Akhshay Gandhi brings the rigours of research to theatre


Science of performance

Akhshay Gandhi has not allowed success to come in the way of his craft. Undeterred by the limelight, he is constantly in quest of evolving a theatre practice. “I was a researcher interested in quantum mechanics, then I wanted to apply for my PhD in quantum computation. I agreed to take a job because they said it will add to the PhD, but the project did not work out. Around this time, I watched a Mashaal Theatre Productions’ Maut ke saye mein.The play was so gripping that I could not leave my seat. There were no sets or backdrop, but I could imagine the scenes. As a scientist this was huge for me. I was restless for an entire week. My manager, who I reported to, supported the arts and told me to take a break and explore art. My friend told me about Abhishek’s nine-month course. I attended it. That was when I decided this is what I want to do. I am able to know more about life through theatre, because that is what attracted me towards science.”

Art of science

Akhshay combines his artistic and scientific sides to evolve a theatre practice, which he insists is a work in progress. And so is Still Space Theatre which he started in 2018 and says is like a laboratory, in which he and his team constantly experiment and probe deeper into theatrical modules.

Akhshay Gandhi in Kaavad Katha

Akhshay Gandhi in Kaavad Katha   | Photo Credit: Vivek Pankaj

Akhshay makes no claims of being a self-made artiste. He is among the few artistes who first credits his trainers. “I can not thank my masters enough. They give you something that nobody else can.”

He has also trained with Eugenio Barba (Odin Teatret, Denmark), Anne Bogart & SITI Company, Veenapani Chawla and the Adishakti team, Sankar Venkateshwaran and H Tomba, and Ramakant Gundecha (Dhrupad, Bhopal). Akhshay says each trainer approaches theatre in a different way.

Later, Akhshay discovered Anne Bogart. “Abhishek had told me about her. I read her work and found it deep. So I wrote to Anne’s SITI company, which works on Suzuki method and viewpoints and attended their one-year course.”

The Suzuki method, Akhshay informs, was developed in Japan by Tadashi Suzuki. “He started investigating Kudiyattam, Kathakali, Noh, etc. He wondered what makes these classical forms so strong? He understood that they were still powerful even when stripped off aesthetics. So he created a training methodology deprived of aesthetics. He designed it in such a way that it would work for any kind of performance and came up with a system that looks at things classically yet has a modern relevance.”

Viewpoints were developed by Mary Overlie. “After studying multiple disciplines, Mary developed lenses, which are so personalised that you can work with any art form. Anne then took these and developed them for theatre. They are sensorial lenses...something you should be able to feel. The art is not technical, you should feel the sense of rhythm, timing, space... it is about developing sensibilities.”

Akhshay then decided to attend a residency by Eugenio Barba. “At their two month residency, I learnt new methods, and decided to apply them. Eugenio’s ideas are organic, narrative and evocative dramaturgy. He primarily works on dramaturgy. I connected with it.”

Mahesh Dattani’s Clearing the Rubble was a departure from Akhshay’s usual theatre work. “I normally don’t do scripted work. I am not a translator and don’t translate scripts to performance. But when I read Clearing the Rubble, which is a radio play, I found that it is beautiful poetry. It is written in three monologues. There is no stage instructions, which means I can be the author of the performance. As a theatre maker I was comfortable making this play, but through that process I realised this is the way I want to share my world with other people. Mahesh enjoyed the play, and that was rewarding for us.”

Burn my Diaries, another successful production directed by Akhshay, was a solo show written and performed by Shweta Desai. “It was based on the scientific idea of imagination and reality. Shweta wrote a character of a psychologist and how her work affects her. We started researching psychology. I was clear that I didn’t want to influence the audience. The play should not tell me what to do, instead it should change me. Burn My Diaries did that for me. The production was about mental health and illness, what we consider real and non-real, normal and abnormal. We didn’t have props. We wanted to make everything imaginary so that the audience could imagine everything from our childhood.”

Akhshay was, however, unsatisfied with In Place Of...“ We started creating the production with the question ‘Is art even relevant in conflict?’ Several discussions led us to realise that conflict involves violence, art and memory. All three are acts of expression. Then we decided to give it some kind of container which can look like a play. It was just an exploration. We don’t call it a script or narrative.”

From here to infinity

Faustus’s Dream, though, was a pleasant surprise for Akhshay.The amount of content being generated was amazing. It was not supposed to be a ‘play’, it was supposed to be a showcase of the team’s artistic skills. After two days of devising, because of the shared language, we generated a lot of content. The performance is based on the premise that if humans have infinite time how will they pass it?”

Akhshay’s Kaavad Katha—Kaavad is a traditional Rajasthani storytelling form is one of his most well-received performances. “I belong to small village in Rajasthan. I am often asked what I do, I say am a theatre practitioner. So they ask: ‘do you tell stories’, ‘ are you a traditional story teller?”. That got me thinking about Kaavad. So I went to Kaavadiya Khoja Ram ji. He told me no one knows much about Kaavadiya. He said Kaavad is puja, not art for us.”

Akhshay chose to immerse himself in the art form for three years. “I did a performance in 2015 in Ranga Shankara, but was not satisfied as it was theatrical and not traditional.” And so he polished it even further and toured with it. It was performed on January 11 at Atta Galatta.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:14:41 AM |

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