Badminton and the girls would make a performance on Kabaddi. That’s it! There was even more chaos! The girls did not want to engage with Kabaddi because their parents told them that it was dangerous and they wanted to engage with Badminton because they liked PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal. The boys told me that badminton was indeed a boring sport and started calling out name of their favourite Kabaddi league teams.
There comes Big B, making its way into classrooms and playing with the minds of Class 4 students.
I later noticed in that school that during the sports class that all classes were playing the sports that were most associated with their gender.
Boys were playing football and Girls played throw ball. Boys played under the sun and Girls played under the trees. Now here’s how the patterns begin and stereotypes get reinforced over and over again.
I grew up playing all kinds of sports and I played Cricket for the College University team. When I tell people that I was the opening pace bowler of my college cricket team, there is a sense of wonder+doubt+disbelief+a hint of mockery that I can immediately sense in their eyes.
This thought was echoed by a colleague who heads Diversity initiates in her organisation. As part of the sports day tournament, when cricket was being organised, the teams almost had no women in them, until she voluntarily signed up to be part of the team and well, she even got a wicket! It had not even struck the men that women could be part of the team as well. We have to acknowledge that our conditioning is so deep and our biases so ingrained that we fail to recognise them while we’re making decisions. The impact of this can be severe when we make business decisions.
When we see more women taking up a sport and making a mark in the field, it makes people believe that they too can. It makes families believe that their daughters can excel in sports. We need to be inspired by the successes of Mary Kom, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar and at the same time acknowledge the hardships they went through before they met success. We need to motivate youngsters to play the sports they are interested in, without looking at whether it is appropriate for their gender. We also need to actively create support systems that will create the right circumstances for women to excel. Be it a corporate CEO or a Olympic medal winner, they’ve all said that they’ve done it because their families supported them. This means CHANGE really has to start at home and this starts with our attitude towards gender, defined norms and how we can enable our kids to push boundaries, blur lines and really play.
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am exploring unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned and do share your stories to this post. It will add great value to the topic.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #genderbias #Episode3
We know this word. It is part of us and dictates our actions. The Big B leads, making us think and act a certain way. Big B makes us choose A over B. The problem is that we really don't know Big B and yet it controls so much of what we do. I think it's about time we confronted Big B.
Alright. Let's play a quick game. You need to basically choose A or B. Ready?
MK Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Mac Donald burger or Masala Dosa? Mercedes Benz or Maruti Suzuki? Mountain climbing or Mud Wrestling? Milk or Margarita? Money or Mindspace? Muscle or Machine? Mosque or Mandir?
We all choose. BIAS is part of us. It informs us of our likes, thoughts and actions. Now imagine that someone made every choice that you dint make. What is your immediate response? You think this person is SO unlike you. Very different from YOU.
Now is when Big B makes an entrance at a very subconscious level and starts deciding your attitude towards this other person, which influences the way you treat this person. You think you are doing everything right but Big B is steering all of it without you knowing.
Hello Unconscious BIAS
Every decision we make impacts someone or something. From what you wear to work to whom you promote, from decisions that are simple to those that are complex, can we be sure that our decisions and actions enable inclusion on all fronts? Are your decisions in the workplace free of biases of gender, caste, class, language, education, lifestyle and more?
In this #artforinclusion series, as part of my work with Interweave Consulting I am presently going to explore unconscious bias and the many ways it creeps into our brains and spills over into our bodies: making us act, react and behave in ways we are not consciously aware of. Stay tuned.
#artforinclusion #unconsciousbias #Episode1
This post is the second part of my reflections after reading Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Persistence: Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it
We persist most when we are serious about something. Gilbert encourages us to take vows with our creative lives. It’s a kind of commitment. While we’re at it, we cannot be sure that it will be a breeze. This is where Gilbert talks about the Shit Sandwich. We’ve all had to deal with the shit Sandwich now and then, the so called grunt and the so called rejections. It’s part of the process.
She urges creative practitioners to take up day jobs in order to support themselves financially to be ale to continue their creative line of work. It’s going to take us time to be able to make a living out of our creative lives. Gilbert herself admits she did not quit her job until she had written and published four books, many of which even won national awards.
