Workshop | Minding Theatre by Shreekumar Varma

“Minding Theatre”, a theatre workshop was conducted by Shreekumar Varma on Thursday, October 12. Prof. Srilata K delivered the introductory remarks and introduced the speaker following which the floor was thrown open with the question “What is theatre?” After gauging the responses which ranged from enactment by people to representation, he launched into the story of Shakuntala as an example of what can be called theatre. When you frame a scene, a casual mundane event and show the same to an audience it is called theatre. The frame transforms the event into that which is worthy of attention, which is exactly how news channels function.

Occasionally dipping into his personal journey as a novelist, playwright, poet, newspaper columnist, literary reviewer and translator, he talked about his experiences of writing for the radio. Listening is paramount here and the same can be said for theatre. Theatre is one form of the performing arts which is live and where the responses are immediate. It operates in the present and its success does not depend on merely the director. Every aspect of a play – lights, sounds, production, the actors, the director – all affect how the play turns out. The crux of theatre, or what defines it and helps it stand apart, is the interaction between the performers and the viewers, or the collective audience.

Following this, Varma spoke about ‘The Madras Players’ which is the oldest English theatre group in India. They started out as a play-reading group established by the British Council to promote English language theatre. This small history session ended with video clippings from Varma’s plays – Cast Party, Midnight Hotel and Platform. Each of these clippings engaged with contemporary issues of gender and sexuality.

Succeeding this he called for five volunteers who had prior acting experience to put up a short play on the theme of hunger. Aishwarya, Urmika, Rimil, Guru and Merrin volunteered and put up an impromptu skit with speed dating as the setting. Each of them depicted a different type of hunger – for power, love, sanity, normality and the actual hunger of the stomach.

In the meantime, five other volunteers – Srishtika, Aparna R, Akshay, Zainab and Gerleo – were in the process of writing short plays. They were each given a place – haunted mansion or boat in the middle of the river and a set of characters – (a) Amitabh Bachchan, a taxi driver, you; (b) Talking bird, performing monkey, you. Using the given setting and characters they had to build a scene and bring forth a surprising turn. One by one they read out their plays which ranged from existential crises to Brechtian modernism. The workshop ended with a cheerful vote of thanks by Basima P.

Fun fact: He is the grandson of the last ruling Maharani of Travancore, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, and great-great-grandson of the artist Raja Ravi Varma.


Report by Merrin Abraham. 

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