Sankar Venkateswaran

New Performance

Grant Period: Seven Months

Sankar Venkateswaran is the Artistic Director of Theatre Roots and Wings, an intercultural theatre company, which he set up to function as a laboratory to develop the art of acting. He graduated in theatre direction from the University of Calicut’s School of Drama & Fine Arts and then completed the Theatre Training and Research Programme of the Practice Performing Arts Centre, Singapore. He has worked in India and abroad as an actor, director, music composer and percussionist. This grant supports Sankar to produce ‘Quick Death’, a physical play text written by the Australian playwright Richard Murphet. ‘Quick Death’ will be the first of a trilogy of productions that Sankar plans to do in order to explore how actors can be prepared to approach physical texts effectively.

The project also aims to develop methods of training to enable actors to become autonomous and interpretative. Sankar observes that, at present, actors are not assigned a creative role in Indian theatre as they are largely restricted to executing the vision of the director. The process of staging ‘Quick Death’ will use a different strategy for bridging the “tradition-contemporary gulf”. While it will lead the modern actor to the performance in a manner that is similar to that of a traditional actor, it will not follow the usual practices of Indian theatre which are confined to learning traditional performance forms and techniques and adapting them to the contemporary stage. Instead, the process that leads the traditional actor to autonomy in performance will be used as a point of reference for modeling a process that achieves the same result for the actor on the modern stage. Sankar observes that one major difference between the processes of a contemporary actor and a traditional actor is in the progression that leads to a performance. A traditional actor first learns a form rigorously. In contrast, the contemporary actor starts by being given broad outlines and reference points as a basis for improvisations. Shankar sees his challenge, therefore, as helping modern actors to arrive ‘at a state of emancipation’ in performance, although they do not have the advantage of starting with a pre-determined expressive form.

‘Quick Death’ utilises a lot of quick cuts drawn from film technique. It consists of a montage of 51 scenes­­––some as long as ten minutes, some as short as ten seconds­­. The message, the plot, the narrative of this performance score is conveyed through the actions and images. The process of work on the text will encourage the actors to function autonomously. The actors will be asked to embody sections of the physical score with little directorial mediation in the form of psychological notes or instructions. Since the director will leave the creative task of interpreting the text to the actors, they will be compelled to justify each of their actions. The director’s major task in rehearsals would be to build up the rhythm of the score, allowing the actor to have total authority over the ‘interiority’ of their actions. In this process, the actors are invited to identify and refrain from executing what is ‘unnecessary’ with respect to the text. Sankar will introduce the actors to a process of para theatre training he has developed, which is based on the schematisation of the body outlined by the Japanese philosopher Yasuo Yuasa.

‘Quick Death’ will be shown as a work-in-progress for an invited audience on June 30. Its first public performances will be on December 8 and 9, 2007 in New Delhi.