Here’s where I tend to think about it differently. I’d say, yes get a day job, but try and get it in an allied field of your work. This I believe can stimulate your creative life far more than a completely unrelated job that could physically drain you out.
Time is a very significant contributor in this whole process of creative living. People generally tell me that the work will change with time, for the better. Gilbert also illustrates that the audience will change over time for the better. The same person, who did not connect with your work four years ago, might suddenly find a new way to look at your work and like it very much. So keeping at it is the only way to stay in the game.
Trust: You’re not in it alone
Do you love what you do?
Do you believe that what you do loves you back?
This mutual love and trust is what is going to keep one’s creative spirit alive. Sometimes when we’re stuck somewhere, when we feel like an idea is just not moving forward, we get this feeling that creativity is pissed off with us. We end up blaming our creative paths for how bad our lives are turning out.
Two years ago, I was devising a play as a collaboration with a Lithuanian artist. One week before the show, we had no idea where the show was headed. We had created all these bits and pieces of work, but we had no idea how it was all going to come together. We were nervous and also blamed the devising process for letting us down. However, we just kept at it and rehearsed the bits that we had put together. And as we were doing that, slowly a narrative emerged and before we knew, we were able to see patterns between the various sketches that we had put together. Though we blamed the process, we just kept at it till the end and that’s what finally helped us. We trusted it and it decided to reciprocate.
Gilbert then questions how seriously one should take themselves and their work. Like most creative practitioners, I’ve also been told that real art comes from a space of suffering. Gilbert urges us to embrace what she calls the Trickster energy vs. the Martyr energy. This is captured beautifully in these two lines
Martyr says: “the world can never be solved”
Trickster says: “Perhaps not… but it can be gamed”
Sometimes, I am also left with this feeling that I take my work too seriously. But here’s where I am going to try and embrace the trickster energy a bit to see how it shapes my work going forward. This also comes down to style, I guess. If my style is not funny, then can it be playful?
I also feel that creative practitioners tend to be a bit too possessive about their work so much so that a full stop being removed can change the very nature and intent of the piece. Gilbert asks us to think about this in the light of change vs. opportunity. And what you would pick!
I’ve had a lot of trouble changing, editing my theatre pieces. When you look at it with a delete button in hand, everything feels important. A performance of mine called Re:play was part of the Kala Ghoda Festival a few years ago. Owing to time restrictions, we had to keep the performance to under 60 minutes, when it was actually 75 minutes long. 15 minutes of edit seemed like a lot of getting rid of. But I had to let go. And I felt that at the end of it, it was not as bad as I imagined it to be. The audience response was very supportive and I also felt a great level of engagement with the performance that evening.
Divinity: It will go around and come around
When the work travels, it morphs, adapts, changes and when it comes back, you look at it and smile. For the core has remained unchanged, unshaken. It’s still yours in some way and every way.
Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for sharing your life story and inspirations. Thank you for Big Magic.
I often ask myself, "What is it that keeps my creative energies high?" My answers usually range from doing new things, taking holidays or eating a good meal or having an engaging conversation. After reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, a lot of those ideas have been questioned. I've found myself folding the book and smiling knowingly, that I too am a victim of creative stops and blocks. In this article, I am going to share with you my reflections and moments of realisation as I read Big Magic (Article Part 1/2)
Courage: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
In the opening section, Gilbert asks us if we have the courage to put ourselves out there, to put our work out there. Your work will be seen and it will be judged. Very often, I've found myself thinking about what others will think of my work. As a theatre maker, I certainly want people to like my work, but I've also been held back by the fear of someone not liking the work. If nothing, this has just chewed away more time and thought towards editing, polishing and sometimes completely modifying my own work.
I ask myself the things I am scared about. Sometimes it’s the audience, sometimes the media & critics and sometimes.. the list can be endless if I chose fear over courage. I tell myself that putting your work out there is like exposing your mind and body to a bunch of strangers who can see and experience you, your thought and your spirit. If you can dare to do that, you’re already in the game.
