Notes from ..... Scenography | Visualscapes | Devising ....
Masterstrokes: The Journey..... by Nishath
From the Director's Diary - 1 : Ranji David
This play turns the spotlight on the prolific yet tumultuous life of one of India’s greatest painters
After wrapping up a trilogy on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth in 2014, Ranji David was keen to do a play on the life of a painter, and an Indian painter to be specific. The theatre actor-director was also certain of the fact that he would like to live the life of a painter to get the nuances on stage right, instead of depending solely on research. So off he went to the art gallery at Chitrakala Parishath in 2014. He signed up for a part-time painting course for six months. And along with those classes, he began his search for the painter.
After contemplating various names – Raja Ravi Varma, Mf Husain, Sadanand Bakre for instance – he zeroed in on the life of Amrita Sher-Gil, an artist who was considered to be one of the greatest avant-garde female painters of the early 20th century, a pioneer of modern Indian art, and ‘the Frida Kahlo of India’. That’s how Amrita Sher-Gil, Ranji’s new play that premieres this on May 27th, came to be.
"..... The script from Manjima Chatterjee seemed to take its time with experienced theatre actors whom I decided to work with initially. As time passed my personal frustration of the project not taking off was quite unsettling, I was painting and sketching more, but the play took a backseat, until one day I decided, enough was enough and called actors from my theatre company as an experiment to get moving, I chose devising as a methodology since there were many moments that were unexplainable through text or story narratives.
There were many times at the initial stages when i just wanted to quit the play making due to the challenges I faced with actors, but I remember reading this one-liner from a book...
.. When a journey is long, you must travel alone..... that kept me going
The more I read Amrita Sher-Gil and her life the more I was convinced that devising was the method to sculpt out her story with actors. The team was divided into 3 smaller teams ( actors, movement actors, and effects actors. First was to get the movement going, then the scenes with the actors, then finally with the effects team. Each of teams were assigned with a director who would oversee the activities and fine tune them with the actors during rehearsals.
But I felt that the enthusiasm and the synergy that we showed off-stage could have translated better on stage. Sudee, Aditya, Sandhya all came together to show us that stage productions of this magnitude work only when everyone performs their duties well.I tried to extract the most I could from this experience.
ADA is where I watched my first play in Bangalore. It was Common Man. I never imagined somewhere down the line I would get to perform on the same stage, in front of my closest friends, in a play directed by the same Ranji David. That was the other highlight. Thanks for the journey, the trust and the opportunity Ranji.
During the process of making Amrita Sher-gil, there have been days when I have had my doubts. When we made little or no progress because there weren't enough people. I want to thank everyone who showed up during those rehearsals and also Ranji for not giving up on this dream......"
A smile or two from my co-actors, simple words of reassurance, made me feel confident and settled. *(For the first time without making any promises I saw a team that was standing by each other whether we met a year back. or a few months or a few days.. or just a few hours back. Everyone just wanted to make the show the best ever).*
With every phase of Amrita Shergil, Ranji put in all his faith and trust in us to make this a master-piece. To put his trust in so many people for a dream that started 3 years ago.. needs tremendous courage. *(As much as I believe never to hurt someone's trust in you, I learnt more that it is important to trust in the goodness of people no matter how turbulent the waters get).* As I leave, Indira behind on the ADA stage, even in my memory... she left me empty and I suddenly have nothing to say, I have noone to blame.. nothing to prove. I still find myself searching for something ... in that torch light and in a split second I realise that I am searching alone. When I turn to look at my audience, the curtains are drawn and in the silent darkness... "Amrita Shergil" fades away...
"...A play that took us through the life and the inner world of the famed Indian painter. The love she shared with her sibling, her romance, her turmoil of styles she wanted to follow and her inner strength that always saw through the masks people around here wore. Well written and potrayed by the Director and all the able actors! The music scores could have been a show of their own. All in all, an introspective experience into the life of an artist.... "says Samridhi Purohit
Directed by Ranji David
Assistant Directors : Ankit Tripathi, Shreya Sen, & Nitesh Verma
Light by Aditya Kulkarni
Music by Sudeendran Nair
Scenography by Radhika Jain
Set Design by Anand Kumar
Costume Design by Almas Kotadia
Visualscapes by Sandhya Rajendran
Makeup by Vijay Banecha
Physical Trainers :
• Priyanka Saha
• Mythili S Shachichandra
• Aakanksha Awasthy
• Akshatha V Murthy
• Rashmi Vadavi
Last week same time..we were in the middle of tech rehearsals.. and it was raining heavily. A lot of us suddenly looked worried - "I hope people will come in the middle of all these rains". "Oh shucks! look at the time... we wont be able to have an entire run-through"
Almas had reminded me a week before, how I tend to get worked up before the show and how it eventually would show up on my performance. Being extremely wary of my thoughts, actions and words that shouldn't stir anyone else and even myself, I silently moved away from the team; more emotionally than physically.
