Playback time at Shishumandir…

•November 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

 Time… a cold Monday morning. Place… deserted college campus. Four play-backers braved their blues to get their act together for the performance on Saturday 9th October, 2010. As the week went by, the number grew larger; the rapport stronger and the creativity almost infectious. The performance was planned for the children of Shishuvan, a NGO which works towards providing quality education and care for children from economically deprived families.

 So, on the morning of 9th, the team of excited play-backers (most of them making their big debut) drove into the school premises; to be greeted by smiling kids distracted from their play. Awe-struck by the aura of the place, we admired the charming building and the little gardens with inspiring quotes painted in each corner. A small class-room was ready for performance with our young audience, about 50 kids lined up neatly on the floor.

When we started interacting with them, they responded in kind with wide grins & loads of warmth. It was a pleasant surprise later when a girl in the teller’s chair addressed an actor by name, calling her out to play a part. This actor was not part of the original team of actors for this story.

The conductor’s role was beautifully managed by Bharat; striking a chord with the audience while juggling between two languages. The music was done by Arif; starting with the soothing classical notes which opened the first fluid, the music consistently enhanced the beauty of the performances that followed. Rajesh played the silent coach, supporting us through the performance. The actors were at their best (Avarina, Abu, Akankcha, Kavita, Mona, Madhuri and I) complementing each other; adding their unique flavour to create a melange of fluids, stories and conflicts.

The kids responded enthusiastically to the conductor’s questions; shaping fluids on ‘what do we expect from the performers’, ‘favourite pastimes’ and the very powerful ‘who do we aspire to become…’ A bit shy when called upon to share stories, it took a little prodding and encouragement to get two girls in the teller’s chair sharing their moments of victory and adventure. In the first story on winning a basketball match; the actors conveyed the feeling of triumph with a victory dance, drawing a roaring applause.

The second teller shared her experience of a frightening encounter with a snake in the woods on her way home from school. Watching the episode re-created larger than life before her eyes, the teller’s satisfaction was evident in her reaction. The conflicts shared were simple childhood dilemmas- to study or play, to sleep or enjoy music. The final fluid depicted the kids’ response to the performance- the amazement, laughter & aspirations said it all. The prayer chorus which they sang for us in the end moved everyone to a humble silence. In the hour and half spent with the children of Shishumandir, we successfully captured a slice of their lives and presented it back to them, gift- wrapped in theatrical taffety. Yet, after all the good-bye hugs, as we reluctantly drove away; the feeling was one of having received much more than we could give…

– Supriya Rakesh
(Supriya is a new Playbacker having done her Certificate Course in Playback Theatre with Script Peoples Theatre in September. She is a Human Resources Professional with Johnson & Johnson.)


A Performance at an old-age home

•May 12, 2009 • 3 Comments

Our once-a-month charity performance this month was at Mathruchaya, an old-age home. Tucked away in Banashankari, Bangalore we visited this place on 9th May. ‘We’ comprised a  bunch of newbies to Playback Theatre and a few odd oldies. 

Mathruchaya is run by the welfare wing of Canara Bank. It’s  a beautiful space with a little garden, benches, and very neat single bed room homes. All it’s inmates are old people in the age group of 75 to the oldest inmate who is a sprightly 95. All of them have had illustrious careers and now spend the evenings of their life here.

Umesh was our conductor and the actors included Murugesh, Sumana, Madhumitha, Saraswathi, Parinita and Rajesh. Arif played the music. The fluids ranged from ‘expecting to see a play’ to a very vehement ‘the young don’t respect elders anymore’ to ‘Bangalore has changed for the worse’ to ‘if  at all anything can be learnt from the youth today it is how to make money!’

There was one story where the teller narrated an incident that had taken place in 1948. Apparently although India had gained freedom in 1947, the princely state of Mysore was still under the rule of the Mysore Maharaja till 1948 and the teller was witness to his friends from school going on a strike to protest the Mysore rule. The police were very violent and they fired on the protestors. One of his friends died in the shootout. For the teller, till this day, the memories of that horrific day refuse to go away.

