Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Essay is in the Book ‘The politics of American Actor Training’ published by Routledge.

paat1 I am very happy to share the news of a book release- ‘The Politics of American Actor training’ on September 23rd, 2009. Routledge the leading publishers in performance and literary theory, includes this book in their series, “Routledge advances on Theatre & performance studies’. This book is edited by Ellen Margolis is Chair and Director of Theatre, Pacific University in Oregon and Lissa Tyler Renaud is Director of the Actors' Training Project in California, and the English Language Editor for the International Association of Theatre Critics.

This book addresses the historical, social, colonial, and administrative contexts that determine today's U.S. actor training, as well as matters of identity politics, access, and marginalization as they emerge in classrooms and rehearsal halls. It considers persistent, questioning voices about our nation’s acting training as it stands, thereby contributing to the national dialogue the diverse perspectives and proposals needed to keep American actor training dynamic and germane, both within the U.S. and abroad. Prominent  academics and artists view actor training through a political, cultural or ethical lens, tackling fraught topics about power as it plays out in acting curricula and classrooms. The essays in this volume offer a survey of trends in thinking on the subject, engaging in how American theatre expresses our national identity, in the globalization of arts education policy, and in the politics of curriculum decisions wherever our actor training is keeping American actors relevant.

The book has two parts, comprising a total of 14 essays written by 13 authors. My essay is in the first part and is titled ‘The Politics of Western Pedagogy in the Theatre of India’.

The contents of the Book & Authors


Introduction, Ellen Margolis and Lissa Tyler Renaud,

Part I 1: Stanislavsky and Politics: Active Analysis and the American Legacy of Soviet Oppression, Sharon Marie Carnicke

2: Actor Training Meets Historical Thinking, Jonathan Chambers

3: The Politics of Western Pedagogy in the Theatre of India, Chandradasan

4: Degrees of Choice, Leigh Woods

5: Training Artists or Consumers? Commentary on American Actor Training, Lissa Tyler Renaud

6: Changing Demographics: Where is Diversity in Theatre Programs in Higher Education and National Associations? Donna B. Aronson

7: The Wild, Wild East: Report on the Politics of American Actor Training Overseas, Lissa Tyler Renaud

Part II 8: Beyond Race and Gender: Reframing Diversity in Actor Training Programs, David Eulus Wiles

9: "Typed" for What?, Mary Cutler

10: "They accused me of bein’ a homosexual": Playing Kerry Cook in The Exonerated, Derek S. Mud

11: Identity Politics and the Training of Latino Actors, Micha Espinosa and Antonio Ocampo-Guzman

12: Keeping It Real Without Selling Out: Toward Confronting and Triumphing Over Racially Specific Barriers in American Acting Training, Venus Opal Reese

13: Disability and Access: A Manifesto for Actor Training, Victoria Ann Lewis

14: Arrested or Paralyzed? Reflections on the Erotic Life of an Acting Teacher, Ellen Margolis

Notes on Contributors


Details of the ‘Politics of American Actor Training’

Price: $95.00

  • ISBN: 978-0-415-80121-8
  • Binding: Hardback
  • Published by: Routledge
  • Publication Date: 23rd September 2009 (Available for Pre-order)
  • Pages: 244

Routledge has announced the details of the book in their site and the link is

Amazon has listed the book in the link

I am deeply indebted to Lissa Tyler Renaud, who believed in me and invited to join this writing project and to my friend Shobha Menon for continuously insisting, monitoring and motivating me so that I keep up with the schedule.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Murali (1954 – 2009);dreaming high, to set foot on stars and hold the sun.


And Murali also is gone; after an enigmatic career in theatre, films, and in the cultural scenario of Kerala. Murali bring in different memories, different persona, and is relevant for different reasons in each who knew him. He was a versatile film actor, an ardent activist of theatre, a friend, a cultural and political ideologue…. There are many faces to this man...diverse roles he performed in life…

For me he was primarily a theatre person, one who is dissatisfied with the theatre scenario of Kerala, one who dreamt to capture the sun, knowing the base reality around makes this practically impossible. But why not dream and try…aim at the sun and you may end up at least in a stream of light, and that will irradiate the darkness around... And the darkness around the theatre scenario engulfing Kerala was unbearable to Murali.

