Jatra is an ancient theatre form which originated in 16th Century and like most theatre forms, has it’s roots in religious devotion, its literal translation in to English being, to go in a procession. What has fascinated me most though is the fact that it has constantly evolved both thematically and in form. Originally a musical theatre form, it has gone on to include prose, improvised dialogue, and comic interludes. The original narratives were great Indian classics like the Ramayana, but come the 20th Century, Jatra transformed into a theatre that supported the growing calls of independence from the British and, for a time, became a vehicle of political satire and protest. This led to some performances being banned by the colonists who had once embraced it. At the same time, with the rise of communism in some Indian states, Lenin even made an appearance in some Jatra performances which positively portrayed communist ideologies and thought. However, even in this period, song remained at the heart of Jatra.
Following the World War II, Jatra started to fall into decline, with the arrival of radio, television and then Bollywood, although it still remained popular in the more rural communities. However, in West Bengal, where it originated, it is still popular today and according to one source, Jatra performances can draw an audience of up to 20,000. On the other hand, in an article for Indian Express, An Hour Upon The Stage, Premankur Biswas talks to some of the retired performers that Soumya Sankar Bose photographed, as well as Bose himself, and they tell a very different story:
Today, there are about 20 Jatra companies in Kolkata’s famous Chitpore district. In 2001, there were over 300 companies which employed over 20,000 people.
“The 20-odd troupes will also close down in a few years. The Partition had a major impact on jatra. Artistes in the newly formed East Pakistan (later Bangladesh), stopped enacting Hindu folk tales of Krishna lila, Kongsho bodh, etc. On the other side of the border, artistes in West Bengal stopped playing Muslim characters such as Siraj-ud-daulah. The advent of cinema and TV in the 1960s and 1970s was another major blow,” says Bose.
Jayashree Mukherjee, 66, who started her career in 1965, hasn’t acted in a jatra pala for about five years. She was 14 when she was spotted selling flower garlands at a north Kolkata market by renowned jatra director Bhavesh Kundu. She had five mouths to feed. “My father had lost his job and I had younger siblings. Bhaveshda asked me if I could act, I couldn’t say no,” says Mukherjee.
Her first role, the titular character in the popular Tapasi, required her to play a child bride married to a 40-something zamindar. “I would just mouth lines but people loved my performance,” says Mukherjee. For the next 20 years, Mukherjee played lead roles in a number of jatra palas, but the 1980s spelled doom. “Television ate away a large chunk of our market. Producers started bringing film stars to jatras to draw in the crowds,” says Mukherjee. Since the 1990s, popular film stars like Moon Moon Sen, Satabdi Roy and Raveena Tandon have performed in jatras.
Mukherjee, who acted in a jatra pala with Raveena Tandon about a decade ago, was paid Rs 1,000 for her efforts, while Tandon was paid “more than Rs 1,00,000”. Mukherjee does small roles in television serials now. “At times, I make about Rs 8,000 in a month, at times not even that. There are months where I don’t get any work. And to think less than two decades ago, I was too busy to attend even a nephew’s wedding”.
I have really only skimmed the surface of the rich history of Jatra. There are some good sources if you want to read further. There is this one from Indiaprofile.com and then this more detailed one from Yakshagana Cultural Magazine, which covers staging and so on. There are more of Bose’s photos here. If you want real detail and have access to JSTOR, there is a volume of the Journal of South Asian Literature devoted to Jatra.
I have a backlog of bits and pieces I’ve been meaning to share so here goes the first. Veteran theatre maker Peter Brook is still going strong at the age of 91. As the UK’s most influential theatre director of the 20th Century (despite being based in France for many years) Brook’s contribution to theatre is almost unmeasurable. In an article for The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish comments that detailing his long-lasting contribution [to the stage] is a daunting task. He goes on to say:
In a career that has stretched across an unrivalled seven decades, he has washed up fresh ideas on our shores, and helped sweep away much of our theatre’s conventionality, insularity and clutter. Scores of books have been written about him. But one single phrase goes to the heart of explaining the transformation he has helped to bring about: “the empty space”, the title of the slim volume he produced in 1968 that has remained a manifesto of sorts for successive generations of theatre-makers.
