After touring to meet a number of companies, and talking to many people, I realized, that there was actually an extremely rich vein of theatre practice across the country, and in terms of content, depth of practice, ability, India had it all. It’s just that it all existed in isolated pockets of practice, at best, you could say Theatre as a sector, existed like a cottage industry, its ‘fairs’ being the three or four major theatre festivals each year, at which the same plays by the same companies were being seen. Its best practices, lay behind the walls of institutions, that, while doing good work, were inaccessible to many, for example, the National School of Drama, which has 25 seats a year, and caters to regional quotas (being the nations premier institution).
In the meantime, in the city itself, there were a multitude of performers and actors, and people who love and want to do theatre. (Drama incidentally comes from the Latin, Dram, drm; it means “to do”). These people were creating work, either on the stages of Prithvi, the NCPA, or through vernacular companies, all of whom picked up what little they could, through workshops by local actors, or learnt by getting cast in amateur plays, and gleaning what they could from either their directors, or the more seasonedactors around them.
We needed a new platform, upon which to hone skills, pick up the rigor, focus, and commitment, which is required when learning the craft of acting, and could deliver learning in a structured manner in line with the more evolved pedagogical methods of the west. But, it wasn’t simply about creating this space for formal training in acting and theatre making to fulfill this need. It was also creating a School, which would call upon these rich practices that existed across the country, and create a platform in which knowledge dissemination, using methods and techniques from Kallari, Koodiyattom, and Manipuri could co-exist with Greek Chorus, Stanislavsky, and Commedia. A place where actors could, through exploration and tutelage in all these forms, not develop a mastery of them (that takes a lifetime), but absorb the fundamental principals, and through experiencing them evolve a new, contemporary understanding of the fundamental tools of the actor, conditioning of the breath and voice, use of the body, and the imagination.
But is it enough to create an actor? I don’t think so; the last thing a school should create is the out-of-work actor. It’s important to create theatre-makers as well. So while you can keep struggling to look for a job, under a director or get cast in a film, you also have the ability to make your own theatre. That’s where the joy of theatre lies, its to revel in the act of creation, the act of storytelling, its about having something to say about something you believe in, and having a burning need to share it with the world, your audience, (in a manner that entertains, absorbs and involves them). It’s important, that any one who is studying performance, is also empowered and enabled to be the authors of their own work.
And is it enough to create the actor-creator? Especially if they are going to have this formal training, and the sensibilities of a creator? To then be cast into a sector which I characterized at the top of this as being a cottage industry? This is why, any Drama School in India today, needs to also cultivate the entrepreneurial frame of mind. To understand what it takes to produce something, market something, imagine an idea and create a workable plan that will evolve from an idea in their heads of what kind of sector they want to work in, and to confidently embark on this ultimate act of creating something where nothing existed before. When Tasneem Fatehi and I created Theatre Professionals in 2008, it was with an aim to do exactly this for ourselves, create a space in which we could be professional Theatre Practitioners, and earn a living from Theatre in whatever way imaginable. Its been a great journey where we now have Drama instructors who earn a living teaching Drama in 22 Schools, directors and choreographers who work on annual day productions in schools, facilitators for corporate workshops, and a team of professional faculty from across the country, regularly conducting training for actors (this year, we embark on creation our own productions as well, two of them, through the school). All of our team work in the Theatre, earn a living from the theatre, and consider themselves theatre professionals. There are now 40 of us, and we live, breath, dream Theatre. There are so many sectors that have formalized, organized and become professional here in the last seven years, the “creative industry” is now a reality, and its now the turn of Theatre to do the same. But just our one organization, will never make this dream of a formal, professional sector a reality; it will take a whole new generation of Actor-Creator-Entrepreneurs to do this. The Drama School, Mumbai is our first, and the best step, we can take towards this.
– Jehan Manekshaw