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Sometimes I know where I am by the way a window is pantomimed

Blog #5

In the midst of rehearsal in the eternally chilly, echo chamber of an auditorium here in this college outside of Bhopal, we stopped to discuss the mechanics of pantomiming a stuck window. I had to step back and watch, as I wasn’t sure the general shape, size and direction of home windows here. A double sliding mechanism, one on top and one on bottom, with two panes of glass that slide to the sides, is what I learned in that moment.

I realized, too, that many productions I have worked on included various window types-sliding up, sliding out, opening out, swinging out and up-each offering multiple possibilities for action and comedy, each unique to place. In a metaphoric sense, this window into the unique aspects and possibilities of a place has been the foundation of the creative work I do across the globe. In each project my collaborators–no matter children, youth or adults, amateurs or professionals–and I immerse ourselves in in two worlds–theatre and life.  We share and learn from each other as we explore how to creatively and engagingly express whatever story we are developing.  The stories are deeply reflective of place and experience, so some of my time is spent learning about personal, communal and societal norms and lifeways.  Our common pursuit becomes a common journey of discovery and learning.

This time, in Bhopal, one workshop team of artists from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka decided to explore how one person’s obsession can significantly alter the life of another. A young male character desires to be a film star. Over the course of the story, his pursuit of this dream, with setbacks, cause him to pay dwindling attention to his upcoming wedding. In the end, he exits the ceremony to chase his elusive dream. First off, for me, I needed to learn a good deal about the world of film auditions and dreams, and about preparing for weddings in this part of the world.  Secondly, regarding the audience, the team wanted to ask: How can the self-absorbed dreams of one destroy the dreams of another? In post-show discussions, however, the audience noted that if the girl had simply set aside her dreams for a while and been patient, then everything could have worked out once the young man achieved his. Oh, how much we learned about our audience. A window into a societal perspective.

For myself, I came to realize how little I actually know about audiences here in India, or maybe just Bhopal.  I am not yet sure.  It occurred to me how much I learned about, and learned to creatively engage, audiences in other parts of the world where I have spent significant time.  But relative newness to India is challenging me to listen close to the audience, to engage in conversations with fellow artists about local audiences and to consider how to amend and rethink my own way of working in order to best interact with the local theatre-goers.  Regarding this, most amazing for me was the last performance of our workshop culmination. We had a incredibly diverse audience- a school group from a institution that caters to economically challenged families along with faculty and some students from the college where we rehearsed.  Our plays, however, had been designed for more of a young teen crowd.  During the performance, the most attentive group was the children (probably 5-10 years old)!  The adults proved to be more restless and ‘wiggly’.  And when a brief post-show discussion was had, one little girl’s comments were as incisive as any of the adults who spoke!  I was quite amazed how engaged these little ones were with the sophisticated content of our plays.

Each time I engage in a project outside of my own life norms, I step through a window of wonder and discovery…and firmly lock it behind me to avoid retreating to the comfort of what I already know and allow myself the challenge and excitement of a new welcoming and insightful world.