I stumbled across this quite incredible TEDx presentation yesterday and just had to share it. It is given by Adina Tal, founder of the NaLagaat Theatre, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Clearly an inspirational character, Tal talks about how she came about forming the first blind-deaf theatre company in the world. I urge you to watch it.
To quote directly from their website:
The theater ensembles of Nalaga’at are composed of 18 deaf-blind actors. Some of the actors are completely deaf-blind, some have remants of vision or residual hearing. All actors have personal interpreters of sign language by touch, who accompany them during rehearsals and performances. Most of the actors have “Usher Syndrome” – a genetic syndrome in which the person is born deaf or with hearing impairment, and developes during adolescence to retinitis pigmentosa eye disease, leading to visual impairments and blindness..
Ongoing employment of the actors strengthens their self confidece, improve their interpersonal communication ability, reduce their social isolation and allows meetings with the seeing and hearing audience and with people with the same and different disabilities. Most of the deaf-blind people can communicate only with a person who knows to sign language by touch or to use the “glove” system (every joint on the palm of the hand is a letter in Hebrew that you can type on). Communication between the deaf-blind actors at Nalaga’at has developed in many ways, as every person in the group has different needs and abilities.
Nalaga’at means “Please Touch” in Hebrew and the centre that houses the theatre company, also has a restaurant, The Blackout where diners are served in total darkness by blind waiters and Café Kapish where the serving staff communicate with you in sign language.
In an article for The Guardian, Lyn Gardner says that watching the company is a compelling, idiosyncratic and joyous theatre experience. Entitled Blind Man’s Loaf, Gardner paints a very vivid picture of the whole Nalaga’at experience. Wonderful.
There have been thousands of programmes, documentaries, scholarly articles, performances and events broadcast, written and produced over the last couple of months to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Looking across the global media, new and old, it seems that in almost every country, English speaking or not, William Shakespeare and his work has been celebrated.
Amongst all of these, the ones that have really caught my attention have been those that have explored the relevancy of the Bard in a modern ever-changing world. In particular, today, I want to share a 2 programme series broadcast by the BBC. In the first episode, presented by Nikki Bedi, Shakespeare In India explores how the cannon remains relevant in the sub-continent. It looks at how much of the work resonates with the politics, culture and social norms of today and how Shakespeare has faired in a post-colonial world. The programme also touches on Parsi Theatre, which was new to me.
The second episode, Shakespeare in South Africa is even more interesting. Presented by writer Nadia Davids, it explores how Shakespeare is being performed as a way of discussing race, violence against women, and the current political crisis around President Zuma. What particularly struck a chord with me however, is the discussion of Shakespeare as part of the debate about decolonising education.
I have just returned from a short trip to Penang, Malaysia and while I was there a came across a real little gem, the Teochew Puppet and Opera House Museum. Based in an old shophouse in the George Town UNESCO World Heritage site, it tells the story of a Chinese puppet and opera form I had never come across before. To call it a museum is a bit misleading, as they also stage puppet performances and operas on the premises, as well as leading workshops in both forms they promote.
To give it some context, Teochew is a dialect that is native to the Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong, whose people spread across the region in the 19th Century (and later, the world), taking their culture with them.
In an article for New Straits Times, Pauline Fan gives a short history of the Museum which is now run by the a 5th generation opera performer and puppeteer, Ling Goh. In another, for the Malay Mail, Vivian Cheong gives a more detailed sketch of family, which is quite fascinating.
Although the Opera House doesn’t have it’s own website, it does have a very well kept Facebook page, here, which has much more information.
If you find yourself in Penang, I thoroughly recommend a visit and if there is no one else there when you drop by, you will get your own personal tour, as I did, as well as some hands on experience with the puppets themselves.
With apologies to all my regular readers, Theatre Room has been on an extended summer break. During that time I have been storing up a host of the all things theatre to share and I’m going to start with an article published last week in UK’s The Stage. Written by Lee Anderson, How dramaturgy is finding its place in British theatreexplores the growing role of the dramaturg in the UK. As I have written here before, dramaturgy is a difficult beast to define, not least because it takes many forms. As Anderson quite rightly explains, in the UK, the adoption of the role of the dramaturg has been sluggish, simply because the playwright dominates. The article itself gives a good definition of the role and purpose of the dramaturg in the theatre making process.