My first interaction with Murali was way back in 1978 when the group Natyagriham came to Koothattukulam to perform the play Moonnu Prabhukkanamar (Three lords), penned and directed by R.Narendraprasad. I was a college student traveling from Kuravilangadu to see the play. After the play in which Murali was one of the three lords, I met Narendraprasad, Aliyar, Gopalakrishnan and Murali, important actors of the group. We had a short but dense discussion about the play, and Natyagriham. And that relation was to continue and get strengthened.

Later after many years I was again an audience to Marthandavarma Engine Rakshapettu, (How did Marthanda varma escape?) in which the performance of Murali was scintillating and was an eye-opener for me about the theatre practice to be followed.

The plays of Natyagriham, Sanidasa (written by Cherukadu), Lankalakshmi (by CN Sreekantan Nair), Sinkathanum Minnikallum (adaptation of Wole Soyinkas Lion and the Jewel), Souparnnika (by Narendraprasad), Velliyashcha (by Narendraprasad) and many more followed, all directed by Narendra Prasad. Natyagriham was establishing a presence in the theatre scenario of Kerala with a group of vibrant actors and technicians on the scene, almost all taken to films after some time, in some way or other.


And there was the solos, mostly based on poetry, the new tradition of performing poetry – Cholkazha; I remember Murali performing the poem Aa pasukkutti Chathu (that calf is dead), by Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, with ease and élan. He had a peace of rope in his hand as a metaphor of the dead calf, - a flexible property to create visuals and images. Murali was singing, enacting, narrating and commenting on the poem as the form of performance. He shifted into the poem, and then back to himself and to the present moment of enactment, maintaining a direct relation and dialogue with the audience.

Murali, whose true love remained theatre even after he was taken by cinema, was pained by the dearth of performance spaces in the State. Once when we met at Kerala Kalapeetom he asked me to direct a play with him in the cast and he can take 15 or 20 day leave from his busy schedule from films to act in the play. I asked him whether he will be available for repeat shows if any: if he does not what will happen to the play and if so, what is the meaning in doing the play? He said they are things to come, why do you ponder so much into the future… Be optimistic… But I was diminutive in my position, and cannot respond to him in the same wavelength…

Later Murali came back to theatre with a 45 minute solo based on Lankalakshmi, which is a re-creation and further extension of the experiences of the play he enacted with Natyagriham. Along with the role of Ravana the protagonist, he enacted other characters too, using the technique of Pakarnnatam (the Indian technique to shift from character to character, one space to another, and character to actor etc..), so that the narration could be kept in a continuous stream.


Murali as an Actor.

The late Narendraprasad’s ‘Natyagriham’ was instrumental in shaping the sensibility of Murali as an actor and he one of the most successful products of Natyagriham.

Natyagriham was joining the search for an identity for Indian theatre; a form and content to be developed from the indigenous theatre and performance tradition of the land, instead of aping the theater of the west. The group was aware of the cultural colonization that was unconsciously creeping into the theater scenario of India and was conscious of the need to create an alternate theatre. Tradition did not mean just performances, but included the people, all the realms of their life, habits, priorities, sensibilities and also the history. So the products of Natyagriham are not just statements of form alone, but had an inner soul, and they attempted for intense expressions of emotions. The performance became, didactic, political, and native at the same time. It was a fine attempt where the traditional and alien performance systems were perfectly blended so as to suit the demands of our contemporary theatre.

