Footsbarn Travelling Theatre’s artistic director Paddy Hayter says they work with human material that deals with feeling and passion, so the audience is transported, rather than left analysing the play

If rehearsals are to start at 4.30 p.m., rehearsal will begin at said time, irrespective… Paddy Hayter means business and when we meet, he puts me on the clock — 15 minutes and go! An artistic director, Paddy has been with Footsbarn Travelling Theatre for 41 years. “I was working as a technician in theatre at 16 but I always wanted to go on stage; my father was an actor,” he says indicating that might have been where the bug bit him. He tried applying to schools in England till he decided to forget about England and went to Paris to study at Jacques Lecoq.

Paddy was in Bangalore for a performance of his play Indian Tempest at Ranga Shankara. The play is a collaborated effort of Footsbarn with the Abhinaya Theatre Research Group from Thiruvananthapuram. Footsbarn has previously worked with Abhinaya in 1995 for Odyssey. “And we just had to work together again,” he says emphatically.

Collective, collaborative work

Explaining his role as artistic director, Paddy says he is more chef de troupeau, the head of the group — he chooses the projects but everyone is involved in the decision. “It is a collective, collaborative work, I may have a vision and might be headed in a particular direction but I am not a director who has 1000 ideas. The worst enemy of an actor is the director,” says the actor and director with a chuckle.

The audience’s role is crucial. “It is the people who react to the story who give us the confidence.” And about the show he says, “It needs to be constantly changing — there is a pattern but there is also freedom. On stage an actor has to be free, no past or future. While on stage the worst thing to do is let this start,” he says, pointing to his head. “You need to be in a state of suspension.”

The troupe is known for their way of playing Shakespeare, a trademark of sorts, and Paddy says, “It has been done before but it is such a rich and mysterious plot it does not get old, a story of bloodless revenge and reconciliation you can go back to it.”

And Kerala became the perfect backdrop for the sea, fishermen, richness and magic. Five of the actors are from India and the rest of the cast are made up of French and English actors. “All the actors are loaded with energy, they live and breathe it.”

Paddy says, “The Tempest is mysterious and abstract, it is not for us to interpret it for the public. Our duty is to make sure we tell a story.” Footsbarn is no stranger to the classics — Victor Hugo, Marquez, Steinback… “All these great works talk about universal, cosmic, human situations – man, woman, child, planet, nature – things you don’t find in modern writing. We work with human material that deals with feeling and passion, so audience is transported, rather than have them analyse the play.”

Known for their avant-garde methods, Footsbarn dreamed of touring India in a tent, “So that we can go anywhere, a village, a park, we wish we could, and will continue this dream, which allows us to perform in any open space, give other people a chance to play in it and take theatre to the people…” My 15 minutes are up, time for rehearsal.