Dramaturgy is a tough nut to crack. Despite occupying a vital role in countries such as Germany and across continental Europe, we in the UK have struggled to pin down a precise definition for the dramaturg. Because of the playwright’s pre-eminent position within our own theatre culture, the tendency has been to conflate the dramaturg with the literary manager. Meanwhile, the dramaturg of German theatre tradition has long fulfilled the role as a creative curator; collaborating closely with a director or specific theatre to conceptualise a season of work.
But with a new generation of theatremakers now inspired by practices from abroad, these artists are now shaking things up on British stages. Influenced by new models of working and reinvigorated by bold aesthetic choices, directors and playwrights in the UK are challenging traditional ways of working and adopting a fresh, internationalist approach to their work. As the landscape begins to shift, so too is our understanding of the dramaturg’s role within it.
One of the reasons the dramaturg has remained difficult to define is to do with the fluidity of the term itself. There are no hard and fast rules for mapping the precise function of dramaturgy. As a practice, its principles are based on adaptability and versatility.
Duska Radosavljevic, lecturer in European and British theatre studies at Kent University, and author of Theatre Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century, considers the dramaturg’s role to be above all else a relational one; not anchored to any specific criteria, but responsive to the demands of the process. “The dramaturg’s job is often determined by the kind of relationship they have with any given collaborator,” she explains, “so in terms of methodology or models of working, they don’t always apply in the same way from one process to the next.” In other words, it is far from being an exact science. In the absence of an all-encompassing definition, it is easy to see how the dramaturg has remained such a puzzling concept for many.
Joel Horwood worked as dramaturg on Show 5 – A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts
When the Lyric Hammersmith’s artistic director Sean Holmes launched Secret Theatre, playwright Joel Horwood came on board as associate dramaturg. Born out of the Lyric’s earlier production of Simon Stephens/Sebastian Nubling’s Three Kingdoms, Secret Theatre was created with the intention of building on this production’s cross-cultural experiment and forming a permanent ensemble of actors committed to making work outside the hierarchic parameters of more traditional theatre. For Horwood, his role as associate dramaturg involved being “whatever the director needs me to be, while at the same time, maintaining my own creative voice. It wasn’t strict or formal and I think if it had been then we couldn’t have made the work we did. A traditional set-up might not have led to something so instinctual.”
Joel Horwood, dramaturg
The dramaturg thrives in the space between the creative and critical disciplines, scrutinising the decision-making process while generating his or her own creative ideas to stimulate the devising process itself. “I think I gave myself the task during the creation of Show 5 of being ‘logic police’,” explains Horwood. “I just wanted every moment to be clearly thought through, to really expose and clarify the themes and to be entirely and utterly rigorous.” When it came to Show 5 – A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts – Horwood adopted a more active role and provided instrumental support for the overall devising practice – both in structuring much of the action in collaboration with Holmes and contributing ideas and stimulus for the actors to work with: “The really fun stuff in making this show was in the details of the process, rewriting and reimagining Shakespeare, for example. I would reimagine an ‘impossible’ scene from a Shakespeare play as a ‘task’ for the company and then give the company that ‘task’ to perform. So, Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene became: tell us about your first kiss while someone else in the cast falls passionately in love with you.”
It is a model of working that draws consciously on European dramaturgical practice – combining conceptual inventiveness with critical rigour. It is this critical impulse that is essential to the dramaturg’s practice. While the principle elements that define British and European models of dramaturgy show significant cultural differences, it is this analytical function that underpins both disciplines. Whether it is scrutinising the decision-making process, acting as a spur to the director or playwright’s vision or helping to build a conceptual framework for a given production, the dramaturg is often something of a pathfinder. As dramaturg for Robert Icke’s Oresteia for the Almeida Theatre’s Greeks season, Radosavljevic describes her role as akin to that of an interrogator – whose task it was to test the conceptual rigour of Icke’s bold reimagining of Aeschylus text: “Sometimes the ideas became modified as a result of my questions. It was very important for me to have some ambiguities ironed out and I often questioned what the thinking was behind particular decisions.”