At the end of the performance, we had light refreshments with the audience members. They were very happy with our performance. One gentleman who was the oldest at 95, invited us to his home and we were amazed to see how neatly he had organised the entire place. Not a single thing was out of place. He would occassionally cook something for himself on his own.

For us, it was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We left taking some great memories of this beautiful place.

Performance at Snehasadana

•March 18, 2009 • 1 Comment

On 14th March we went to an orphanage called ‘Sneha Sadhana’ on the outskirts of the city. Run by an affable priest Fr. Roy, the children were in the age group of 5 – 12. There were close to thirty children in the dining room which doubled up as our performance space.

The performance lasted all of 40 minutes and what was significant here was that they loved the fluid sculptures. They only wanted that. Their excitement slowly died down once we got into the real life stories. I was the conductor and there was one small boy in their midst called Kiran. He had a ready answer for everything. We were all amazed by his confidence and his earnestness.

They shared everything from their favourite food to their film star to their sport to studies to their dreams. During the enactment I observed that they were wonderstruck at the unfolding magic of playback theatre.

At the end of the performance we joined them for evening snacks. We were all a very happy and tired bunch by the time we left that ‘abode of love’.

An inspiring audience

•January 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We had our Second Saturday Charity Playback Theatre performance yesterday. The venue was Parikrama in Bangalore. This is a Non-Governmental Organization that works with children from the slums.

To put it mildly, the performance was simply superb. A lot of it was thanks to the great response from the audience.

The group comprised children in the age group of 10 – 12 and some of them were a little more than that. They were slum children but fed, clothed and educated by Parikrama.
The stories, the sharing – were all of hope and about India, about meeting A.P.J when he visited them last year. Here were children who had taken a dynamic leap in their lives. They were absolutely positive and nurtured dreams of taking up careers like medicine and engineering! it was great to see their optimism about their own lives. They were completely in control and knew right from wrong.

There were very many memorable moments – Umesh donning the role of A.P.J and giving a terrific speech, Ajmal as the inspired musician, Nag as the explosive actor, Siddharth with his creative one-liners, Vidya with her boundless energy, Sujitra in her usual creative self, Sumana tying the loose ends together and Rakesh and Zohrab adding to the spice. I had conducted the performance

Truly refreshing, and a great way to start the New Year!

– Rajesh.P.I

A performance for the terminally ill

•December 12, 2007 • 1 Comment

On 8 December, our Playback Theatre team performed at Karunashraya in Bangalore. This is a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients. Most of the patients are dying and are provided basic treatment with lots of love. The care is mostly free of cost.

At about 4:30 in the evening we reached the venue. The patients were all wheeled to an open space. There was a pool of water close by, filled with fish. A small bird stood there on the steps. We were filled with trepidation, wondering how the peformance would go…

There were about twenty patients. Quite a few of them were bandaged and some of them didn’t utter a word during the show. About 40 of the support staff including the nurses joined to watch the performance. Umesh P N was the conductor and his interaction was primarily in Kannada, keeping in mind the audience.

‘What I like best about Karunashraya is that the nurses and the staff treat us with a lot of love and try their very best to insulate us as far as possible from the pain.’ 
‘If I have another life I would like to serve others just like the sisters and nurses here.’

The stories that emerged were stories of innocense – of childhood. Of copying exams and getting caught. Being sent home by the Head Master and then when the parent pleaded, of relenting and then of the triumph of passing the exam honestly.

For a moment there were smiles all around. The participants enjoying, laughing. Some of them taking in the performance silently. The support staff enjoying every minute of it, celebrating the key moments. The actors performing to their best and ensuring that they did justice to the stories. Arif on the guitar adding to the ambience.

One lady, in a wheel chair, her body ravaged by cancer, her limbs taught, the veins bulging…she probably had very little time to live… She shared a story of her childhood. Her voice filled with excitement as she recounted long lost days of games and bunking classes and care free moments. Her excitement was boundless and as she shared we could see a warm glow in her face. This was a truly beautiful moment.  

One lady who was blind began to get completely involved in the sharing as we progressed. She shared – ‘Your performance has been like a rainbow in our lives…I will never forget this lovely evening that you have gifted us’.

