Playwright Alex Broun, who likes to keep his plays short and sweet, on theatre in India
While India has embraced the compacted version of cricket in Twenty20, here comes the compacted version of theatre, Ten10, from Australia! Short+Sweet, a brand name in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, made a successful debut in India last year and is returning to the country this November. Excerpts from an interview with the festival director
How do you compare the three cities, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi, in terms of the output? Participants of which city were the most creative, in your opinion?
It was fascinating to hold workshops in the three different cities as I was given a rich insight into the different theatrical styles of Indian theatre. In Chennai the focus was on physical comedy that is a match for anything on the world stage. In Mumbai, due the influence of TV and film, the focus was more on realistic or truthful performances and there was an astonishing high level of acting, directing and writing that to be honest surpasses much of what I have seen in Australia. In Delhi, a strong link to Hindi theatre is prominent, and the Hindi plays have an overt theatricality that makes use of the possibilities of theatre and clearly captures the audience.
How are Indian participants different from those in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, where you regularly hold workshops and festivals?
Indian performers are comfortable on stage. They also are much stronger vocally than their counterparts in other parts of the world, save except for the UK. I think this is because the strong stream of street theatre which many performers are influenced by which forces them to develop vocally. Indian performers also are more overtly physical than Western performers, which is great as they use their whole body on stage and are not just talking heads. The difficulty with this is trying to find a more truthful style of interpretation when presenting a realistic play. This is a skill they will find in time and was certainly a facet which the young Mumbai actors had already seemed to be mastering.
Indian writers in English have made their mark in international publishing. Did you find potential for future playwrights in these sessions?
The challenge may be finding a way to portray the Indian experience in a more universal format. In other words to find styles of writing that retain the flavour of India but are more translatable to international audiences. Novelists in India have mastered this, hence their global success. Playwrights now need to do the same.
Do you feel it's better for Indians to write in their own languages, rather than in English?
Writers should write in whatever language they are comfortable in. The first important goal is to write a good play. Then the writer can concentrate on translating that work for further productions. We are always keen at Short+Sweet to promote the local culture by performing at least a few plays in the regional language of the host city.
Did you find most participants serious about theatre or did you feel they may have been grooming themselves for the film industry?
In the workshops I discovered there is a love and passion for theatre in India but many participants also have a love for film as well. Certainly in Chennai and Delhi the focus was on theatre while in Mumbai clearly film and TV were prominent. In my workshops I am clear to spell out that I am focusing on acting, directing and writing for the stage.
Australians and Europeans believe in realistic theatre. Did you find more of a tendency for verbosity and melodrama amongst the Indian participants?
There is a preference in much Western Theatre for more realistic styles of theatre and stripped back, minimalistic dialogue. The tendency in Indian stage may be to follow the film and TV model of larger than life performances, edging towards Melodrama, but there is also a physicality that certainly has a place in theatre. The key is to find the style that is best suited to your play and remain consistent with it. I don't think Indian theatre makers have to curb their natural instincts in order to create great theatre. Just hone their skills and sharpen those instincts.
How do you think these workshops will contribute to the Short+Sweet Festivals in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai later in the year?
2010 was all about introducing Short+Sweet to Indian audiences and the concept of ten-minute theatre. We were confident that just as India had embraced the compacted version of Cricket – Twenty20 – they would be just as excited by the possibilities of ten10 theatre ! In many ways our first festival in Delhi last year was successful and it was clear audiences were excited by this new format that squeezed the best parts of the theatrical experience into ten minutes and forced the actors, writers and directors to value every second on stage. 2011 is about improving the quality. The actors, writers and directors know the form now so the next step is to master it and create ten-minute theatre works that will not only delight local audiences but thrill international audiences as well. The workshops play a large role in encouraging local theatre makers to pursue higher standards in writing, acting and directing and push through to the boundaries of their current work and beyond. We want to present great ten minute theatre at Short+Sweet and the workshops are an important step in equipping local theatre artists with the skills to create that work. To explore what is possible and then put in place a pathway to reach that goal.