The world of theatre is magical. Actors, with every character, don a new attire and enthral the audience in the best possible way. For that short period, they capture the imagination of the spectators and carry them to another era, place,or plot. There’s entertainment, a farrago of emotions — laughter, sorrow, despondency, excitement — and in the build up from one act to another, the audience experiences a detachment from the self and an instant connect with the characters on stage.
To me, as a child, theatre was alluring. I loved the aspect that I could step into different roles and captivate an audience. I would dream of a standing ovation and winning trophies for the school. However,it was my diffidence that never got me to showcase my acting skills in front of the dramatics teacher or class. I would, instead, help my friends with their dialogues and watch them during their rehearsals. As soon as I reached home after school, I would run into my room, bolt the door and then take the avatar of a dynamic actor in front of a mirror. In a well modulated voice and confidence that could scare the lions in a jungle, I would deliver the dialogues with only my reflection as an audience. Damn! I was good. Only the world didn’t know.
With this passion tucked in a corner of my heart, I reached adulthood. By then, I had made peace with the fact that I’ll never perform on stage. Both school days and graduation was over. It was while I was doing post graduation that an opportunity finally dropped into my lap.
During an Independence Day Inter College Theatre Competition, our all girls college decided to enact the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The hunt was on for the role of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer — the commander of the British Indian Army under whose instructions the soldiers started firing an unarmed gathering in Amritsar in the infamous tragedy of 1919. It was a pivotal role. The short listed actors were given a script to rehearse before the final audition. Glancing over it for a few minutes, I borrowed a hat from a classmate and showed my friend how she should perform in front of the teachers when her turn came.
Was it my short crop of hair that caught her attention or my boots and hat or the manner in which I bellowed those lines I’ll never know but the Dramatics Teacher passing by, halted and watched my entire performance. Once the auditions were over, I was summoned for a repeat performance. Later, when announcements were made, I heard the teacher boom my name from the mike. I had bagged the role of General Dyer.
I have often wondered the exact moment when the meek mouse in me turned into a confident actor. It was not easy and it definitely was a gradual process.
- I started rehearsing in front of the mirror like I had done a thousand times earlier. I watched my expressions and recorded my voice to hear myself.
- Once I was comfortable with this, I acted out in front of my family and friends. A giggle here, a whisper there would distract me initially but I learnt that I had to concentrate on my character.
“Act as if the audience doesn’t exist.”
- Mrs. Das, my dramatics teacher would repeat often. Yet many times when the auditorium filled up with a few students, I would get conscious, choke on my own voice, the nervousness drying my throat such that I could not utter a word.
“Breathe!” Breath control exercises not only calm the nerves but also enhance both speaking and singing abilities.
- I would reach the rehearsals much before time, walk up on stage, imagine the audience watching the play, breathe deep, calm myself and hear my voice in the empty auditorium. Even today, whenever I have to perform on a different stage, I spend sometime alone before a performance to get a “feel” of the stage.
- Any director or seasoned actor will tell you the importance of silence and collecting your thoughts before a performance. Despite innumerable rehearsals, dabbling lines with the cast helps seal the lines in your head. Gossip and unnecessary chatter is a No-No.
- If there are two words that I were to repeat for any kind of art form, it would be — “Unleash Yourself.” It’s when you throw caution to the winds and it doesn’t matter if you’re being judged or not that you perform the best. For me, these words have given me the final nudge and opened the floodgates of confidence to perform my best.
Behind the wings I could see that the auditorium was packed. There were students standing on the side aisles due to lack of space. The jury sat in front of the stage — teachers from different colleges — with mark sheets for grading the actors and performances. Like a huge wave, the responsibility of performing well, hit me on my head and made me feel dizzy. I thought I would faint. I couldn’t remember my lines and my throat felt parched.
“Calm! Control! Concentrate!…”
In that fleeting moment of despair, I could hear the voice of Mrs. Das floating in my head.
“ ….You’re the actor. Step into the shoes of the character. Feel the emotions. Go on! Unleash yourself.”
With the air and attitude required of my character as Dyer, I stomped on the stage and delivered my dialogues with conviction and flair recreating the events of that unfateful day. When the play got over, I got a standing ovation and received the best actors’ trophy. My dream finally came true.
Since then there’s been no looking back. Theatre has become an integral part of my life. Not just in polishing my acting skills but enhancing my life skills too. It teaches so much— Play your role well. Use pause and silence judiciously. Stay calm, be in control, concentrate well. Enjoy the applause and the criticism equally. Walk away from unnecessary drama. If there’s passion simmering within you, remove the shackles of fear and reach all out. These are life lessons aren’t they? It’s true then that theatre is life and let me conclude in the words of Shakespeare:“ All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
Disclaimer: This article was first written on Medium