Friday, May 2, 2008

Stage Wizardry

Theatre is a strange thing.

Forget, for a second, lights, sound, curtains, sets and fine costumes. Forget also, if you can, a grand stage. Theatre is perhaps the only art which, stripped bare of all its accoutrements, can still function, entertain and make sense. Sitting in a corner of a park yesterday, surrounded by children, watching witches, monkeys and five travellers enjoy themselves to the hilt, I realised how, bereft of all possible production values, complete the play was.

Unlike cinema, theatre does not need to be confined to a space. This not only reflects the fact that it is an age-old tradition (and does not, therefore, require the use of an auditorium, but can be performed simply in the middle of a crowd), but also a growing recitence among modern dramatists to restrict their plays to a physical stage. Since theatre can so easily go beyond the physical confinements of a stage, they are increasingly trigger-happy to explore further arenas to enhance the experience. A fine example of this is how EVAM, a small-but-successful theatre group in Chennai, blacked out the stage in the middle of the play and, announcing an interval, urged everyone to go out to the coffee stall. When the audience went there, they were both surprised and intrigued to find members of the cast enacting the next scene at the cafe. The play continued for a while at the cafe, before the audience was guided back inside, thereby not only exploring a whole new arena but also showing a remarkable desire to break the monotony of the wooden stage.

AKVARIOUS's adaptation of 'The Wizard of Oz', staged yesterday in the Horniman Circle Garden and innovatively titled "SHAHENSHAH OF AZEEMO" (there were moments when I expected the cast to start singing 'azeem-o-shaan shahenshah') was a fun, peppy excercise in showing just how simple, yet complete theatre can be. Using barely a curtain, a wooden frame and a tree (ingeniously lit up with a single light bulb to draw attention there when required) the team provided 100 wonderful minutes of pure fun and joy, as I watched some fine actors enthrall numerous little children with songs and jokes. That's another thing- if you ever do go to watch a children's play, make sure you sit between a lot of children. I guarantee you an unforgettable experience, thanks to some incredibly infectious laughter.

Yesterday I realised something very important. Theatre, ultimately, is not about sets, sound effects or dramatic monologues delivered with spotlights; theatre is simply a delicious and heady broth concocted of a strong connection between two- and only two- necessary ingredients: the actors, and an audience. If that connection is absent, no amount of production values, money or lighting can save you.

However, if you can get that connection, then we have possibly the closest thing to what we muggles know as magic.

Funny thing is, it took a 'Wizard' to show me that.