Theatre The seminar on “Spaces”, organised by the India Theatre Forum, threw up diverse ideas from practitioners across the world
Even when you have something as organised as a “seminar”, the idea of “space” fails to conjure up a same, uniform thought. Not even when it involves a single, cohesive community, pursuing the common passion of theatre. The idea could be far more dynamic, and highly evolved, trespassing into areas most unanticipated. Languages, histories, memories, cultures bring meaning to a space – emotional as well as intellectual. It is the site of performance and at once an expression of a range of views — from political to philosophical.
“Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre” — the five-day seminar at Heggodu, Sagara Taluk — organised by the India Theatre Forum, brought together practitioners, critics, architects, stage designers, and academicians, each laying on the table diverse thoughts.
Can space be independent of time? Or time of space? Are time and space one-dimensional – do they locate themselves only in the physical? If one regards them as processes and identifies it as a relationship between space and body, then as India Theatre Forum set out to define, “the act of theatre is always more than simply the act of theatre”. The act is connected to “real” spaces (time intrinsic), not always necessarily contemporary.
It's certainly beyond the physical, argued well-known theatre director Veenapani Chawla. Tracing the notions of space in science and philosophy, as envisioned by Einstein and Aurobindo, she recognised three kinds of spaces in theatre. “There is the inner psychological space of the performer, the external ‘real' space, which she shares with the audience and a larger cosmic space. And all these spaces are fluid, without sharp dividing lines between them; anticipating the aesthetic space of hereness,” she explained. The three states flow into each other like water, with a force of its own. “The conscious energised performer will bring to her performance a concentrated consciousness of her multiple inner spaces and to her external space: her body,” she added. Preeti Athreya shared a similar viewpoint: she took it back to Bharatha's Natyashastra and said, “The body of the performer is the primary space of theatre.”
“Space should trigger imagination,” said theatre director Sankaran Venkateshwaran. Theatre, he said, was a series of impulses for him, and hence the entire act of putting a piece of theatre together was keeping the first impulse connected to the last, and these impulses came from both the inner and outer space. Culture critic Sadanand Menon called it the “jeeva” of a place. The place may be ridden with imperfections, but the play goes on. “There is, I believe, an invisible centre to a space, its soul,” he observed, and “technology certainly cannot pretend to be superior.”
Taking it beyond the “inner” and “outer” regions of space, the debate moved to the recognition of a value system, and deep faith in the community. Playwright and theatre person Satish Alekar's Lalita Kala Academy, or Prithiviraj Kapoor's “Prithvi Theatre” or K.V. Subbanna's “Ninasam” – they were originally beliefs that later assumed a physical space. Alekar said, “It was to create an audience for Marathi performers.” “It grew out of a context. An impulse that tried to find a way in which it could deal with art and society, with community as its centre,” said K.V. Akshara, speaking of his father's dream. “It was with the belief that theatre mattered,” said Sanjana Kapoor, speaking of the Prithvi vision. “We wanted a space that fed the world of the actor and the world of the audiences.”
When Sudhanwa Deshpande, core member of the India Theatre Forum, recalled how SRC Basement, Chhabildas, Padatik, and Sudarshan in Mumbai played an “enormously important role in nurturing non-commercial theatre in cities, because they brought about, fostered, nurtured ‘the most vivid relationships between people'”, it seemed an extension of the Prithvi and Ninasam endeavour. He spoke of an energy that “flowed between performers and audiences.” Though they had not been specifically designed for performances, “they filled a lacuna, they responded to the times,” he explained. For someone who believes in minimal stage design, director Sunil Shanbhag averred that his theatre is never divorced from its social context. “For me text is extremely important. I use theatre as a canvas to tackle larger issues.”
For Peter Brook's stage designer Jean Guy Lecat and Pralayan, who has been doing Street Theatre for nearly four decades, “space” is a tool of defiance. For Jean, who turned garages and quarries into grand theatre spaces, it was aesthetic defiance, but for Pralayan, seeking space between Brooks' “no space is neutral” and Badal Sircar's struggle for “non-commodified and people-friendly performance-spaces”, intervention into exclusive spaces was political defiance.
As theatre critic Samik Bandhopadhyay put it, “cultural spaces are geo-political spaces.” Hence, there can be no standardised theatre spaces that will create standard theatre responses. Language nurtures histories and memories, and it is impossible to blur all spaces into one Indian general reality. “Space” may be a crucial issue, but it's not the primary impulse in theatre. The stimulus comes from a hundred different locations.
Cultural spaces are geo-political spaces