CurtainCall Productions’ two-day workshop held in New Delhi lifted the curtains on an actor’s life.
Let’s just say that I had a different idea of theatre workshops. A few dialogues, a couple of story building exercises, perhaps a little end of class play, quickly put together; that’s what I thought it would be like. I went in expecting an easy couple of days, and left with aching bones, newly awakened muscles, and heightened respect for the profession.
This weekend, director Vishesh Arora and CurtainCall productions put together the Cut Shortcut Acting workshop with Happy Ranajit, an award winning National School of Drama actor and director in New Delhi. Two classes, worth three hours each, promised to cover “all aspects related to acting”. Tall claims, but I was curious. And I wasn’t the only one. On the first day, I reached Fursat Se, a wonderful, peaceful little café hiding in one of the bylanes of Shahpur Jat, to find that my fellow students were all women. We exchanged smiles, I pulled up a bean bag and we waited for Ranajit. It was a hot, drowsy afternoon, but in about five minutes, things were about to get very busy, very fast.
Once he arrived, Ranajit grabbed a quick chai, and then asked us to introduce ourselves — pretty standard in a class full of strangers. But in a drama workshop, one must resort to the tricks of the trade. We were asked to act out our names in a sort of introductory dumb charades. Of course, hilarity ensued, and in about ten minutes, we had shed most of our self-consciousness, and each person’s name was firmly lodged in our memories. It’s difficult to feel inhibited around people who’ve watched you pretend-sweat for five minute, just so they can figure out your name.
Turns out though, the first few minutes of sitting around playing guessing games was going to turn into a monstrous session of warm-up exercises which would last till it was time to go home. Now, if you are someone who counts finding a missing TV remote as rigorous exercise, these already gruelling workouts are not just difficult. Some of them, in fact, seemed almost impossible. “All actors start with at least 20 minutes of these warm-up exercises”, Ranajit told us, interrupting a particularly heartrending cry for mercy.
Surprisingly though, we got through it, and the first class ended with a bit of rhythm and sound exercises, including lessons in voice modulations. “There are six points in the body we can speak from; the deepest is from your stomach, then the chest, the throat, the mouth, the nose and finally, the head.”
The next day, Ranajit took pity on a room full of aching bodies, and we started off with a simple activity. We were asked to remember and narrate one memorable incident from our lives, and then present a two minute skit on this incident. Of course, there was a lot of nervous, self-conscious laughter, but Ranajit’s feedback was both serious and helpful, allowing us to reflect on not just how to act, but how to think too. “When you are laughing in a scene, you concentrate so much on how to laugh that you forget why you are supposed to be laughing in the first place. What has made you laugh? Was it a person, a sentence?”
While there were few minutes of exercise thrown in after each activity, the second day concentrated on the “ABC’s” of on stage performance. We played around with different roles, varying moods and emotions, and performed simplified skits that let us understand, if not completely, concepts like internal monologues, method acting and body language.
It would be far too ambitious to assume that a two-day workshop would do more than just skim the surface of an art-form that can take years to master. It can, though, spark interest and give you a preview of what goes on in an actor’s life, both behind the curtains, and before the performance.