Students of Theatre Arts at the University of Hyderabad have been through a unique learning curve post-COVID-19, as they transformed their personal experiences into theatrical productions, a process that culminates in 30 theatre performances.
On August 10, the focus will be on six final year students of MPA (Masters in Performing Arts) Theatre Arts (last semester) — Manurika Vishwakarma, Nagaraj Nanjagol, Shatrughan Kumar, Shalini Malviya, Shubham Singh Rawat and Tanu Rawat — whose performances form a part of their Actors Individual Performance Project (AIPP), an annual event that helps students prepare, approach and collaborate for a performance that is driven by their observations. Currently, rehearsals are on, guided by associate professor Noushad Mohamed Kunju.
Earlier AIPP events were staged in a studio space. For the first time, the event is being held in a big auditorium (Gurubaksh Singh Hall in the University of Hyderabad) to follow safety protocols and also to get more audience.
The project is unique as its creative writing process is based on students writing of their personal experiences. For the project, the group visited five places — a post office, Kendriya Vidyalaya, helipad area and the campus main entrance gate on the campus and a crossroad with a traffic signal near the university — in June. “Professor Noushad asked us to soak in the ambience of the places and write what we could imbibe from them,” shares Tanu Rawat.
Visiting these places post-COVID rekindled memories of their childhood Budding actors sent a draft of 30 lines and revised them as per the professor’s feedback/suggestions. Although he had asked them to not jot down memories, the students had many reminisces which they wrote down in the form of poetry, an essay, a letter to a friend and even stand-up comedy.
After the second wave lockdown was lifted, the AIPP meet-ups resumed, first in an open area for two hours to practice and later, at the studio for solo rehearsals. “The break during the lockdown was frustrating but it helped us to connect,” observes Shatrughan Kumar, who hails from Champaran, Bihar. He feels this connection helped in developing empathy and visualising skills. “Being sensitive helps us become a better artist,” he adds. Shatrughan has also acted in two plays directed by batch mates in July.
The artists also used their existing skills in Yakshagana, Kalaripayattu and Chhau to enhance their performances. Each piece has been designed in different genres; in a film format, physical play or Brechtian style where the fourth wall is broken and the audience is conscious of what is happening.
Accommodating 30 pieces (six actors doing five pieces each) including introduction and curtain call in three hours was a challenge. The performances in Hindi, English, Kannada and Bhopali are woven to let actors transition smoothly from one piece to another. The group was helped backstage by batchmates and juniors. Senthuran Kirubairajah and Prashant from Sri Lanka studying theatre studies helped the students in a performance piece in film format. Having got a chance to perform after long, the space feels sacred and significant to them. “Everyone is raring to go, as it is almost the final days of being a student. We could reflect on different things - the existential crisis a person faces or the feeling of emptiness during the lockdown; that helped in creative writing, ” says Tanu.
With their final semester ending by this month-end, the students are optimistic. Amid fears of a third wave, live performances have resumed but theatre arts still navigate uncertainty. Are these youngsters apprehensive of their career in theatre arts? “There is uncertainty. If not for the pandemic, theatre opportunities would have been aplenty and easily available in my hometown Jaipur,” says Tanu who is also a B.Tech graduate but hopes to make a career in theatre.
Shatrughan is determined to make a career in theatre. “We are anxious, but we hope to keep training and wait for opportunities.” Senthuran who used to teach theatre at Swami Vipulananda Institute of Aesthetic Studies in Sri Lanka plans to go back to his teaching job. “I can do theatre even by teaching,” says Senthuran, who has also worked in short films as an actor and director.
The show goes on for these budding artists hoping to work and educate themselves in different mediums. Tanu is optimistic, “We could also look for fellowships and grants in academics. There are limitations, but opportunities exist too.”
(Theatre students perform at the Gurubaksh Singh Hall in the University of Hyderabad on August 10, 6 pm onwards.)