When I was in junior school, I used to be an athlete, competing in track and field events. Once, after running the qualifiers I came and told my mom that I don't think I will win the finals. Very casually she asked me why I thought so. "That girl who ran next to me has spiked shoes and I am running barefeet. I am scared." My mother smiled and said, "Dont worry about what's on your leg, think about what's inside" At that moment, it seemed like a one line super motivator. I smiled at my mom and went back and won that race. My mom had subconsciously removed my fear by telling me to look within rather than outside. Today, when I look back and think about this incident as I read Big Magic, I feel like I should be using this mantra in every bit of my work. To look within and find those treasures that are waiting to be unleashed. To not lose fear, but make enough space for it, so that it becomes a collaborator and you learn to work with it.
Enchantment: What is it that keeps you constantly enchanted about your creative living?
In this section, Gilbert pushes us to believe that the world is made up of plants, animals, bacteria, viruses and by ideas. This means that we could be breathing an idea every time we inhale. But we’re going to find it only if we let ourselves be enchanted by this creative living. She tells us the story of Ruth Stone, who would be able to sense an idea in the air and run to her house to grab a pen and a sheet of paper to write it down before its gone.
Well, when an idea flirts with you, flirt right back with it. Don’t try and use your judgement or your ego and reserve it for later. I’ve always believed that I am an ideas person and that I could churn them out one after the other. Once, I was telling someone that I have a set of very different ideas to make plays. My friend got interested and wanted to know more. As I started recounting those ideas to her, I felt like I was slowly improvising because I HAD ACTUALLY FORGOTTEN THOSE IDEAS. I had failed to make note of them and at that moment, it felt like my creative warehouse had just dumped me. Well, I dint really take good care of it, did I? Now, I document, document, document. Be it a story idea or a dream or anything, I jot it down in the nearest sheet of paper, because I am not letting them go J
Gilbert then talks about what it sometimes means to be weighed down by your own success. She asks why Harper Lee never wrote anything after To kill a mocking bird. Creativity is a muscle and one should keep it warmed up, through and through. When I don’t work on creating theatre for a while, I don’t really feel good about the break. I always feel like I am losing my theatrical eye and that’s a voice you don’t want to hear when you are in the rehearsal studio.
Permission: What are you waiting for?
We don’t need anyone to tell us to proceed or give us that green signal we’ve been waiting for. Sometimes, we realise, we’re the ones holding ourselves back. If we took great joy in the smallest of things we did, that’s already a sign of you living your creative life.
Gilbert urges us to look at authenticity over originality. Every idea you come up with could have been done before in some way or the other. But just that YOU are in it now, changes it, both for you and the audience. If we’re able to keep the authenticity and bring ourselves into the work, the work will be MAX authentic.
In my first week at drama school, we were asked to make a one minute theatrical presentation of ourselves. I wanted to make an impact, so I decided I would play with light and text to create my life story using the ray of light as a metaphor. I held a Par can in my hand and went in a slow circle talking to the people at whom the light was pointed. Somehow, at the end of it, though people came up to me and said they thought it was cool, I was not very convinced. While I was reflecting on my performance that evening, I realised that I was not being myself, but just being dramatic! Next week, we were asked to repeat the same exercise as part of another course and this time, at every moment of the piece I asked myself if I was being authentic. The performance ended up being a lot more personal and engaged much better with the audience as well.
To be continued in Part 2
About a year ago, I was sitting in a session on performance composition. The professor facilitating the session started off with a question, what does warm up mean to you ?
There were different answers in the room, but the one that stood out for me was this line contributed by my friend and performer Gintare. She said "The physical and psychological opening to the creative process". This one line has greatly influenced the way I approach my warm up sessions prior to beginning a creative process.
Devising original work calls for a lot of self preparation for all those involved. Devising is about every individual in the space collectively influencing the creative outcome - and this requires you to in a flexible frame of mind and body, being open to everything coming in and being able to process content leaving aside our biases.