It is a function of the role that Rob Drummer believes is central to his own process as associate dramaturg of the Bush Theatre: “It’s about trying to ask as many questions as possible, as early as possible, about the story of that play, the gesture of the play and the central question of that play. It’s about giving the writer a sounding board. To give the writer a point of resistance – something to react against. It’s about guiding a text to an audience.”
Traditionally, the dramaturg’s role in our own theatre culture has been inextricably connected with the development of new writing. Unlike the Regietheatre tradition of modern German theatre, in which an emphasis on reconceptualising classic texts has resulted in a director-based dramaturgy, the British theatre dramaturg has focused ostensibly on artist – namely, playwright – development. It is a model that prioritises critical development above creative intervention.
For Drummer, whose day-to-day job involves managing the 18 new plays currently under commission, it is a process that relies on building a relationship with individual artists and establishing a dialogue with playwrights in particular: “We build a development process that has several dramaturgical stages. This could include a single day of working with the playwright, talking through notes on a script or it could include work with actors and directors. It could include several workshop weeks. All of that work is activated through my relationship with those writers.”
Nevertheless, even within a culture that locates the playwright at the centre of its activity, the influence of theatre practices from abroad have continued to influence artists and playwrights: “We’re finding that more and more playwrights in this country are increasingly exposed to theatre from around the world,” says Drummer. “They’re exposed to new and interesting ways of telling stories. We want to harness that and experiment with how we can push our theatre, our artists and our audiences.” This commitment to expanding the boundaries of what is theatrically possible has resulted in a programme as diverse as it is eclectic. Recent works such as Caroline Horton’s bouffon-inspired Islands and American playwright Marco Ramirez’s The Royale testify to the dramaturg’s role as an advocate – supporting the work of artists and curating a season of work.
Despite a range of approaches, the dramaturg remains something of an unsung hero. In Radosavljevic’s words, the dramaturg occupies an “invisible role”, operating beneath the radar of the creative process they are serving. And yet the dramaturg’s liminal status remains his or her greatest asset, whether as conceptual curator, creative pathfinder or critical provocateur.
In an article originally written by Rosita Boisseau for Le Monde and then published in translation in The Guardian, Costumes of Complexity makes interesting reading about the exhibition and the history of costume in Asian theatre:
It is surely something of a miracle to explore 2,000 years of theatre in Asia in a single exhibition. But From Nô to Mata Hari, currently at the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet in Paris, does just that, showing costumes used in traditional Kathakali dance in India and Japanese Noh drama, Thai Khon and Balinese Barong masks, while also explaining the connections between them. This confrontation produces a real aesthetic shock: it is unusual to find in the same place, almost face to face, these dramatic forms, often very old, certainly infinitely complex and remarkably beautiful.
In geographical terms the exhibition, which features almost 300 items – masks, shadow puppets, costumes and films – reaches from India to Japan, Thailand to China, deploying a mass of detail. These simple yet elegant theatrical forms, some of which are covered by the Unesco convention on intangible cultural heritage, create an exciting set of postures and colours. “The exhibition was designed as a spectacle,” says Sophie Makariou, head of Musée Guimet. “We couldn’t make speech and movement part of the show, even if a sequence of several plays is being staged at the same time, but the costumes are heavy with history and symbolism. We have tried to enliven the various spaces with a breath of theatre.”
The overall effect allows the visitor to observe how apparently very dissimilar styles fit together. “The original plan was for me to work exclusively on the Beijing opera,” says Aurélie Samuel, who curated the exhibition and heads the Guimet textile collections. “Then as I advanced with my research I started picking up on common ground between the various dramatic arts. Most of them have religious origins and started in temples. In moving from the sacred to the profane, from street to stage, they retained a very spare approach. But the often extravagant costumes, always loaded with meaning, serve as a decor. Also all the actors in these plays are men.”
“We think,” she adds, that “the first theatre, born in India, was an offshoot of Buddhism, an influence shared by all the religions [which originated] in Asia.”