And this is not an easy job to accomplish. Murali was trying to understand, theorize and translate this new approach to acting in theatre. As an actor, Murali had an altogether different sensibility on the stage; I would say he was much more flexible on the stage than in films. The way he successfully communicated with the viewers through very subtle gestures, even with an eye movement, is really spectacular. A change in the body movement -- a swaying of his hand, a change in gait, a shift in the body balance, and a sound produced in unison with a slight movement, — would result in a drastic change in expression. Onstage, a slight movement of his frame conveyed a lot. The whole meaning, expression and Bhava will change dramatically and diametrically to shift the focus to a newer meaning and feeling. Murali was a very intelligent actor, and he knew each and every nuances of the expression created by him. Acting was a conscious, calculated and predetermined activity for him, not a spontaneous overflow that happens then and there unconsciously. That is why he was very meticulous and precise in each moment of his stage presence and looked relaxed, free and comfortable. Murali exuded a rare intense energy inside and he carefully modulated ferocity in acting. His acting was never loud, but subtle.

And he never carried his ego or personality on stage. He never expanded his orbit on stage beyond a point that was demanded by the play. He never filled the whole performance with his histrionic skill so that he can make the other actors and the play itself become secondary and invisible. He always knew that the play is the main thing and the actor is for the play and its meaning. He wanted to hide his self inside the meaning of the play and its outcome; acting was not a means to exhibit him, which may be a challenge for such a vivacious actor like him. He was conscious of the political and cultural implications of performance.

Attempts at Revival

As a person his edginess and discontent with status quo of theatre in Kerala was evident. He was dreaming about the possibility that theatre should become a professional activity and that shall be able to support itself and its participants. He was sad that there was no proper repertoire company of theatre that can support and pay the artists, as well as is equipped to create genuine and vibrant theatre. He knew that it was not because of the lack of resources or equipped persona, but due to a habit of lethargy and settlement into the state of existing situation that has been developed. But he was never satisfied and it propelled him to explore fresh arenas and projects to better the theatre scenario of Kerala when he took charge as the chairperson of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademy.

It is sad that Kerala do not have a single performance space worth to be called so, even if we have a very vibrant theatre practice, tradition, and culture. Not a single theater in Kerala can satisfy the demands of a new performance. We don’t have even a proper proscenium house with a proper stage, sound, lights, green rooms and other facilities; leave alone the spaces that facilitate other possibilities of explorations of the alternative kind of theatre. Murali has repeatedly shared his pain on this pathetic situation whenever we started discussing theatre. After taking charge as the chairman of the Akademy, the first venture he undertook was to renovate and modernize the existing theatre at Thrissur.

His dreams were big, wanted to hold the sun in his hand, making the stars as stepping stones. At the same time he knew the limitations and problems of working with a government agency that has been running with a specific fixed mindset. He wanted to organize a repertoire that can produce good plays and support the artists, and to propagate the message of theatre into the length and breadth of rural Kerala. A repertoire was organised and it produced two plays Koottukrishi (by Edassery, directed by Pramod Payyannoor), and Super Market (an adaptation of can’t pay, won’t pay by Dario Fo, directed by Shailaja.) The ambition was there, dream was there, and attempt was there; the effectiveness of this project is the matter of yet another discussion.

He dreamt that Kerala should be a meeting place of meaningful theatre from all over the globe. He envisaged an international festival of Kerala where the best of world theatre come, perform and interact. Again the first step is done, the first ever international theatre festival in Kerala was organised at Thrissur in his leadership, the Asian theatre festival 2008 (ITFoK, 2008). Plays from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, China, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and four troupes from India, presented their productions, focusing on the theme, On Stage: Modernity of Tradition, and discussions seminars followed. Again the quality of the performances and their relevance in such a big event can be deliberated in length, but this happened for the first time in this state. Beyond performances this festival had other relevance too. May be for the first time after independence, the artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh sat together on a platform to discuss theatre and share the agonies about the social and cultural issues of the subcontinent. This happens when the three nations are at logger heads of mutual enmity and the political situation –both internal and external- of these nations are at boiling point. It was really hearty to come on a common platform and declare that the subcontinent is actually a continuum and the pleasures and perils, with which the people live with, are the same throughout; tears are the same, anger is the same, and the people are fighting against the same odds to survive and stay alive. This kind of a sharing and mutual hugging is one of the best things that theatre can offer and the festival was memorable with just for this rare happening...And Murali was dreaming about the second chapter of the ITFoK with plays from the African continent…

Keli the journal of Sangeetha Natak Akademy was also given a face-lift. More pages, better look, better layout, and better content which make the new issues a collectors copy; again, an act that resulted from his dissatisfaction, on the existing situation.

