The World is Your Stage

Theatre: Rediscovering a lost art

Stage Fright

Lots of us enjoy take part in school plays, have a natural flair for acting or telling stories, but are hesitant about pursuing this skill as a full-fledged career.

It’s easier to save the drama as a hobby or an extracurricular activity in high school or college. While career counsellors are weary of the scope such a profession provides in India, there are signs of theatre becoming a more popular career path, a path which a dialogue with stage actors reveals has is challenging but rewarding and exhilarating on the whole. A choice you won’t regret if you have the will and passion to pursue it.

Discovering your passion:

“I have always known that I would be an actor. Boring, but true,” says Lorna Brown, an a film, television and theatre actress based in London, who has participated in various productions including the most recent award winning “Clybourne park” at the West End Wyndhams theatre.

“The Government subsidises theatre in the UK, so there is an extremely strong support system for theatre artists,” shares career counsellor Viral Doshi. Naturally this is something that we lack in India.

As a result, theatre acting is a more unconventional career path where most do not have their heart set on the stage. For Varshaa Agnihotri, a theatre actress in Mumbai, who took performed in Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal’s version of “The Vagina Monologues,” her decision to start acting was influenced by some unexpected circumstances.

She was gated in college as part of a punishment and not allowed to leave the premises for a month! “I was informed that I had to participate in the college play to be directed by B V Karanth. I didn’t know who this great man was. I expected to play the tree, but he gave me the antagonist’s role. And I fell in love with acting!”

The big breakthrough:

The National School of Drama in New Delhi is one of the premier institutes to professionally study acting in India. However there are theatre schools with degree and diploma courses all over India. Some of the other significant ones are the Bharatendu Natya Academy in Lucknow and the Thrissur School of Drama in Thrissur.
Undergraduate programs however do not promote theatre art in India, which Doshi sees as a big drawback for the theatre industry. He has however noticed an increase in the number of students going overseas to the U.S., where there’s flexibility in the liberal arts curriculum says that more and more students are taking on theatre art as a minor.
The TIsch college of the Arts that is part of New York University (NYU) is a very popular destination in his opinion. University of Southern California (USC) and Boston University also have good theatre programs. In the United Kingdom the Royal College of Arts provides the equivalent.

Agnihotri who did not formally study acting, says, “doing theatre in Delhi put me in touch with some of the best talents like NK Sharma, Ram Gopal, Bajaj, Ranjit Kapoor and in Mumbai Atul Kumar and the indomitable Mahabanoo Modi Kotwal and Kaizaad Kotwal.”

So becoming an actor like any other arts career does not entirely depend on a formal degree but also on the effort that you make towards getting that big breakthrough.

The exhilarating journey

Following your dreams never comes without a struggle.

“Acting, particularly theater takes a huge amount of commitment,” says Agnihotri. “Be prepared to devote, time and every last breath to it. Don’t expect things to fall into your lap. Work hard and learn.”

For Brown one of the biggest challenges comes from being self-employed.

“Sometimes you are in work and other times not. I learned quite early on that my identity is not just as an actor and I think that many actors struggle with this when they are out of work.”
While theatre actors don’t make a lot of money in India, there are other more lucrative outlets where you can put your skills to use, whether it is on television, in movies or commercial theater. “Those who pick it up often migrate to TV and other commercial outlets,” says Doshi.

So if your real passion is theatre, there are other things you can pursue other things on the side.

Lorna is on the audition panel for my old drama school and also coaches actors privately when she is not acting.“I teach them to view themselves as artists living that they can always create something and not feel like empty vessels waiting to be filled by a job.”

So there are plenty of stage-related tasks you can undertake while waiting to find another audition or call back. It’s unpredictable, often unnerving but exciting as Agnihotri puts it, “the journey will not be easy,” and there is no destination, but what a ride it is!”

The world is your stage:

On asking both actresses to impart some words of wisdom the most important message that is loud and clear for aspiring actors is to never stop learning.

“The learning process must never stop for an actor. You can never be prepared enough. Each show, each performance must be treated as new. Wear your courage and get on that stage. It’s the only way!” says Agnihotri.

For Brown who was inspired by her fathers folk stories at an early age has always wanted to tell the unheard stories. Her advice is, “Be inspired and inspiring and keep growing and telling incredible stories. As artists we are so fortunate to share the human heart and touch other people in ththere e most incredible way. As long as it is in your heart NEVER give up no matter what anyone says.”

So don’t hold back, and remember that persistence is the key. Like any other career theatre challenging, but ultimately rewarding. As you continue to enhance your own profile as an actor or actress, you will get to know more people, who will give you more advice and ultimately more opportunities in the industry. The world is your stage.

Saanya Gulati