Posted by: yteditors | December 3, 2003

Growing out of college spoofs

Growing out of college ‘spoofs’!  – by Nandini Rao
Difference between a being part of amature/professional theatre group and putting up a college show!

Continuing from my previous article on ‘Professionalism in theatre’ (link), would like to share my perspectives about what it means to be part of a theatre team or a group and how different it is from putting up a college day show or attending a competition.


Perceptions & expectations!

Thanks to college theatre experience, there are many theatre enthusiasts who like to pursue theatre post college life or atleast like to watch plays and be in touch with the art form.

In our theatre journey we have come across many people, some just out of college, some bored with corporate jobs, and others looking at pursuing theatre as a long lost dream. But what is always common is the way they talk enthusiastically about their theatre experience in college/school times even if it was many years back. That positive experience stays with them for years to come.

However for the ones wanting to purse theatre outside and post college life, it’s important to understand that they will have to grow out of the college experience and be ready to change their own perceptions & expectations of theatre.

Fun, freedom and friends.

Typical college shows are all about friends, cheesy roles, politics, gossips, college prestige, and most importantly the goal always is to participate in Competition and result expected is 1st prize. Infact in a few theatre competition i have attended in last few years as an outsider, i have noticed that teams don’t even stay back to watch each other’s performance, they just  perform for judges and leave.

Anyway my idea is not to show college experience in a negative light, but to chalk the differences so to help newcomers transition better into an amature or professional theatre groups.

My references in the article are be about working in a theatre group (amateur* or professional groups) and not freelance actors. * Amateur means people who don’t rely on art/theatre for living, so typically have other jobs which pay them and art/theatre is pursed for passion and not for living.

Disclaimer – the article refers to only my experience & exposure and though this might be true in most cases, I am also sure there may be many exceptions.

Formation
Theatre groups outside college are typically formed through coming together of few like minded people, interested to pursue theatre. College group could be formed in similar fashion or at times a mandate from college or formed with intentions of participating in contests/competitions.

Few colleges also have active theatre clubs run by seniors of the college. There are of course very few lucky ones to have the privilege of having guidance from outside theatre professional or have theatre as a subject or even have a professor with theatre experience.

Style of working
Most of the times, college groups have a democratic approach, other college groups do have a leader designated or self nominated,  who might lead the team for a short term.

Democratic – though as Indians we are very proud of being a democratic country, my personal view is it may not always work in all groups and teams. Without a single decision maker things can lead into tons of politics. A select few with louder voices and with little previous experience can get their way through as the director or main lead of a play in college, while the rest never a get fair chance.

Now the ones who lead as director or main lead also carry a baggage of being the HERO & STAR of their college for rest of their lives and never feel the necessity of learning it the right way, many times they carry a  ‘I know it all, I have been there and done that’ attitude , while the one who didn’t get a chance or got the so-called insignificant roles may never try again with ‘I don’t have it in me’ ‘ I am not as talented as them’ syndrome.

Sadly many ameture theatre groups work in similar fashion where people management and sorting out conflicts among team members becomes the focus and theatre starts taking a back seat. 

While with very few  well organized theatre group, you as a new comer get to learn the basics first, you are given the time and space to come out of your shells and break inhibitions, work in a unbiased and non judgmental environment, given the freedom to  explore, experiment and make mistake.  And I am proud to be part of  yours truly theatre, where we work this way.

Goal or Aim
While a professional or ameture theatre group’s reason may be vary from doing meaningful theatre, revisiting classics, bring contemporary works to light, experiment with devised and original productions or to bring social change or political awareness

Most college groups come together to put either a ‘Skit’, ‘MADADs’ ‘Spoofs’ ,‘street plays’ or 20-30 minute proscenium play’. The goal for all of the above remains  ‘Winning the COMPETITION title’.

Sustenance
 
College groups are obviously very short term in their approach till the competition lasts after that the focus shifts to internals and exams. They don’t have to worry about reruns. Also students leading this year pass out and the next come in and there is rarely any knowledge transfer or documentation of work done over the years. So the new batch starts from scratch all over again.

Theatre groups may also have the problem of high attrition and constant churn of people coming in and going out, however with a stable leadership, the group would have developed informal vision and goal they would want to commit to. Over a period of time, theatre groups do formally or informally develop a set of values they would like to stick both internally and in their theatre work. Groups surviving longer years also have a defined language in terms of the kind of theatre, genres, and attributes which makes their audience revisit them.

Learning & training
Few theatre groups do make a constant effort to learn and update skills either by watching professional plays, research, learning by professionals and collaboration with other directors, while not all college teams are lucky to get the right guidance. Also its not a culture for many students to go and watch ameature or professional performance, so their exposure remains to what they do or what the winning team did, which mostly is very limited.

