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anuja iyer


O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

The popular lines that Juliet utters in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ after the ball, in what is commonly referred as the "balcony scene" is unforgettable for every actor who essays Juliet’s role. This was my first brush with acting for a play and the first scripted dialogue I ever memorized and performed live when in school for an inter-group cultural competition. I was dressed in a long white gown with my wavy tresses let loose and dreamily uttering from a so-called balcony, set up for the scene and there I was in front of a live audience after three weeks of fumbling and faltering my lines of this particular act during the hysterical practice sessions. Having studied in an all-girls convent school, the only boy who could romance you when in school campus was this Romeo, supposedly dressed as a guy by a girl, who sneaks into the Capulet orchard and overhears Juliet at her window vowing her love to him in spite of her family's hatred of the Montagues, who are sworn enemies of the Capulets. My flashback glided in like a tortoise ring swooning in my mind as I reminisced my tryst with live stage performance when I recently caught up with a play by ‘Evam’ theatre group – The 39 Steps at Music Academy last week-end. There is of course no connection to the hilarious Hitchcockian adaptation and the Shakespearean play that I was thinking about but the rewind button correlated when I saw a ‘Live’ theatre act after a long time.

Acting in cinema requires a separate set of skills and preparations. It demands a certain kind of talent to be able to bring out the apt emotion exactly when the camera rolls and you may not necessarily be in the same frame of mind and flow of emotions. It tests your endurance level at extreme outdoor locations, matching up to established co-actors, temperamental directors and the pressure of giving it your best when a film gets documented ‘forever’. But if you falter, you can always get another shot, correct the rendition style of the dialogues while dubbing and re-take the shot until the director feels you’ve got it right. Theatre acting however is a single-take act from the moment the curtain rises with no leeway for an encore shot for that particular show. If you’ve stumbled somewhere, the only way to make up for it is by bettering your performance in the next scene or next show and move on.

Ask any theatre actor the reason that drives them to do the same thing again and again for every show of that play, their eyes would instantly light up to explain how exciting a ‘live’ performance can be with a new set of challenges each time and how they cope with gaffes by their sheer presence of mind in either helping the co-actor recollect the dialogues or cover up for the messed up lines or the mike-headset getting muted suddenly or the costume playing truant with you for the evening. Theatre plays, if you’ve got the ingredients right, also give you the rush of instant audience reaction and applause ‘suda suda’ like a baked cake fresh from the oven. If you’ve gone horribly wrong, the cakes will of course be literally showered right onto your face and there’s no escaping it.

Take any theatre production of ‘Crazy Creations’ for example and you’ll find that spontaneity besides comic timing is a trademark of their plays. Experienced theatre actors like ‘Crazy’ Mohan and ‘Madhu’ Balaji whose plays I’ve grown up watching, improvise their lines on-the-spot depending on the audience’s reaction or make topical changes that the audience can relate to. Incidentally, their next play is rumored to be in the making and is tentatively titled ‘Google Ghadothgajan’ and it would be interesting to catch a new production live for the first time! Anyway, much as movies are available at the click of a remote button with additional access to movies-on-demand options, theatre plays have such charm, excitement and spontaneity in enticing the audience that it makes you plan ahead, book tickets or take the pains to go to a Sabha/auditorium and block your time to watch them perform ‘live’ with your friends and family and also get the chance to interact with them after the show.

One thing that theatre does and (today’s) cinema doesn’t is the bonding that happens in the entire team right from the time of rehearsals to the actual act to even after that. There are no hierarchies, no caravans, no separate lunches and no special treatment for lead actors in the play. They are all seen as equals except that the more talented ones get to play the bigger and prominent part with more lines and scenes. Some actors get to juggle not just their roles as characters on stage but also take charge of other departments in putting the play together, be it sound and lighting or directing or just producing. Some stay with the same theatre group for many years and become family to one another. Comfortable equations do exist in cinema where one director works with the same hero over and over or the lead pair get together for a few films or the main technical crew remains the same for every new project but unlike theatre, an entire team staying together during or after the film’s shoot is both logistically improbable and practically complicated.

Each medium however delivers its own comeuppances where you can never categorically say theatre offers more scope and creatively more satisfying or cinema is more powerful because it reaches a wider audience with unimaginable possibilities of transporting the viewer to a different world altogether. Every form of art and entertainment enjoys its due place among the audience and what you enjoy most differs with every individual but from an actor’s point of view, as the popular Broadway actor cum performer Terence Mann once quoted, “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”

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