To protect Indira, I had to stop Mithila from her usual way of reacting. I had to break away from myself to keep Indira's mind in the right place. Despite the under-current of anxiety that ran through everyone in varying degrees that evening.. there was an air of togetherness.
Trailer #1 with voice of Director Narrating the journey
An Assistant Directors Perspective : Shreya Sen
Katrina from Moscow and Elena from Italy, two fantastic movement specialists added their bit of making the actors trust their bodies, I was quite certain that I wanted less text and more symbolism and exploratory movement.
I realize that the more I am moving into direction the less I am interested in anything verbose in a play. I began to understand and respect the hidden memories of the bodies and their stories that they tell. Then slowly the pieces began to move as we progressed towards the show date. I focused on getting the core of the play right, the story of Amrita, slowly the most important phase of the play began, my favorite part; the sculpting. Like a jig-saw puzzle, what to go in and most importantly what to let go off, the final sculpting was done and the play was ready. I could see that the team was energized that the play was ready, and we were ready to travel towards the premier ..... The actors have responded extremely well to the scale of the play...
The Making of Amrita Sher-Gil
Amrita Sher-Gill and her life works
A Discussion with the Director, 2 Assistant Directors and Lead
To visualize a play, to understand what goes into it to make it an absolute surreal experience for the audience, one needs to be free to imagine, and to let that imagination fly and take shape.
To visualize what goes into the visualscapes, to understand what kind of painting to showcase in the play, all took pain-staking time and effort. Around 8 paintings of Amrita Sher-Gil were showcased at different stages of the play when it was finally performed.
To create a surrealistic play onstage, yet keep the story telling in place so that the audience understands and enjoys the experience, was equally a daunting task. To merge the surreal and the real.
Music and lights are characters in the play. Although music is a powerful element in the play, there are moments in the play where there is only silence, it was a conscious choice to let to audience hear their own music, to hear their own internal voice, its a designed pause in the play. Similarly lights have a character of their own, they reflect and throw lights into the surrealistic storytelling and narrative & bring it alive. Especially one entire scene where the lights are only from the actors and not from anything in the auditorium.
Like a painting, play making is an ongoing process, one stops only when one feels like .... the final pieces are all merged yet like raw paint, they draw you closer, waiting for you to strike that one master stroke.
An Actors Perspective : Mithila Ketkar
1. Who is the protagonist (main character)? What are his (or her) character traits? Weaknesses? Virtues?
2. What are the functions of the other characters? Do any serve to bring out certain aspects of the main character? How? Is there a character who seems to be the special vehicle for the director's message?
3. Who is the antagonist, if there is one? Is he or she complex (or “rounded”) character (a mixture of good and bad)?
4. If the play is a classical tragedy, does the main character have a "tragic flaw" (weakness, moral defect, or an error in judgment)? What part does chance play in his or her downfall? Is the main character noble enough to win our admiration and sympathy in spite of his shortcomings?
5. What technique does the director use to help develop the characters? Stage directions? Self-revelation by monologue or dialogue? Actions? Comments by other characters?
6. Does the director try to give minor characters well-rounded personalities? Are there any stereotypical characters?
1. What are the main plot elements? Into how many "chapters of action" is the play divided, regardless of the act or scene divisions? Can you summarize each chapter of action after you have read it? Is the progress of the action clear?
2. Is the plot of sufficient scope and importance to engage our interest?
3. What brings on the dramatic conflict? Where does the play really begin?
4. Are the incidents well-connected? How are gaps in time treated?
5. Is the resolution inevitable, or is the denouement brought about by coincidence?
6. Is there dramatic irony present? To what degree? What does it achieve?
1. Where and when does the play take place? Do the time or place change? If so, do the changes weaken the play? Are the changes necessary and natural?
2. How does the setting contribute to the theme and characterization? Is the particular setting important to the play?
1. What is the moral or human significance of the play? How do the theme, plot, and characters reflect this universal significance? Does it stimulate thought about any important problems of life? Does it supply answers by implication or by direct statement?
2. Does the play clearly reveal any over-all view of the universe on the part of the dramatist? Is his or her view sentimental, cynical, religious, humanist, romantic, etc.? Does the dramatist leave conclusions up to the viewer or use devices to help form the viewer's conclusions?
1. If written in verse, what kind? Does the dramatist seem hampered by the verse form?
2. Is the language elevated or close to that of real life?
3. Does it contribute significantly to the enjoyment of the play?
4. Is the language used by each character especially adapted to him or her? Is it used to help characterize?
1. What is the genre of the play (tragedy, melodrama, surreal etc.)? How well does this play fit the definition of the genre?