Fair enough, but what has Mata Hari, who was born in 1876, to do with this broad panorama? Born Margaretha Zelle, the famous spy first appeared under the guise of Mata Hari (“rising sun” in Malay) in 1905, at an evening of exotic entertainment staged by Musée Guimet. At the height of the Orientalist fashion, her show, designed in consultation with industrialist and art collector Emile Guimet, was inspired by Brahmanic ritual, midway between “an invocation to Shiva and a war dance”. It concluded with Javanese puppets. This number, which some spectators thought she performed naked, misled by her flesh-tinted suit, was staged in the museum library on the first floor, decorated like a Hindu temple.
Here she awaits us, for one of the high points of a deliberately dramatic exhibition, as we progress in our understanding of the many traditions and dresses presented here. We are treated to a close-up of five costumes for dance, drama and mime.
A minimalist decor – an embroidered curtain, a table and two chairs – serves as a backdrop for these sumptuous robes. The equation of Asian theatre found in Beijing opera, with its combination of song, music, dance, poetry and acrobatics, is a singular incarnation. This art form finally coalesced in the 19th century, but it has roots in 13th-century Chinese opera. It dramatises the history of China and its myths, but also stories of thwarted romance, comic police investigations and folk tales. The costume, sublime and heavily ornamented, provides a host of clues essential to the show.
The unbelievable court robe that features in the exhibition reveals the social status of its character. The dragon and wave motifs, head-dress sporting pink pom-poms and pheasant plumes tell us that a general would have worn this garment. This type of geometrical robe distinguished a high-ranking official, indicating not only his age, social status and importance, but also his feelings.
Over and above its meaning, the costume from the Beijing opera contributes to an appearance of luxury while exaggerating the actor’s gestures. The latter, though relatively simple and clear, carefully composed, reach out into the surrounding space thanks to the supple motion of the long plumes and ample sleeves.
One feature which was specific to the Beijing opera was the “water sleeves”, fitted to the costumes of both male and female characters. They were put to many uses, flicked and waved in the air, but also concealing the mouth (while eating) and cheeks (down which tears were running).
The existence of this costume is a miracle in itself. It belonged to the actor Shi Pei Pu (1938-2009), a leading light of the Beijing opera. In the mid-1960s the Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing, a former actor, set about eradicating such bourgeois aberrations. Performances were banned, actors prosecuted and even murdered, and costumes burned. Shi managed to save some of his by hiding them. After emigrating to France in the 1980s he danced again in shows he had personally redesigned. So at least some of his wardrobe was saved.
Kathakali (literally “story-play”) originated in Kerala, southern India, an offshoot of Kutiyattam, the oldest form of entertainment which is still performed in the subcontinent. In keeping with the larger-than-life heroes of this dramatic form, which includes music and dance, and was dreamt up by a well-read rajah in the 17th century, Kathakali delights in big sagas such as the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Shows of this sort are generally staged near temples, in the open air, at nightfall or in the very early morning. “This theatre is inconceivable without a complete shift in body and mind,” says the specialist Françoise Grund.
The costumes are extravagant and oversized, weighing more than 10kg. This allows only limited movement, apart from the arms. But on the other hand the mass of the skirts and the diversity of facial mimicry exaggerate what movement there is. Costume is both dress and decor, fitting into a set with only very limited props, generally a stool and a small curtain, which changes colour to mark the entrance and exit of characters.
Makeup starts at least four hours before the performance, turning the face into a real mask, to such an extent that it gives the impression that any life has been wiped out. It is a key step in the process of integrating a character’s heroic attributes. After touching a copper bell, the frontier between the land of the living and the realm of the divine, each man in the troupe – here too they take the female roles as well – starts to apply makeup using the stem of a coconut leaf.
The symbolism of the colours enables the audience to identify the various categories of character: noble heroes are associated with green; red with villains; black, the colour of evil and death, for demons; lastly orange for women. Each category comprises about 50 roles, which actors learn in the course of a 10-year apprenticeship. Just eye movements bring into play a sophisticated form of gymnastics, placing high demands on the player.
Chutti – painstakingly cut out paper beards or ridges – are then added to the geometrically precise makeup motifs, in order to broaden the face with fantastic jowls. An aubergine seed is placed inside the lower eyelid, in order to redden the eye. Finally an equally impressive head-dress is fitted, to complete the face which no longer looks in the least bit human.
