Change of scene

Theatre director Kannan Unni A. Photo: Nita Sathyendran  

“Contemporary theatre is a collective process,” says Kannan Unni A., as the cast and crew of the abstract play 12 Machines, go through their paces, to iron out the kinks, before its première on stage at Soorya’s National Theatre Festival on October 19.

It’s a concept – a belief – that comes up often in the conversation with the 30-year-old theatre director. “I am but a cog in the wheel. The days of ‘pure’ theatre are long gone and a theatre director is no longer the feudal autocrat that calls the shots or imposes his creativity on his cast and crew,” explains Kannan Unni, pausing to process his thoughts and maybe revel in the sylvan surroundings of Kalagramam, an arts and cultural space, tucked away in Karakulam, where the practise sessions in progress (and where the preview show will be held on October 16). He seems to be at home in the surroundings as he is behind the stage, so very reticent and soft-spoken that we have to strain to hear his thoughts as they escape from his mouth.

“Nowadays, every individual who works on a play, from the actor(s) and scenarist to costumers, set designer, sound and lighting technicians and every one in between, is an independent artiste in his/her own right. That makes a theatre director more of a collaborative coordinator and the proscenium a democratic space, where a narrative evolves organically,” he adds, with a smile.

Kannan Unni A.

Kannan Unni A.  

Kannan Unni, a graduate in acting from the School of Drama, Thrissur (TSD), and theatre designing from the National School of Drama, has previously directed the plays Thevarude Aana, Mathavilasam, and Jaiva. All three are distinct narratives (the first is an adaptation of Omchery’s poem, the second a Sanskrit satire and the third a multimedia show) but each of which he treated as a “hybrid form” melding sound, video, lighting, text, acting, stage and the like, to “make a performance.”

“The audience for theatre has changed, so has technology and its integration on the stage, the approach to theatre, the ideas and even the performance space itself is not confined to the proscenium. If we want to keep the rich legacy of theatre in Kerala alive, we need to update with the times and explore what lies beyond the stage,” says Kannan Unni.

He should know for he has been involved in theatre since his childhood days. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that theatre is in his genes. His father is the late S. Ajayan, one of the co-founders of Abhinaya Theatre, and a doyen of modern theatre in Kerala. “He was a gentle soul; someone who lived and breathed theatre. Naturally, I was exposed to theatre and it’s processes from an early age. He is the one who inspired me to think of it beyond the individual but it was also because of him that I entertained the idea of eschewing theatre for another profession. Thankfully, all those doubts were put to rest when I joined TSD after completing my Plus Two. On that note, I don’t have any expectations from my career, particularly on the financial side of it. It’s imperative that one comes into this space without too many high hopes. I’m just one of those in it for the love of theatre,” he says.

Behind the science

Produced by Backstage Theatre Group, Vengode, Attingal, 12 Machines is a collaborative effort by a bunch of young and old theatre professionals and amateurs, among them teachers, civil servants, musicians, IT personnel, carpenters... all drawn together by their love for theatre.

A scene from the rehearsal of the play 12 Machines

A scene from the rehearsal of the play 12 Machines  

“It’s a highly abstract and absurd play. It explores an individual's constant conflict with society on multiple levels, imagined as machines and told through 12 episodes, structured to play out like an advertisement. Six of the said machines deal with the direct conflict between the two, such as the ‘birth machine’ with all its expectations that society heaps on us from the time we are born, ‘the social hero machine,’ where society demands us to be social beings, and the ‘dream unification machine,’ where society expects everyone to have the same dreams and fall in line. The other six episodes deal with individual desires, what we’ve termed ‘psychopathic’ such as’ the pain machine,’ where pain becomes a psychopathic need, ‘the war machine,’ which romanticises war and heroism and so on. They are essentially everyday thoughts and conflicts put in an abstract way,” explains Kannan Unni. Rajesh, Soumya, Anoop Mohandas, Vinod, Aravind T.M., Atul Vijayakumar, Arun Bose K.S. and Archana Padmini are the actors. “The director has given us a grain of an idea regarding our segments and we have been given free rein to improvise and explore the possibilities,” say Soumya, a techie, and Archana, a teacher, both newbies to the stage. Anoop, lead singer of Vidwan, who is also doing the music for the drama, adds that the abstract nature of the narrative has given him a lot of scope to experiment. “I’ve actually created some instruments out of scrap for the play. The ‘canbourine,’ for example, a tambourine made of tin cans, and a ‘three barrel thavil’ made out of water cans,” he adds.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 2:16:01 AM |

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