10 ways theatre has made me a better person – Kena Shree
I remember one of those ‘90s summer afternoons. The heat of the sun had compelled people to hide inside their homes but could not prevent a bunch of young, enthusiastic children who sat under the shade of a Banyan tree, gleefully working on a special project. Between the ages of five to fifteen, they were so absorbed in rehearsing an act that they seemed to care two hoots about the brutal weather. Sometimes laughing boisterously and sometimes weeping tears that could melt a stone heart, they intermittently created background music with their voice modulations. The place was an open playfield in the Jawahar Bal Bhawan (Dramatics) in Allahabad, which I had joined with a school friend to utilise our summer vacations.
A new teen that I was, stepping into the touch-me-not girly phase, I’d have hated to stand under the sun for a couple of minutes, when their grit and commitment left me mesmerised. Who are these people? What drives them to work tirelessly in tough conditions and yet be thrilled about it? How do they create such magic with their art?
In a few days, I joined their theatre troop. My journey from dust to gold, an effortless priming to become a better human being, had begun.
My theatre training, thus, started.
As I grew up, time took its own toll. After completing my academics, I joined India’s biggest power sector conglomerate, got married, dabbled in an alternative career of an author and got attuned to a regular lifestyle. Theatre, like a noble first love, receded into the background. It had already given me more than I could have asked for. It didn’t matter any longer where was I and doing what, theatre was ingrained in my being.
When I look back, I can easily list down some of the most valuable lessons from theatre that have chiselled my being and helped me evolve. Here are my favourite 10:-
It teaches how to give the best with whatever we have
Every theatre artist would vouch on the days when a play had to be produced on a shoestring budget, borrowing of clothes for costumes, making props out of waste and setting up the stage. The days when few cups of tea, and samosas, if we were luckier, was all that the team could have during day-long rehearsals. Theatre taught me how in even in the least magic can be made.
Deal with different people and celebrating differences.
A theatre group is often a funny and interesting mix of different people. From a sombre scriptwriter to a joker in the pack of actors, from a lethargic light assistant to a hyperactive sound engineer, from a director who thrives his day on chain-smoking to his assistant who is forever hungry for food, the team is a mash-up of varieties of personalities. Theatre taught me to celebrate differences.
Strategize and execute
Every single play put up is a massive project management assignment. It needs to have a goal with a vision, be put on paper in a blueprint, financially be vetted for viability, manpower resources hired, strategies detailed and execution done as per a well laid out plan. There are silos of numerous work activities, like light design, set design and construction, acting, directing, producing, marketing, customer service, make-up, and costuming. Theatre basically taught me project management.
No matter how well rehearsed, there would be no play executed without unforeseen mishaps taking place. Goofing up of dialogues, wardrobe malfunction, stage setting giving away, sudden mic failures or missed entrances, something which was so meticulously executed during rehearsals would go wrong at the last minute and suddenly, without any prompts, someone from the team
would voluntarily step in to cover the accident. Theatre taught me to pitch in for others with quick and wise acts.
To value the power of communication
I have seen theatre productions which have moved the audience to tears, made the house laugh, brought a turn-around reform movement and broken a stereotype. Theatre has unfolded how powerful communication can change the world around.
Make difficult choices and Experiment
Audition – A good friend who is an ordinary actor or an acquaintance who is exceptional? Director – Someone with low credentials, backed by sponsors or a fresh talent with promising potential? Venue – Closed or Amphitheatre? Script – Pick-up or Rewrite? Theatre prepared me to not only to make difficult choices but also to do fearless experimenting.
Take criticism and move on
“Dramatics profession will give you nothing.”
“There are hundreds of actors as ordinary as you. ”
“Oh, she will never make it big! ”
Give me the name of an artist who hasn’t been told any one of those. Theatre has taught me to take criticism and still be focussed on following life’s call.
If you have been to the green room, you would know that even the celebrity theatre artist who delivers impeccable performance on stage leaving his audience spellbound is actually a nervous school going child backstage who rehearses his lines a hundred times before the final performance. Theatre taught me there is no substitute for discipline and hard work.
Placing Us before Me
So many times it would happen that a protagonist in one play would be given a one-line dialogue in another or somebody who we saw as a deserving lead actor would actually land up getting the role of a stage assistant. No role was too small for a contribution and no opportunity too big to claim stardom. Theatre taught me to place the team effort before individual credentials.
The show must go on
In the middle of a play when the protagonist’s part was half over, a team member informed him about his father having met with a brutal accident. Even before the nervous team began preparing contingency plan with co-actors volunteering, he gathered his strength and walked up on stage to stand until the end. Once the curtain was pulled down, my friend broke up. Poor health, cruel tragedies, come what may, Theatre taught me how to keep the show going on.
Years down the line, I may not be in the profession of theatre but I haven’t missed practising any of the lessons I incidentally learnt. Theatre and I have almost become inseparable.
Remember, what Oscar Wilde once said –
“Theatre is the greatest of all art forms,
the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’