The actors are then wrapped in loads of fabric and overlapping skirts. Resembling some fascinating or monstrous doll, they attain an inhuman dimension commensurate with the gods they embody. The ritual may now begin, backed by the feverish rhythm of the drums, accompanied by cymbals and chanting.
Japan: Noh or the aesthetics of slowness
The decor-costume favoured by theatre in Asia attains a subtle plenitude with Noh costume. The fabric and embroidery provide the spectator with accurate and remarkably detailed information on the dramatic action, its characters, time and space. Noh theatre, which combines song, mime and masque, first appeared in the 14th century, driven by the actor Yusaki Kiyotsugu Kan’ami and his son Motokiyo Zeami. It gradually established a literary, philosophical and theatrical identity all of its own. It was Noh that first produced librettos, known as utai bon, or chant books, which contain the script, score and rules for performance. “This art form was particularly appreciated by Japanese emperors, samurai warriors, in short the aristocratic upper classes,” Samuel explains.
The brocaded, embroidered kimono exhibited by the Musée Guimet dates from the second half of the 18th century, a period when costume started to play an increasingly important part in the drama. Particularly emblematic of the social codes expressed by Noh, “it [costume] deployed geometrical shapes evoking paths,” Samuel adds. “The maple leaves, with their orange hues signify autumn in the woods. The darkish material and the preference for embroidery rather than a woven pattern mean that the character must be a woman.”
With progress in the techniques used for weaving and dyeing Noh kimonos became increasingly sophisticated, enhancing the magic and luxury of the dramatic ceremony. In contrast to Kabuki – another spectacular form of Japanese entertainment, which appeared in the 17th century, but in a more expressive, less elitist register – Noh emphasises slowness and suspended animation. It attaches particular importance to yugen, a subtly profound, less obvious grace.
Kimonos dialogue with masks, often fashioned out of cypress wood by famous sculptors, and painted white, then yellow. “An object for contemplation, it even became the focus of a cult, preserved and venerated by acting families,” says Hélène Bayou, an expert on Noh theatre. “How hallowed it is depends on the age of the mask and the length of the lineage of actors, who have handed down a quintessential art form and aesthetic cult.”
As is the case for most dramatic rituals in Asia, costume is an integral part of the show, or at least its process. The layers of kimonos are stitched on to the performer. The mask, smaller than a human face, is adapted to suit their face. It conditions acting: the eye slits are so narrow that little light enters, prompting the actor to internalise his part.
Always backed by musicians and a chorus which chants and recites, the very slow, almost weightless movement of the shite (leading player), accompanied by the waki (secondary role) unfolds on a stage, which always consists of a raised platform covered by a roof. A gangway connects the stage to the wings; a movement of the curtains punctuates players’ entry and exit. The backdrop sports a Japanese symbol of strength.
Thailand: Khon, the art of pantomime
The mask, representing the monkey god Hanuman, belongs to the masked Khon theatre of Thailand. It is made of papier-mache, metal, glass and mirrors. The general commanding the monkey army is one of the heroes in the Indian Ramayana epic, which travelled as far as Thailand, where it was adapted to become Ramakian. Rooted in pantomime this spectacular dramatic form is accompanied by an orchestra, including metallophones, xylophones, gongs and oboes. It brings to the stage battles between gods, demons and monkeys. Khon was first seen in palaces, then temples, only entering theatres in the early 20th century, its arrival coinciding with the end of the ban on women attending public entertainment.
Khon players are masked. They circle the stage, their bust facing the audience, but their head looking to one side. Mute, they mime the situations described by two narrators – one for the story, the other for dialogue – and a chorus, supported by the orchestra.The impressive Hanuman mask must have demanded long hours of work. A plaster mould was covered with about 15 layers of mulberry paper, bonded with rice glue. The shell was then sculpted and painted. Masks are always white. This one has a jewel in its mouth, another on the forehead. The associated figure is valiant, swift and light-footed, but not short of humour either, particularly in amorous encounters. He consequently became a popular character in Thailand. Contemporary Khon no longer uses masks, which have given way to makeup.
