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TDL@UsPaar Day 8: No more feedback!

Note: In February 2023, Tamaasha Studio Foundation announced a Residential Workshop for Playwrights. Four playwrights – Debi K, Nikhita Singh, Gurleen Judge and Chanakya Vyas – were selected to share drafts of full length plays they are looking to work on.

Over the course of 9 days at Us Paar, the Arts Residency space run by Tamaasha, the 4 playwrights will receive mentorship and guidance from Shanta Gokhale (writer, critic, historian, translator and columnist), Aditya Nigam (professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi), Sameera Iyengar (creative producer and theatre person), Deepa Ganesh (writer, translator, journalist), Rajeev Naik (scholar, critic, playwright, poet), and Vaibhav Abnave (independent researcher and filmmaker).

The four scripts will also be briefly workshopped by Quasar Thakore Padamsee (theatre director, co-founder of QTP India) and Neel Chaudhuri (playwright and director) with actors Dheer Hira, Chakori Dwivedi and Rishabh Kanti. The program has been designed by poet, playwright and director Sapan Saran and co-founder of Tamaasha Theatre Sunil Shanbag.

The Drama Library was asked if we would like to document this process and share daily updates of the discussions, dissections and decisions. And of course we jumped at it.

So here we are, at Us Paar, inviting you to observe and participate in this journey through actor and writer Phalguni Vittal Rao’s daily diary entries.

Dear Diary,

It’s the day every playwright here is most excited about! No more listening to feedback about the gazillion loopholes in the play you’ve written – it’s time to lie back and watch directors and actors take to the floor with your play.

“It’s a luxury,” says Nikhita, “because where do we get to work with actors and directors while writing a play?” That makes sense too. Writing is an intense task. Sure, if you are a Vijay Tendulkar, you can imagine the whole play in your head as you write, but even so the characters we write may not necessarily sound the same way when someone else (read: an actor) reads those lines. And it is fascinating to watch how a director approaches a new text, how they make sense of what’s written and attempt to actualise it in time and space..

Neel Chaudhuri had to cancel his trip to Us Paar at the last minute due to unforeseeable circumstances, so Sapan and Sunil jumped in and decided to take up a play each. It was interesting to watch Sapan grapple with Nikhita’s Of Mothers and Their Daughters, and try to find entry points to establish it as a memory play. It’s not easy. There are many things to consider: whose memory is it? How do you show whose memory it is? How does one differentiate between memory and reality?

As the actors performed two scenes, everyone in the room began sharing ways in which memory could be staged. And it is tricky to navigate because responses tend to turn the session into a directorial workshop as opposed to a writing workshop. But both Nikhita and Gurleen found it more useful - and fun! - to be in the room while the directors and actors were working on the floor instead of coming in to only witness the 'performances’.

Nikhita’s play largely comprises monologues interspersed with dialogues. For a while, there was debate about which is more effective: dialogue or monologues? After watching the actors perform, “I feel the monologue dulls the impact of what has just happened in the scene. What I want to say is coming out better in the scene rather than in the monologue,” Nikhita admitted.

Of course, having actors perform your scenes shows how playable the dialogue is, how the scene flows, where the gaps are and more. Sometimes, having actors perform your scenes can reveal character traits and relationship dynamics you might have never thought of while writing. It’s what happened with Gurleen’s play Modern Art, which Sunil worked on with the actors.

Rajeev Naik observed that when he read the play, he thought the character named Arvind needed the character named Tara more. But after watching the scene, he felt that perhaps Tara needed Arvind more. That’s the fun thing about putting actors in a room. They take what you’ve written and they run with it. Sometimes, it can produce disastrous results but most of the time, you’re left pleasantly surprised.

It was an intense three days for the playwrights. There was a lot discussed, a lot deconstructed, a lot of possibilities explored, and a lot of critique shared. If I were in the playwrights’ shoes, I would have cried over everything that didn’t work in my play. “Yet with all of this, this should remain your play at the end of the day,” Rajeev said as his parting words.

As we scrambled to catch the last sunset on the rocks, I felt a tinge of sadness coupled with a lot of gratitude for the 8 days that were – it was a luxury to be able to forget the world and immerse myself in playwriting and its craft.

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