2. Would you like to watch the play a second or third time? Why or why not?
Devised rehearsal process as they evolved
Sher-Gil had to face a lot of ups and downs in her personal life. On the professional front, she was in constant search for something new, to represent her inner landscapes. In 2006, her painting Village Scene sold for `6.9 crore at The Osian’s auction in New Delhi, which was at the time the highest amount ever paid for a painting in the country.
The Indian government has also declared her works as a National Art Treasure. With this play, Ranji wants to take the audiences through Gil’s journey of self-discovery, passion, and romance, along with her painting styles and subjects that shattered the norm of the time; her works depicted the plight of women.
For research, Ranji and his team of actors at Organisational Theatre read up various articles, including the biography – Amrita Sher-Gil: A Self-Portrait in Letters & Writings – by Gil’s nephew Vivan Sundaram.
"...The play which is about Amrita the artist is quite an art in itself. The use of stage artists as paintings, as thought waves and memories, as incidents and as places is quite a 'wow' factor! The main Characters who played Amrita and Indhu delivered their roles so well that the audience were mesmerized. Every artist did his/her part perfectly. We felt it was worth the effort we took in such a weather to see the play. Kudos to the team! Looking forward to seeing more such play..." says Poorani Subrahmanian
"....The team really banded together on the final day, right from setting up the curtains, making sure we had enough water in the wings, having the props ready for each scene, no-one missed a step. That was really heartening to see. Everyone contributed to make sure it was as seamless as possible. Tardiness was an issue, but Ankit has addressed it at length already.
We were hard-pressed for time, after the tech rehearsal ended and before the final show was due to start, but everyone responded really well to the urgency. We had people with multiple responsibilities who still managed to be ready in time for the show to start. Some people took it upon themselves to constantly remind everyone of the time remaining and helping out wherever and however possible.
The individual instances are too many to recount, but it didn’t feel more like a team effort than it did on that day. For me that was one of the highlights.
1. What were the most memorable moments in the play.
2. What were your observations of the plot.
3. Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite character and why?
4. Describe at least three major conflicts in the play.
5. Were the actors believable in their roles? Why or why not?
6. Describe at least one actor’s use of voice. You should include pitch, rate, volume, tone, clarity, emotions etc.
7. Describe at least one actor’s movements. Was it motivated? How could you tell?
8. What was the theme or idea (what was the director’s message)?
9. What was the mood of the play, as created by lighting, costumes, props, set, etc.?
10. What was the tempo or rhythm? Fast, slow or mixture of both? where, when or why tempo changed? Did it suit the mood of the play?
11. What were the aesthetic elements in the play?
12. What was the color of the play? Why ?
13. What style of painting would this play represent
14. Those moments of silence in the play, what do they remind you of?
15. What were the moments of tension (between characters, between the play & the audience, between actors and music, between lights and the actors) ?
16. What were the various symbolisms used in the play ? what do those symbols convey?
17. Why does Victor chose to remain in the relationship ? what were his motivations as the relationship became more complex ?
He is hoping the audience will enjoy Amrita Sher-Gil as much as the team has putting it together. What’s interesting is that thanks to this English play, what started off as a means for research for Ranji turned into a serious passion. He put up his first show of paintings at the Rangoli Metro Art centre in November 2016.
“The challenge however was to condense Gil’s extraordinary life into one hour, and to find actors who could paint. Not all of them could paint, and I had to conduct an art workshop for a few of the actors. I was looking for actors who were intuitive by nature; I wanted them to let go of their internal biases, be prepared for new situation and take risks,” shares Ranji about his 36-member team.
He invited freelance trainers Elena Roncoroni from Italy and Katrina Menshikova from Moscow, who trained the actors in physical training. “The play has a lot of movements, and the actors needed to be trained in physical theatre.” “Both Roncoroni and Menshikova are movement experts, and have an affinity towards creative collaborative works,” the 41-year-old theatre practitioner tells us.
Ranji’s work is a devised theatre performance, so he has moved away from the original draft a lot. “I personally dislike verbosity. My style of direction is to tell a story through symbolism and the physicality of actors. I find that far more enriching, engaging and creatively-challenging. Script-based plays are for newcomers, devised performances require a mature mind,” he explains.
" ...If there is a voice inside you that says you cannot paint, then you MUST, so that, that voice is silenced forever ......" Vincent Van Gough
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"...First off, let me tell you that watching Amritha Shergill was one of my most profound experiences in theater. The way colors, music and performances were used to capture powerful sentiments and address issues from identity to furious creative pursuits was most satisfying.
Somebody once said that good art must comfort the disturbed and disturb the comforted. That is exactly what the play did to me, it disturbed the blissful calm of my head with desires of finding one's voice in a world full of noise and voices, wanting to be courageous in the midst of suffering and mediocrity.
With all of these ambivalent emotions squeezing my insides, I remember sitting there feeling awed at the craft of it all.Thank you for that..."
says Naufil Ahmed