Preparing the body and the mind together is critical. I have observed in many rehearsals over the years, that warm up is just a routine. I've noticed actors doing regular stretches, voice warmups and calling out lines, alone or in groups. This is certainly helpful, but the question every performer should ask themselves is - Is it making your mind and body flexible ? Is it really opening you up to the creative process that lies ahead of you ?
There is no one warm up process that will work for all. Each individual is different and the warm up outcome will decide what we do in the session. I also urge performers to create for themselves and the group - A warm up outcome, which is to say, what you want the warm up to achieve. This could range from high energy to focus to timing to vocal clarity. Every individual in the performance can have different outcomes, but when it comes to an environment of collaboration, of shared space, the group warms could have similar outcomes, that the group works toward.
When one is warmed up physically and psychologically, the ability to take on content and process it is much richer. The contributions made in the space feel fresher. And when people in the space know that the other is warmed up, then the energy in the room is different, there is mutual trust that is established and the creative journey feels wonderful.
Once I had conceptualised Re:play, I spent a lot of time reading up resource material on the games through a variety of sources. Given that almost all traditional games have been passed on through generations, I came across multiple versions of the same games. In fact, the same game is played in different ways and called different names across the country. This is also what made my research interesting. From finding out mythological connections and stories to games being relevant in today's 21st century, there was a lot to learn from.
From the very beginning, I had the support of Manasi Subramaniam as a dramaturg and writer. We would try and orchestrate material in a way that it became interesting from a point of view of performance. I would also take in some of this material to the studio, work with collaborators and explore possibilities.
Once we had a structure in place, we then contacted Kreeda Games, a company dedicated to the promotion of traditional games and sought their support from a research point of view. Through the support of Kreeda, one of the most significant things we discovered were personal stories of people who have played these games through time. Research with Kreeda is still ongoing, for further development of the show.
The C.P.Ramaswami Aiyar foundation promotes traditional and folk arts. They had published a book called Traditional folk games of Tamilnadu. I contacted the author of the book, Prof. V Balambal who was ever willing to support this initiative. In my meetings and conversations with her, I gained a lot of insights, which have helped shape this performance.
Research has always been the foundation to performance. Re:play is a highly research intensive process. Transforming research content to performative action has been the most enjoyable process over the last 6 months, apart from the fact that I pester people to tell me about all the traditional Indian games that they have played over the years.
Re:play premieres on the 19, 20 and 21 of September at the C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation(Alwarpet), followed by a public showcasing on the 28 and 29 of September at Spaces (Besant Nagar) in Chennai. Both performances are only on a registration basis, the details of which we will put up next week. The performance will also tour Bangalore and Hyderabad over October and November. Looking forward to Re:play times.
- Aruna Ganesh Ram
Physical theatre workshop with Anitha Santhanam
When I started training for Re-play in London, I worked with a movement practitioner called Emma Grace. Before this, I was not really paying attention to the way I moved, but focussed on moving. Infact, most of my performances have been movement heavy, but I have never paid great attention to movement as a specific way of working. However, this time, I was keen on incorporating this within my practice.
I started work in the studio with Emma Grace. Emma's first instruction to me was to try and move my hands engaging my core. I spent a good while trying to engage my core and come to terms with its existence. I was glad I managed it and when I used my core to move my hands, I discovered a sense of buoyant movement. My hands were moving in an almost effortless fashion. I dint feel like my shoulder muscles or my biceps were doing any work. It was all coming from my core. It was just the first 5 minutes into the session and I had realised the power of movement based training for performance. Right from the way I breathed, to the way I moved in the space changed over the course of my movement based training with Emma. I am ever thankful to her for those wonderful one on one training sessions.
Then it occurred to me that it was important for performers who were going to work in Re-play to also go through this kind of an experience. So I immediately began looking to bring down movement trainers from London to India and also looked up movement trainers in India. That's when I came across Anitha Santhanam and her work in this space. I immediately wrote to her and what a co incidence, she was in London. We met up that very weekend and plans were made to host a workshop in physical theatre in Chennai in July. I was excited.
A weekend workshop
Plans were made and we were set. 10 theatre practitioners in the city were invited to be part of the workshop.