Bali: Barong, from dance to trance
The mask and costume are beautiful, but huge and frightening, so lifelike the beast might at any moment open its jaws and eat us whole. This extraordinary dragon-lion is in fact a protective figure, always overcoming the evil witch Rangda, and one of the heroes of Balinese mythology, which still delights audiences today. Barong dance is rooted in the struggle between these two protagonists’ armies, an ancestral combat that varies as one travels round Bali, sometimes featuring a wild boar, elsewhere a tiger.
The fight between good and evil is central to most drama in southern and south-eastern Asia. In Barong dance many characters – monkeys, witches, ogres, princes, the god Shiva – appear as the action unfolds. Though now a tourist attraction, it was originally performed in temples as a purification ritual, quickly achieving a trance-like effect. The dancers threaten one another with wavy kriss swords.
Several players are needed to make the dragon mask and costume dance. The whole apparatus – consisting of wood, leather, plant fibre, hair and feathers – weighs about 25kg. The more lively Barong becomes, the more effective it is in driving out evil spirits. “It makes a place sacred, too,” Samuel explains, “which is why it’s so important that it should travel far and wide.”
From Nô to Mata Hari, 2000 Years of Asian Theatre is at the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet in Paris until 31 August
As someone who (happily) tends to experience visits to the theatre with anything between 30 and 140 others in tow, the subject of today’s post has a certain appeal. Currently in-situ in Times Square, New York, the Theatre For One is open for business. Brainchild of set designer Christine Jones, Theatre For One is a mobile space, big enough for just one performer and one audience member. The website says:
Theatre for One commissions new work created specifically for this venue’s one-to-one relationship. Embracing serendipity and spontaneity, Theatre for One is presented in public spaces in which audience members are invited to engage in an intimate theatrical exchange and enter the theatre space not knowing what to expect. Actor and audience member encounter each other as strangers in this suspended space and through the course of the performance allow the divisions and distinctions that separate us to dissolve.
Now all of that appears a little pretentious, but a couple of articles and reviews, one from The New York Times and another from Exeunt, do make Theatre For One sound like something worth experiencing. In a programme for NPR, Neva Grant explores the growing trend for Intimate Theatre around the world:
I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about some of that. The taxi ride in Melbourne appeals though, as does the idea of a performance that lasts just 3 minutes.
The record books insist that Peter Brook will be 90 on Saturday. Personally, I find it hard to believe. I last bumped into Brook about 18 months ago at a new play about Kashmir at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. I casually asked if he was staying in London for long. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I’ve got to be back in Paris to rehearse tomorrow morning.”
There was something in the urgency of his tone that confirmed Brook is a director who lives totally in the present and who regards all theatre as a work-in-progress.
Brook himself hates looking back over his career: not so long ago he told me with horror of a letter he had received from a West End producer asking him to restage his famous white-box 1970 A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a modern audience.
But, even if Brook is immersed in the here-and-now, the rest of us are entitled to put his 70-year-long career in perspective….(continue reading)
This year I am teaching two new courses, both of which lay a greater emphasis on student understanding of the theatre production processes than I have previously had to teach. The roles of performer, director and collaborator have always been at the heart of my classroom, with design at the periphery. However, for me personally as a theatre-maker, I have always enjoyed the creative process of theatre design and the challenge of bringing a sense of place, time, theme and atmosphere to life for an audience. I wanted to find a way of teaching the art of the designer – lighting, costume and set – that explained the fundamentals without drowning my students in unnecessary theory. Take a look at any published text on stage lighting and you will know what I mean. So I set off on a journey that was fascinating and hugely informative and today’s post is to share some of what I have found.
The internet is an infinite resource it seems in this area, so my first share is about simple, informative basics that come from a series of lectures from Melanie Blood, Professor of Theatre at GENESCO, New York State. The lectures I have read, on theatre lighting, costume and set design are a real 101 primer. Each one is divided under 4 headings – Goals, Tools, Process and Historical Context – of each design area. Simple and to the point, with just the right amount of technical language and readily accessible examples.
Finally, following a new publication, World Scenography, 1990-2005 by Peter McKinnon and Eric Fielding, The Guardian offers two galleries of images of stunning designs here and here. The World Scenography series (the first covered the period 1975 to 1990) is an official project of OISTAT, the International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians, and is an attempt to document the most significant and influential theatrical set, costume, and lighting designs from around the world. My copy is in the post.