He had other dreams too. To initiate a true and proper theatre training program at Sangeetha Nataka Akademy that can address the needs of the state, training that is related to its performance and social reality.

Murali was an avid researcher and was keen to look into the newer modes of understanding of theatre and acting. He was talking to me when we met last, about his thoughts and concerns for the acting process... He methodically analyzed on the mechanics of acting and thought it as a ‘psycho- neuro-physical process’; he said, ‘it is the result of many neuro and biochemical processes that leads to the expression of an emotion’. He argued that the brain is the epicenter of acting, and the changes happening there in terms of chemical process that leads to the psycho and physical expression is to be studied in detail and that will lead to the newer techniques of theatre training and execution…

And all on a sudden Murali leaves us, leaving his dreams behind. We can follow his dreams, aim for the sun and the stars, or continue to slumber.

Note: This is not an evaluation of the career of Murali in theatre, but a sort of personal memoire. I am indebted to Anil of New Indian Express and Anand of The Hindu, and the activists of Bhagath Singh Cultural Centre Tripunithura to make me do this.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Karnnabharam @Kalamandalam as part of celebration of the 100th year of rediscovering Bhasa plays

IMG_5536 Lokadharmi is proud and privileged to be invited toKerala Kalamandalam, deemed university of arts and culture to present its play Karnnabharam as part of the 3 day celebrations to mark the 100th year of rediscovering the plays by Mahakavi Bhasa.

Mahakavi Bhasa

Kālidāsa in the introduction to his first play Malavikagnimitram writes - Shall we neglect the works of such illustrious authors as Bhāsa, Saumilla, and Kaviputra? Can the audience feel any respect for the work of a modern poet, a Kālidāsa?

Bhasa, the Sanskrit playwright, was one of the greats of all times, believed to have lived two or three centuries ahead of Kalidasa. As the date for Kālidāsa varies from the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE, Bhāsa is dated between the 2nd century BCE and 2nd century CE. Based on the language used, his date is also supposed to be around 5th century BC. Reverential references are seen about the greatness of poet Bhasa in the works of Patanjali, Kalidasa (both first century B.C.), Banabhata, Dandi (both seventh century A.D.), Vamanacharya (eighth century A.D.), and a long line of other poets and critics till 12th century.

The plays of Bhāsa had been lost for centuries. He was known only from mention in other works like the famous text on poetics Kavyamimamsa written during 880-920 AD by Rajashekhara a famous poet, dramatist and critic. In the Kavyamimamsa, he attributes the play Swapnavāsavadatta to Bhāsa.

Dr. T. Ganapati Shastrikal was a scholar and the curator of the Travancore Oriental Manuscripts Library, in Trivandrum, Kerala, India. In 1906 he made a sensational discovery in literary history and then by publishing in 1909, a series of 13 plays, all in Sanskrit. It was a circle of Bhasa's plays, which lay in darkness for more than eight centuries, which were used in Koodiyattam. Unlike other classical plays, none of them mentioned the author, but one was the Swapnavāsavadatta. Comparing the style of writing and techniques employed in these plays and based on the knowledge that Swapnavāsavadatta was Bhāsa's work, all of them were credited to him. Bhāsa does not follow all the dictates of the Natya Shastra. Bhasa deviated from the accepted dramaturgical practices of the day by depicting battle scenes and murder on stage. For example scenes that contains signs of physical violence to be shown on stage in plays like Urubhanga

The Uru-Bhanga and Karna-bhara are the only known tragic Sanskrit plays in ancient India. The Karna-bhara ends with the premonitions of the sad end of Karna, the epic character from Mahabharata. Early plays in India, inspired by Natya Shastra, strictly considered sad endings inappropriate.

