Thursday, November 6, 2014

The rapture of being ridiculous....without the fear of ridicule

Have you ever had a conversation in gibberish? Whispered sweet nothings, yelled expletives, expressed surprise or disgust using meaningless combinations of sounds. Try it out, and it will be one conversation you will thoroughly enjoy. You will learn how mere body language and meaningless sounds can evoke different emotional reactions in you, and in others.  In no time, you will be engaged as deeply as one would be in a dialogue with a Bangalorean auto driver (on the right fare!).

Conversations in gibberish were a part of a theatre workshop that I attended recently. The experience was amazing! Imagine speaking utter nonsense and drivel, and actually being cheered and encouraged to get innovative with dishing out nonsense.

Hey, wait a minute! That doesn’t fit into the world I come from – my corporate world. In this world, appropriateness is the order. Prim n proper does it. Neat, straight lines, perfectly boxed emotions, not allowed to spill over, lest they trespass the holy confines of propriety! The secure cover of a straitjacket can sometimes be suffocating as well. It keeps you safe, but it also doesn’t let you catch the wind in your sails. Theatre is one of the places to do just that - let your sails billow in the breeze, as you float on a sea of uninhibitedness. 

And, uninhibited we were. Encouraging the shy to express themselves in full swing is one of the multiple objectives of theatre training. One of the exercises included having participants act as experts on topics as bizarre as pigeon droppings to tantric sex, and the other participants asked the “experts” equally bizarre questions on these topics. The spontaneity of the responses helps develop presence of mind, and confidence in expression. The laughter is a welcome side-effect. Finding spaces that let you be ridiculous without the fear of ridicule is not very easy in an “appropriate” world. And, theatre gave me the sacred space to be ridiculous.

Theatre allows you to go “over the top”, and E-X-P-R-E-S-S yourself. So, if you’re feeling stifled with life and unable to crack the shackles of a humdrum existence, then theatre will set the stage for you to break free. One of the best ways to do this is to play an “over the top” character, and have the vicarious pleasure of living the character’s life. For a regular corporate “suit and tie” types, it can be a liberating experience to play a road ruffian – complete with a handkerchief around the neck, unbuttoned shirt and loud mannerisms. A totally new world-view, different thought processes, different body language and behaviour can provide a much-needed respite from routine and boredom. The study of mind-body connection tells us that our body language can influence our state of mind. So, if you alter your body language to play a comic character, you are bound to feel humoured and light hearted.

Just so I don’t give the impression that playing a character is a simplistic task, let me emphasise that “concretising” a character is one of the quite difficult, yet creatively rewarding tasks of getting into the skin of the character. It draws upon our imagination, as well as our experiences with different sorts of people. Concretising a character means delineating everything from the character’s personality, thought processes to body language and idiosyncrasies. From Sherlock Holmes quirks of breaking into intellectual monologues, to Charlie Chaplin’s goofy walk, every single nuance and detail of the character has to be created, calibrated and enacted. A well concretised character stays with the audience forever.

I feel that it would be great fun to play a character that is totally opposite to one’s self concept. I wish to play a “dumb belle” or a dimwit kind of character in one of my next plays. For someone like me who’s self-concept consists of adjectives such as self-assured and intelligent, it would be a complete antithesis, and challenge to play a dimwit. I am sure I will delight in the experience, as I take flights of fancy into my dimwit character’s world. My mind’s eye can already see the “desi” dimwit, with the silly grin, rapidly blinking eyelids and head scratching when she pretends to search her frugal brains for some intelligent answers. How about naming her Gulabo, Dhanno or Basanti ;-)

Playing this character would help me get out of my comfort zone, as well as build my empathy towards those who are different from me. In fact, theatre is an excellent way to build interpersonal intelligence and empathy. Theatre is also a great way to explore the Self. When we are given a character, an automatic alignment check exercise happens within us. We look at the character and find elements of his personality we resonate with and those that we don’t. The dilemmas and life situations of the character help us delve deeper into our own dilemmas and life situations. And, through this deep dive we learn and understand ourselves, and others much better. By getting into the skin of characters like a villain, comedian, fibber or hero, we are able to see shades of the very same villain, comedian, fibber and hero within us, or in others. In fact, the more different is the character from you in real life, probably the greater is your learning about human behaviour.


I am intrigued by the philosophy of “navras” – the nine different emotions that can be evoked in the audience by the performance of an artist. And, I hope to be able to dabble in all the 9 rasas as time goes by. But, for now my favourite is “Hasya Rasa” and I am happy to slip into a comic trance with my sahelis - Gulabo, Dhanno and Basanti…..want to join me?