One of the first things the participants were made to experience was to be present in the space. Applying soft focus, what does it mean to be in a space with your body. Is there a way that we can create a sense of awareness for ourselves through our bodies.
Where does bodily movement originate from ? How can we, as performers get into a state of awareness where we are conscious of our various movements. Using this how can we create distinct character based movements that make a character unique and distinct. Anitha also introduced the participants to the concept of 7 levels of tension, based on the learning methodologies of Jacques Lecoq. This enabled participants to understand different body states and how each of them could distinctly communicate certain traits. The amount of effort one needs to put into each of these states were also realised by the participants.
The next day, the participants were introduced the concept of elasticity in movement. This enabled a heightened sense of awareness to the way they were moving as well as in being able to exert a push and pull using their bodies. The body also learn to react and embody an imaginary force and create an illusion for the audience. We then extended this into an interactive embodiment with fellow practitioners where different tensions in the body communicated with one another. This way we were talking to each other through our bodies. We also added another layer of voice that created an aural experience to the visual embodiment.
My engagement with theatre practitioner Vasudev Menon was in exploring the concept of push and pull at various levels. While Dev exercised his elasticity on a vertical plane, I played it on a horizontal plane. This also introduced the idea of depth and dimension through the body. We also used some minimal sounds to foster an exchange between two bodies that were at varying physical proximities.
We then moved to embodying textures and movement of objects. What does it take to create an illusion of a flying plastic bag or a swaying curtain ? What state must the body be in and what are those details one should focus on to bring those objects alive. We then also discussed possible areas of play with such boy movements and how that can be fit into an overall performance scheme.
At the end of the day, there was joy, learning and some pain. With our muscles being flexed in new ways, we had something to complain about and sleep a bit more the next morning. Thanks to Anitha for her time and thought.
A couple of lines from the participants who attended the workshop:
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Every single moment of it, dying though I was, of pain. The one thing that made a lot of sense is the neutrality aspect that Anitha touched upon. I think I will keep it with me and consciously apply it too. - Vaishnavi Sundararajan
I sometimes don't feel actors are comfortable enough in their bodies to be comfortable in an entirely created space. It certainly initiated a different kind of awareness for me, which I hope will translate into better acting - Susan Abraham
Curtains as pillars and moving in and out of it
Last week, I attended a workshop on Stage lighting, conducted by Andy Purvees at Central School. As I walked into the room, I saw four distinct areas being lit up, using a variety of lights. After a brief warm up and initiation, we were divided into groups and asked to play around with the equipment that was around in the room. Even before we knew it, art was being made.
Having lights at your disposal from day one of your rehearsal can change the way your play takes shape, significantly. The difference being, you are designing a sketch based on the light that is available, as opposed to designing light to a set pattern of moves. This just changes the way you begin to look at the work you are making. In a way, the light becomes a part of the act, a protagonist of some sort and not just a support element.
Sound was also brought into the space and now we were keeping the mood of the music and varying our rhythms of play with the light sources accordingly. This created some interesting possibilities. It's truly a luxury to be able to have your sound and light from day one of your rehearsal, but I think if you did, your work will end up being a lot different, definitely, for the better.
I've also seem to taken a lot of liking towards using other innovative light sources and bringing them on stage. This could be Light bulbs, serial lights or even candles and kerosene lamps. Lighting should be used more than just for lighting up actors and setting the mood. Lights induce new possibilities and gives us room to do more !
"The performance is possible and gains a new sense of purpose only because of the audience"
Re-creating the Shawshank experience - Photo by Creativesocialblog
Immersive or participatory theatre is about designing your performance with active participation from the audience. The audiences' presence makes the play possible. Their actions give the play a new sense of purpose.
A fortnight ago, I had the opportunity to be part of a re-creation of 'Shawshank Redemption', as part of London's Secret Cinema venture. This simply meant that I was a prisoner in Shawshank. I dressed like one and ate like one and was definitely treated that way too. The experience was questioning in many ways about how I truly felt through the experience and after its conclusion.
