An actor's director

Updated: May 19, 2019, 08:23 IST | Ekta Mohta

British theatre director Tim Supple is embarking on a series of workshops for pro and kinda-pro actors. Although, in his words, it sounds more like an audition

An actor's director
Pic/Atul Kamble. Location/ Koinonia Coffee Roasters

In the last few years, British theatre director Tim Supple has been a travelling troupe of one. He's staged English classics in China, Iranian epics in London, and Arabic folk tales in Toronto. Interestingly, he developed itchy feet while in Mumbai. In 2004, after two decades of working on the London stage, he'd come to India to direct a hybrid version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast of 70 was a wild bunch, comprising actors trained in European schools and the National School of Drama, aerial dancers and classical dancers, movement performers and street performers. It interweaved seven Indian languages, and idioms such as Bharatanatyam and kalaripayattu, and became a global hit.

Today, he's back in India to create an international ensemble of actors for one project, "a trilogy of three different, seminal, legendary texts, from cultures that have intermingled over the years." He's finalised two: the Arabic bedtime story, One Thousand and One Nights; and Shahnameh, an epic poem about the history of Iran; the third will be an Indian text.

A scene from Supple's A Midsummer Night's Dream
A scene from Supple's A Midsummer Night's Dream

"The works will look at the intersection between the Indian, Persian and Arabic world," he says. India is his base because, "I've enjoyed working with Indian actors more than actors anywhere. And it's been a long time since A Midsummer Night's Dream."

When Supple goes about directing a play in a foreign land, sometimes in a foreign tongue, he has to jump headfirst into research. "You have to take into account the political, religious or cultural histories of that place, and the last 200 years of investment, patronage or support for the arts. For example, in the Arabic-speaking world, there is obviously great narrative storytelling, but because of Islam's complicated relationship with personification, there isn't a great tradition of theatre in the modern sense. Same in China, for different reasons. The Cultural Revolution was so aggressive towards theatre that it broke the traditional system completely.

What you get in India, you don't get anywhere else in the world: this massive, outdoor, folk theatre in villages. I mean, in Bali, that's just for the tourists." This week, Supple will distil 35 years of his understanding of theatre into a 35-hour workshop for actors. That's like squeezing the Mahabharata into a one-act, but at least you understand the broad strokes. "For me, workshops are an important way of experimenting, investigating and researching. Everybody needs their laboratory; we can't just be thinking about product. So, the workshop is my laboratory."

He's going to undertake the same exercise in Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kerala as well, while keeping an eye out for barnstormers. "I'm not interested in actors who sound like they have just stepped off the English Shakespeare stage. I want actors who are fantastic in physical, realistic actors, some who do movies, some who come from Marathi, Hindi or Gujarati theatre. Anybody who thinks they are an actor, please apply."

Once they do, Supple has a lived process. "What I try to do is help an actor carve out a journey back to themselves." Theatre director Yuki Ellias, who played Hermia in Midsummer, says, "Tim brings so many tools and exercises to the rehearsal room. His process combines text, intent and physical actions very intensely. All the muscles of the performer are called upon." Supple adds, "Sometimes, you see brilliant acting from people who are not trained. That's why children are so good in films.

On the other hand, that does not sustain an actor onstage. You'll be good one night, but not the next. The natural actor with no craft, by definition, can't repeat what they do. Then we expect a certain level of skill. But, that takes courage, to go through a kind of transformative process, and go to places that are not safe and habitual. The great substance of theatre often comes from extreme situations and stories. So, you're encouraging actors to travel into emotionally, personally and socially difficult stories that are not their own. And that takes courage."

When: May 20-26; 9 AM to 2 PM
Where: Arts in Motion, 57, Rajdoot, Linking Road, Khar (W)
Entry: Rs 7,500
To register: sanjay@qtp.in

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