The plays are generally short compared to later playwrights and most of them draw the theme from the Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Though he is firmly on the side of the heroes of the epic, Bhāsa treats their opponents with great sympathy. He takes a lot of liberties with the story to achieve this.

Plays based on Ramayana

  • Pratima-nataka: The statues
  • Abhisheka-natka: The coronation

Plays based on Mahabharata

  • Panch-ratra: The five-nights
  • Madhyama-vyayoga: The middle one
  • Duta-Ghattotkacha: Ghattotkacha as envoy
  • Duta-Vakya : The envoy's message
  • Urubhanga: The broken thigh
  • Karna-bhara: Karna's burden
  • Harivamsa or Bala-charita: Hari's dynasty or the tale of Childhood

His other plays are not epic based. Avimaraka is a fairy tale. The unfinished Daridra-Charudatta(Charudatta in poverty) tells the story of the courtesan Vasantasena and is interesting for the same story was developed by Śhudraka in Mrichakatika.

His most famous play Swapna-vasavadatta (Swapnavāsavadatta) (Vasavadatta in the dream) and Pratijna-Yaugandharayana (the vow of Yaugandharayana) are based on the legends that had grown around the King Udayana, a contemporary of the Buddha. Though his plays were discovered only in the 20th century, two of them Uru-Bhanga and Karna-bhara, have become popular due to their appeal to modern tastes and performed in translation and Sanskrit.

He had a profound influence on the dramatists that would follow him, including India's greatest poet, Kalidasa.

Bhasa plays are especially suited for stage as they are minimal scripts containing a lot action and conflicts. The scenic splendor of any performance of a Bhasa play makes him an appealing dramatist in the Indian Tradition. He is innovative enough to reinterpret the incidents and characterizations in the great epic with an original vision that transcends the time and space.



Lokadharmi presents the play Karnnabharam at Kalamandalam at 7.00 pm, on 2nd August 2009, the concluding day of the 3 day celebrations that marks the 100th year of discovering Bhasa plays by Ganapati sastrikal.  Performance of  plays in contemporary perspective and Kudiyattam format written by bhasa, seminar and discossions on Bhasa plays by experts in Sanskrit, and performing arts, meet of directors who have worked with Bhasa plays are the highlight of the 3 day programme from 31st July to 2nd August.

KARNNABHARAM (The anguish of Karnna), The Malayalam adaptation of the Sanskrit Classic Performed by Lokadharmi Kochi Kerala is based on the translation into Malayalam by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. The Music is scored by Bijibal, Lighting by Gireesh Menon, art by Anup S Kalarikkal, and the Design & Direction is done by aChandradasan.

  • This play has won the prestigious awards for Best play, best stage design & best costume design from Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2008.
  • Also nominated for best Actor, best Ensemble and best Choreography in the festival

Lokadharmi had performed Karnnabharam widely all over in India including Visakhapatnam, Hyderabad and Vijayanagaram in Andhra Pradesh, Kolkota (Bengal), Mysore, Bangaluru, Gulbarga, (Karnataka), Jagdalpur (Chatisgad), Cuttack (Orissa), Patna (Bihar), New Delhi, and Kurukshethra (Hariyana).

This play is performed widely in major theatre festivals all over India including Bharath Rang Mahotsav New Delhi 2006.

This is the 320th show of the play.

The artists traveling to perform the play are Sudheer Babu, VR Selvaraj, Sijin Sukumar, Madan Kolavil, Sebastian K Abraham, Jyothi Madan, Jolly Antony, Shyju T Hamsa, Vysakh Lal, Sumesh Chittooran, Santhosh Piravam, Ajaikumar Thiruvankulam, Sanosh Palluruthy, Aadarsh Madhav, Jebin Jesmes, Gireesh Menon, Anoop S Kalarikkal and Chandradasan.


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