(The performers included Nagabhushana S, Rangarajan, Siddharth Joshi, Sumana, Sujitra, Ajmal Aboobacker, Irada P P & Rajesh P I. Music was conducted by Arif Mohammed. )

– Rajesh P I

A Playback Performance for the Visually Handicapped

•July 16, 2007 • 1 Comment

14 July – in a quiet neighbourhood, on the terrace of the Samarthanam Trust for the visually handicapped, seven of us gathered to perform Playback Theatre. Performing for the blind – how do we do it? How do we go about it?

As Playbackers, how do we do justice to this audience? How do we weave their stories into intricate patterns of energy, life, rhythm, and art? At the end of the day are we just wasting our times and theirs?

These were questions that we could have normally asked ourselves as Playback performers. Interestingly enough, those were doubts that we had dealt with nearly two years ago when we had first performed for them and the warm memories of that successful performance inspired the group, including the ones (me included) who hadn’t performed then.

Our week long rehearsals which lasted for an hour each session, was focused on the voice and learning to stress more on it for this performance. We knew we had to stress on Kannada (the local language) as most of the audience members were conversant in it. In our rehearsals we hoped that we had got the pulse of the narrative right. We tried various variations, techniques, including one where the teller would keep his eyes closed through the performance and experience it differently. With a shudder we realised that the quality of the experience was enhanced. We wondered if sight was a drawback at times!

The audience settled in on the mats. Each sensing us, our energy, while sitting in an orderly fashion. Theatre has made us reckless, maybe. A little unruly maybe…so much, so that when we assemble anywhere the collective energy is vibrant, rolling, hard to contain and fairly easy to spot.

Umesh the conductor. In his calm demeanour he exudes tremendous hope and comfort for the audience. In his ability to connect with the audience, they respond easily and comfortably.

I think I am going to watch a performance of the Mahabharata.
And the magic unfolds.

I am very happy today as I got my concessional bus pass.
I feel sad as I fell down today while travelling by bus.
I feel great about Mudda Sir, who runs this institution and I want to be like him.

Eager faces, happy faces, celebratory faces, thinking faces…the impact of the performance was evident on the faces of the audience. We knew we were right on track.

The stories emerged of simplicity of everyday situations. In their honesty lay their beauty. I was studying for my Pre-university when I was sure that I would do very well. So confident was I in my abilities when I started paying more attention to FM Radio than my studies. When my results came I had just managed to pass. I was devastated and ensured that I would never take my studies lightly.

Another story of a battle won and the pride of trophy reflecting in the confidence and the leadership of the teller. She was an ignorant 9 year old girl when a lady guided her and enabled her to acquire education and lead her life her way. Today she teaches computers to other visually handicapped people. A story of triumph and about learning to fight the odds.

The conflicts that emerged were every day conflicts –
Should I bunk college and take in the ‘sights’ of the city or should I stay put in college.
Should I opt for a career in Accounts or a career in Management. I can’t seem to make up my mind.

We left promising to return another time.

– Rajesh.P.I

A little wisdom

•July 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

In the course of the Playback Theatre workshop currently underway, one participant who is a software engineer with GE wrote to me. “I joined the Playback Theatre workshop thinking that I was getting into an extra-curricular and it would help provide some entertainment. The more I do it, I realize that this is all about me..developing an inalienable part of me..something that is beautiful and full of life. This is such a creatively and emotionally satisfying journey.”

I thought what he had to say was very interesting, and completely true. Just a new perspective into theatre which (at least in India) was so far simply relegated to an extra-curricular activity or something of not very much significance.  

Incidentally in our 15 years of working with school & college students, adults, working professionals, home-makers and a lot of other folk,  we have found that theatre gives wings to the human imagination. It fosters tremendous amount of confidence and self belief. It channelises energy and provides a healthy and positive outlook for the person. Theatre is therapeutic and I have personally witnessed many people experiencing tremendous amount of emotional relief.

The Playback Theatre Workshop is not just an option, it is a guaranteed path for personal growth.

– Rajesh.P.I