Theatre isn’t easy. Yet, despite a host of financial, creative and practical hurdles, Chennai’s vibrant theatre community soldiers on. Shonali Muthalaly talks to a cross section of the city’s best known actors and directors to find out why they do what they do...
P.C. Ramakrishna, Madras Players
Why do I do theatre?
Today I am Malvolio, the tragi-comic Puritan of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. At another time I am Dorai, the harried widower of Mangalam.
I have travelled as Fantastic Frank, the Faith Healer, endured the terminal suffering of Shadow Box's Brian, and struggled with the Water-less woes of Athipatti village.
I have been 5 different men in the mind of one woman in Aadhey Adhurey, and battled accusations of childhood sexual abuse in Anna Weiss.
I am Sivasankari's Satya, searching for Mercy through euthanasia, Indira Parthasarathy's canny politician Sunderlal Mishra, Tipu Sultan's traitor, Mir Sadiq, and Chekov-Simon's Good Doctor, dispensing laughter.
I realise I have been all these men and more for 50 years now - the quintessential chameleon. I take time off to reflect. What does it take to want to enter the psyche of such an assortment of people? Is it the Walter Mitty syndrome ? Is it perhaps some restlessness, some dissatisfaction with what I am ? I think not, for it is this world of illusion that, to me, throws up the reality of the human condition.
Transforming into these various men, giving voice to their thoughts, living through their power and passion, flaws and foibles, and empathizing - however briefly - with the force that makes them what they are, I truly feel more fulfilled as a person.
So....why do I do Theatre ?.....You work it out.
Theatre actor and communications professional, PC Ramakrishna is - in many ways - 'The Voice' of Chennai. An integral member of The Madras Players, India's oldest English theatre group, he has also lent his distinctive voice to advertisements, documentaries and corporate films.
Karthik Kumar, Evam
Why I do theatre and the Meaning of Life in 200 words?
The short answer is 42. Go figure.
The long answer is - because it begs to be done.
Why? The country, the generation after, needs to understand the value of creating something for the sheer joy of expression. While everything gets put under the scanner of viability and sustainability, some things as impractical and magnificent as Art and Theatre, need to trickle through that sieve. Once it escapes, you will see hearts pumping, minds opening and 'heady madness' as a natural state of being.
This cannot be left to only those who see Theatre as a hobby, or a weekend past time or something to add to the extra curricular section in a resume. We need to indulge a few lifetimes of our own into practicing it and daring to 'make a living' from it. To pave a way forward and thereby allow others to feed off that eco system. Whilst - earning for ourselves, a lifetime of memories to share: Of entrepreneurship, grease paint and unreasonable generosity.
Theatre is a form of social release, a political voice and sometimes just rediscovering the ability to laugh at ourselves. We all need to find that nerve of tolerance, hiding behind our funny bone - we all need a little bit of Theatre. Go find some for yourself in that jungle out there - it's a jungle we have lovingly tended... Don't bring a gun - go paint yourself one.
Karthik Kumar is an actor and director. In 2003, he and Sunil Vishnu K founded 'Evam' an entertainment entrepreneurship in Chennai to prove that theatre can be professional, and profitable. Evam's biggest achievement has been bringing young people back into the theatres.
V. Balakrishnan, Theatre Nisha
Why do we work so hard at honesty on stage?
During a recent show with Chennai's best, suddenly a tiny mouse appeared on stage (near the third wing ) it attempted to cross to the other side. The actor, oblivious, went on with his histrionics - but everyone was watching the mouse.
Honest endeavour is true acting. Spewing words with inflections is rubbish .We believe that theatre is a medium to evolve ourselves as humans. By ascending the stage we reject hypocrisy, pretence and lies.
We face our complete nakedness, accept it and have an opportunity to face society as who we are. And society joins us in this communion towards a better world.
To do honest theatre requires common sense and honesty - things that we hope will seep into everyone's social existence. And that is the only difference between good acting and bad acting - honesty.
Our acting methodology abhors actors indulging in emotion. We detest manipulating the audience. We love the honest communion that can be evoked by working truthfully. Not an easy task at all: it requires a good body and an equally good mind. The journey continues.
V. Balakrishnan, artistic-director of theatre Nisha, has spent more than a decade finding ways to tell challenging stories in creative ways. A graduate from the National School of Drama (NSD) he consistently, and bravely, chooses fringe theatre over populist work, even when it doesn't make sense commercially.
Krishna Kumar, Masquerade
Why do I use theatre to communicate?
Well... my theatre started as a result of a lot of reading. I realized plays are not just to be read or taught, to be experienced... to be performed... to be conveyed.
Theatre has and continues to be a direct form of communication.
Everyday things happen everywhere. Theatre connects. As much as a translation of a literary work in Russia affects a peasant in Peru or an Indian thought changes the way an Alaskan sees his life, theatre affects people - hence it is a community tool.
In 1995 I was in Berlin as part of an International Theater Institute internship (ITI instituted the idea of World Theatre Day). I was partaking in a memorial meeting for Fritz Bennewitz and I ran into all kind of important theatre figures there. I learnt an important truth that day in Berlin, which has shaped my ideology on theatre: that theatre is a big rumour, it spreads and affects and changes lives... it cannot and must not be stopped.
Then in August 2014 when I saw the atmosphere at Edinburgh Fringe, my belief was vindicated... "theatre can only be defined in its social context." That precisely explains why we do theatre at Masquerade... we speak only when we need to. Theatre Must... but Community first.
A very inclusive part of that community are children. We must lead them towards a lot of theatre for a healthy and imaginative tomorrow.
Started in 1994, today Masquerade produces theatre for all audiences, while it's Youth Theater wing engages and produces theatre of, by and for teen audiences. KK also spends a lot of time with The Bear and Beanbag Children's Theater, which trains children between 8 and 12 years of age.