We were asked to come dressed in formals, and wear our long johns under our clothes. I was sent for trial, where I was convicted of kidnap and sentenced to 8 years in prison. A prison bus drove us from one location to an abandoned school a few miles away. As soon as we got down, we were mocked at, guards yelled at us in their firm tones, commanding us and treating us like dirt. However, you know that everything you are going through is an act and you know for sure that you are safe. It's that willing suspension of disbelief that makes it or breaks it for you. At this juncture in life, I don't think I will ever be convicted for kidnap in reality. This was my chance to live a second life, though you may not really want to.
We were sent into a common hallway, where we changed and everything was administered in a strict drill sort of fashion. We were led to our bunks, where prisoners also offered to sneak in beer and other eatables. Dinner followed, where we were given steel plates and served food in a rather harsh manner. A whole spoon full of baked beans was shoved into my mouth, against my liking. (I am allergic to baked beans, but the guards dint care) The atmosphere set was scary, strict and violent.Well, that's how jails are, at least from what we know of it from the movies we see. We were taken to recreation rooms, where I sketched and also made wax candles. Of course I was inducted into the library, where the jail warden pushed out books from all rows and it was my job to rearrange the whole bit. I did have my revenge. I stole the warden's shoes, as it happens in the movie !
We were then taken to the medical room and asked to consume some pills. The nurses at the counter refused to tell us what the pill was and almost forced us to take it. I took the pill, but did not swallow it and spat it out as soon as I left the room. At that precise moment, I felt like I was really a prisoner, breaking the rules and being sneaky. It was a realization of another sort. Was I really feeling violated and manipulated at that moment? Was my life really in someone else's hands? Was I really in jail ? Do I ever want to be in jail and be put through such treatment ?
I also broke the rules, where I disobeyed the guards and created chaos. I was literally pushing boundaries and testing their patience. I know that if it were all real, I'd maybe be shot down by now, but it was rather interesting to see and feel the tension of the environment and be part of it.
We also got to watch Shawshank Redemption at the end of it, to top it all. Plenty of beer was served and we were finally released into the real world !
"A starting point is a spring board you take off from to land on a platform of possibilities"
Often, we are in search of the Big Idea that will give us the significant edge. Let us for a minute think about the combined power of multiple ideas and what that means.
In devising new work, starting points are critical. Not that they necessarily dictate how your work shapes up, but they give you an interesting direction by which new content may be generated. A starting point can be just about anything. It can be a word, an image, an event, a person or simply what's in front of you or outside the window. If your starting point is intangible or of the past, think about it, deeply. If it is tangible and of the present and available with you or near you,observe it, keenly.
In the process of observation or thought, it is important to be able to document in detail what you are going through. Once documented, make informed choices about priorities within the set of documented ideas, events and thoughts. An important aspect hereon is the conversion of thought to action. A series of such constructed actions by multiple members will open up a variety of ideas. The complementing or contrasting themes that emerge between team members can be explored to create interesting narratives or sketches.
In a recent workshop with Head of a Woman, a London based international theatre collective, my starting point was established as a date. I had to detail out the events of a certain 21st of October in 2002. Coincidentally, it was the year I started pursuing theatre and in all probability, I would have been rehearsing my one line part in Twelfth Night. Detailing out this day set the base for my work. The performance at the end of the week long workshop had nothing to do with 21st October, but the starting point defined and directed the work in a particular direction. We ended up devising a promenade theatre piece that was a game in which the actors alone knew the rules.
A different starting point every week and content generated in this direction will essentially leave you with a pile of material to choose from and play around with. Once you get started, you will need to couple your working methods along with certain performance directives. These are tools that will enhance your work and enable you to look at your work differently. A directive can be anything from tossing a coin to make decisions or to look at news paper images and relate your work to that.
Devising is interesting because it lets performers think about themselves, their lives and their actions. People on stage are no more merely giving away lines from a script they recently got familiar with, but living a moment that they created with a certain objective. This raises the stakes, for all those involved, be it the audience or the performer.Devised work ends up being more precious for the performers, since they made every bit of it, from scratch - from that very word - 'starting point'.