Theatre

Short and sharp

IN SYNC WITH TIMES A scene from “Hearts That Wrote History”

IN SYNC WITH TIMES A scene from “Hearts That Wrote History”  

As the audience’s attention span gets shorter, micro plays emerge as a creative alternative

Brevity is the soul of wit. Anything delivered with punch and precision makes a definite impact while keeping the attention intact. So pithy mails have replaced long letters, 50 overs cricket is giving way to T20, feature films are competing with shorts and instead of lengthy comments people simply tweet their reactions.

This holds true for theatre too where the audience want to see something new from the point of view of content, format and presentation. With audience game to try and experience new experiments, it is time for the micro plays spanning 10 minutes or less to move to the centrestage. Earlier this genre was present in Delhi in a limited way. Now, Vriksh, a Delhi-based theatre group is gearing to hold “Thespis: The National Micro Drama Festival 2017” whose logo was recently released by Prof. Waman Kendre, Director of the National School of Drama. Incidentally, the event to be held in April is appropriately named after Thespis of Icaria who according to certain Greek sources was the first person to appear on stage as an actor. It is not just in India, other countries too are experimenting with durations of plays and micro format is popular among theatre practitioners and lovers.

Sharing with us how the idea of the festival came into being, Ajith Maniyan of Vriksh says, it was an off-the-cuff remark by a friend who on seeing their plight to garner funds for a full-fledged play suggested to make a short one which would hardly require money. “This light-hearted remark set us thinking. Knowing that audience would neither spend time nor money to watch one mini play, we decided to host a festival by inviting scripts of which the selected ones will be staged at the event .” He feels that it will allow people to sample this genre and help develop a taste for it giving an opportunity for others to come together to try present a string of such plays commercially too.

Welcoming this format, well known playwright Omchery N.N. Pillai says, “It is not the duration of the play but its content, format and presentation that is important. Today, audiences’ 10 minutes should not be taken lightly. It has to be pregnant with ideas to make them welcome and watch it.”

Omchery N.N. Pillai

Omchery N.N. Pillai  

Agreeing with Pillai, writer and director Danish Iqbal says that mini plays are generally adopted by theatre enthusiasts in workshops and training. When asked if it is similar to the format of skits, Iqbal says no. “Skits are anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes long with comedy being the central thread in it. Its presentation is caricaturish and cartoonish. Subject matter of micros – with a duration of 10 minutes or less – is serious and have satire and humour which is between the lines.”

He points out that Delhi used to host a festival of mini plays in the past which was hugely popular. “In one of them, I recall a play on Gandhi and Charlie Chaplin capturing the meeting of the two personalities succinctly which was well appreciated as it was effective at the level of script and treatment. To create this effect in the play requires extra effort on the part of everyone associated.” But, he doubts if shorts will meet the same level of success on a commercial scale. “Productions put on board for public viewing have to satisfy in terms subject, form and length. Nobody is going to travel all the way to watch a small play.”

So what is the way out to attract people to watch shorts? Pillai suggests that a group of directors can come together, say 10 to make and present shorts. “So instead of one play viewers get to see 10 crisp productions dealing with different subjects providing a variety.” Pillai and Iqbal are of the opinion that shorts can attract audience whose attention span is short and prefer variety to a single theme. “Like short films now in vogue mini plays can become popular.”

The director of Delhi-based Kshitij Theatre Group, Bharti Sharma feels training in mini plays is good for self growth as a performer and director. “The moot point is that all types of content cannot be adapted for this genre. Moreover, a play to be effective has to initiate and develop a connect with the audience. This definitely requires time which is, of course, short for minis,” she quips.

Pillai, discounting the length of the drama, argues that he has seen audience looking at their watches in long plays too. “This denotes that the actor, writer and director have failed to deliver and engage the audience thereby making the entire viewing devoid of theatrical experience.”

There have been instances of shorts making a dent. Ajith cites the example of a non-verbal play rendering life is what one makes out of it. “The narrative showed two actors coming on the stage carrying a bamboo. They stand on the either ends of it and peep making one cry while the other laugh. Confused they change sides but the result is same. People immediately understood that it denotes sadness and happiness which are an integral part of life and it clicked with them.”

According to Bharti to have this kind of impact in a mini is only possible when both the plot and its treatment are superb. Concurring with her, Iqbal avers that micro plays too can be potent if they are backed by the right story. “Here one needs to explore the collaboration between short stories and plays. For example Manto has written a one paragraph story. Now to adapt it for stage is what calls for certain aptitude and attitude.” Having penned scripts for shorts Iqbal is aware of this quality. His “Ek Shaam Ki Kahani” and “Ek Park Mein Ek Din” was applauded in Delhi when staged during a festival. “The second play was about old man in a park who after initial reluctance starts liking the children playing there. Distributing chocolates among them he breaks down remembering his grandchildren settled abroad. The poignancy of woes of the senior citizens came out well in the play.”

Pillai too has published short plays. One of his favourites, “The Renunciation of Buddha” is of less than 10 minutes and devoid of dialogues. Herein the writer portrays the Prince Siddhartha (Gautam Buddha) who on finding a help who is pull the fan sleeping does not chide her and instead takes the string from her to pull the pankha. “These actions conveyed a multitude of meanings like his frame of mind, his empathy with needy and wanting to help them.” He hopes to see this on board during a festival devoted to shorts. It seems there is no dearth of stories for the mini plays. Iqbal states that once audience evince interest there will be many more.

There is a divergence of opinion on trying to condense long plays to the fit them in the mini category. While Iqbal and Bharti wonder if shorts could bring out the essence and nuances, Ajith feels that in some cases it is possible to cut out the frills and present a terse version.

Challenges

It is not that the format is walk down the park for theatre persons. On the contrary as compared to the regular plays it is behest with challenges for actors, writers and directors. Pillai hits the nail on the head. “Time is the key. Neither the writer, nor the director, nor the actors have the leisure of time to evolve the plot. Where there are no dialogues the performers will have to bank on bhava and emoting.” Adding to this Iqbal says, “There is no scope for second rate actors or loose script.” What makes it more exciting is the absence of props, designs and visuals which along with the change of costumes make the long duration plays flexible and attractive.

The medium is bound to face the space crunch which is a bane for theatre and other performing arts too. Bharti suggests staging minis in cafes, bistros and art galleries like the way it is done abroad could be a way out. “It is a good idea to reverse the flow – take the venue from proscenium to audience.” Pillai adds that book stores which have reading session can be roped into it to put these plays leading to increase footfalls.

Despite all this, it looks those bold to experiment are keen and set to embrace this genre rendering both the making and viewing of shorts not just short but sweet too.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:15:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/short-and-sharp/article17104498.ece1

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