How truly experimental is today’s experimental theatre?
Posted on 20 October, 2016 by Team Wishberry
A still from Tee
Experimental theatre is like that friend in your life who always keeps trying newer things, whatever the outcome. He might fail or succeed, but he never stops being the one to innovate or attempt something new and offbeat.
To experiment and innovate are at the heart and soul of experimental theatre, and that is what truly makes it what it is. It was an experiment of subjects they dealt with, of form, production techniques and of a completely different approach to the art of theatre. The likes of Satyadev Dubey, Vijay Tendulkar, Sulabha Deshpande, and many others formed the base for this. It was followed decade after decade, and we now have a full-fledged parallel theatre scene which we fondly call ‘the experimental theatre’.
But, like Alok Rajwade, a brilliant director and actor, once told me, “Most experiments get accepted by the society and eventually become mainstream. Newer things then are called experiments. It is a cycle of sorts.” That is how experimental ideas come up, which become an attempt at the obscure or modern thought, or maybe an innovation with production. Or even an experiment with the performance space, like Quasar Thakore Padamsee of QTP points out in this piece.
Innovation is key in arts, in general. Especially when you have an entire fanbase counting on newer things and experimentation, which is basically the kind of fanbase that experimental theatre has. But, has it been standing true to that innovation? If yes, how strongly is it doing so?
It has been doing well, and has remained tremendously innovative despite a lot of changes in the social structure and acceptance of thought in the society. And production has always remained at the forefront of innovation.
Pritesh Sodha’s Tee is a horror play in Marathi. One of the highlights of the play is when the actor who is supposed to be the horror character, walks through the audience at a time when the play is at its spooky high. Now as much as that must be an old technique, the way they have coupled it with the sound and lights and the timing in the play, it truly takes home the horror appeal of the play.
A similar technique, but with superior approach was practised in the recent past. Makarand Deshpande's Grahalakhsmi, another horror play, employed various small gimmicks to truly create horror on stage. The solitary character on stage is supposed to be in the presence of a ghost, and the play has created the ghost's presence with small techniques of moving things with the help of strings, pulleys and the whole apparatus. It created a stunning effect of things being moved by a supernatural element and truly created a presence of the unknown. It also extensively used audio effect to elevate the experience.
A still from Sindhu Sudhakar Rum aani Itar
In terms of form, there have been various experiments, as well. Some of them really really novel ideas. One of the most radical toying with form being, QTP's White Rabbit Red Rabbit, an impromptu theatre performance where the actor is handed the script right there on the stage and he/she has to perform it in front of a live audience. It brings the actor to stage and keeps him/her vulnerable with the lack of familiarity with what he/she is about to perform especially with an audience waiting for the performance. It becomes a truly novel experience for both the actor and the audience. It has been highly acclaimed and has been giving actors goals to achieve in their career.
White Rabbit Red Rabbit is now also presented in Marathi with Marathi theatre actors by Nipul Dharamadhikari’s Natak Company. Which only means that a larger audience is ready to accept the concept, and that is proof of a successful experiment.
In a completely different approach, Alok Rajwade’s Sindhu Sudhakar Rum aani Itar, tried taking an old play, but only using it in parts by fusing it with a modern story. It shuffles between Ekach Pyaala and the modern day setting of a fashion studio designing costumes for a film based on the play. Every character associated itself with a character from the play and shifts between real identity and their character of the play. It creates a time machine like effect, and the back and forth becomes truly entertaining throughout.
Similarly, Natak Company’s Binkamache Sanwad also presents itself in a weird manner. The play is designed to be a wrestling ring and the various characters stand in it during their turn. Bhosanka, the 50 year old lead character, has just bought a new iPhone 6. He meets multiple people in this ‘ring’ and asks multiple questions related to decadence of language, morality, the political tyranny, et al. The play might seem messy at first, but it reveals its layers as it progresses. It is truly radical in its display and breaks the mould of theatre presentation. It remains crude and complicated, yet you get the message it wants to convey.
All in all, experimental theatre has retained its urge to experiment, despite various forms being accepted and have moved to being a part of the popular, commercial theatre. That is the beauty of theatre in the first place, thespians are always on the lookout for new forms, techniques, content, and the likes. We are blessed to have it at our disposal.