The method of choosing plays – College plays typically tend to be on either of the extreme of a total comedy/entertainer or very serious hard hitting plays with lengthy dialogues. Many try the recycling the ‘tried and test’ formulas. In any case the objective is take make an impression with the judges and get few whistles from college mates.

While many ameature groups tend to do the same in the initial years of formation which is a rub off effect from college life, however with some years of work,  ameature groups have the freedom to relook at the kind of theatre they want to do or believe in doing. They may eventually want to balance between extremes of genre, target audiences and more.

Way of working
Casting criteria’s in college time may range from ‘Most talented’ to ‘great looks’ to  ‘best friend’ to the ‘ most enthu’.

I cant deny the same happens in other theatre groups as well, however for some groups outside college what matters over a period of time is to look at a cast which is willing to commit for long term than lookout for the ‘most talented’ ones. 

Directors & co directors – ‘Everyone including the cast, crew & college security guards know how a play should be done and also know the best way to do it’ sounds familiar??? Well thanks to democracy and not setting some set of rules before the rehersal-work starts does the spoil-sport and thus everyone has to freedom to value add to the play whether their value-adds are required or not.

And somehow sitting and watching rehearsals from outside, the best ideas come, isn’t it?  However not all directors outside college campuses may not like that.  Hence Directors may respond to you in polite ways or some may respond in a way that you will never forget for rest of your life, since you have become an expert so quickly. So be aware!

Support system, facilities & sponsorships – While amateur groups struggle for a small rehearsals space, raising funds for performances and finding decent auditoriums to put up their work. 

Most college groups get all this in abundance. They have the whole college management , faculties as support system, and students cheering and supporting in huge numbers. Also the college brand-names makes getting funds and sponsorships much easier. 

Best days of our lives!  
Putting a show is the best time of college, the rehearsals, the fun, the post rehearsals parties and gossips, the excitement of show, preparing sets and props together as team, finding flaws in competitors performances, frustration of losing , joy of winning,   all make it a most enjoyable experience.  Its all about the time you spend with your best pals.

So After college, expecting the same environment or trying hard to create the same feel may not always work the best. Your co-actors need not be your best friend and the group with whom you work need not be your partymates. Though I hope ameature groups do retain some of the elements of college time like team work, enjoying the rehearsals, and the pure enthusiasm and spirit of doing theatre!

Few  short theatre formats popular in college and my take on them !Skits 
Definition:  ‘Sketches consists of a series of short comedy scenes or vignettes, called “sketches,” commonly between one and ten minutes long.’
I feel these are great ice brakers and a good  way to learn basic and transition into longer plays.


Street plays

 Definition: Street theatre is a form of theatrical performance and presentation in outdoor public spaces without a specific paying audience.”

Extremely popular in India, infact many associate theatre to only ‘street theatre’. Performing street theatre is great for students as they need to push their energies, voice and physical abilities. A great way to hone theatre skill.  However I hope college groups don’t do street theatre only for ‘competitions’ rather take it to real locations, may be a labor camp or other place  where they get to feel the real heat of performing and for real audiences. (note – to do street theatre on streets might require permissions depending on policies in different states and cities)
‘Spoofs’  – Though spoofs can be extremely entertaining, they are the  shortcut route. And spoofs on bollywood is done to death in media, I don’t understand why perform the same back in theatre.

Theatre should be about brining original content to light than reproducing and making fun of something for quick giggles. 

If you want to do spoof, do a spoof on classics or any other original ones,  that requires tremendous creativity. For gods sake think beyond Bollywood.

MADADs’ – It’s a unfortunate  that theatre is being replaced with ‘madads’ culture. I am not against mad ads per se, but replacing theatre for madads is definitely not good for theatre.

Most madads work on cheap, cheaper, vulgar jokes, a quick burst of spoofs with lack of thought and creativity. Lets not REPLACE THEATRE WITH MAD ads.

About the Writer:  Nandini Rao is one of the Artistic Director’s of Yours Truly Theatre.  She acts, directs, and trains actors.  She hails from one of karnataka’s predominant theatre family “Prabath”.  Over a period of 10 years she started her individual exploration into a very new format of theatre &  gathered a rich interactive Theatre experience as a performer.

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Responses

  1. WOW! thanks Nandini for this excellent content. Will definitely help theatre enthusiasts. An interesting read which describes experience and dedication required to pursue theatre as a passion.

  2. Fantastic article and very thoughtful content !! Excellent points are covered like commitment, discipline of a theatre person in two different arenas. I guess every college student aspiring to pursue theatre as passion must read and should apply these observations during college productions itself, I guess it will help them a lot in bringing out professionalism in theatre@colleges. Thanks Nandini for giving this insight!

  3. This article and the “striking a balance” article.. to me is like a “Discipline Meter” of sorts.. reading this and reflecting upon one’s self will give a “reading” on the “meter” and a count of where & how one is expected to pay attention to and what “makes / breaks” existence either individually or collectively… this is very reflective.


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