ART- An Experiment on Performance Space in Theatre

Posted by Kaahon Desk On May 26, 2018

Gautam Sarkar, the director of Kolkata Praxis recently presented a new experiment with theatrical space. He had the same play staged first in the form of intimate theatre and then in the form of a proscenium play. By having the same play performed in two different spaces and forms, he has attempted mainly to provoke the question as to whether the two performances were different in meaning and perspective. In the context of the present times, an experiment like this with performance space is both novel and necessary. Gautam Sarkar has chosen Christopher Hampton’s English translation of Yesmina Reza’s French drama, Art. Ipshita
Debnath and Gautam Sarkar have adapted Hapmton’s text to present Art in Bengali; though this play has been translated into many different languages, this is probably the first Bengali version. The text of Art is extremely powerful, with the Bengali adaptation successfully
conveying the basic thematic thrust of the original.

Art was performed at the North Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts on 12th and 13th of May, 2018 and then on the Academy proscenium on the 18th of May. The idea of performing Art in a gallery space was motivated by the thematic preoccupation of the text. Anirban Chakraborty and Satrajit Sarkar, two powerful actors of these times, performed along with Gautam Sarkar, also the director.

The play centers around a white canvas which is the creation of a famous artist and priced exorbitantly. Here, the price determines artistic excellence. In a market economy, even an artist’s work is a commodity. A series of moments of conflict arises among three close friends, Wrishel, Mainak and Anubhab over the apparently white canvas. Wrishel, who is a patron of
modern art, buys the painting for ten lakh rupees. He believes this is great art, while Mainak is certain that it is not art at all, but rather just a white canvas. Anubhab tries to balance both opinions saying that though apparently white, the painting has something about it which is
rather elusive. Though titled Art, the play is actually about the chemistry between the three friends.

The three characters represent three categories of people. Wrishel, affluent and elite, lacks artistic sense which is why he positions himself as an art-knowing patron and buys the painting and tries to establish it as high art. Mainak is grounded, practical, with clarity of vision and an ability to express himself clearly. He tries to logically explain to Wrishel that the canvas bought at such a high price is no art and that price cannot guarantee artistic worth. In his insistence to forcefully point out the mistakes of others’, Mainak emerges somewhat like an all-knowing middle class man. And Anubhab is a struggler, who is not too moved by either Wrishel’s passion for art or for Mainak’s concerns for Wrishel; his daily struggles in order to establish himself have made him somewhat indifferent to these issues connected to art. The three characters thus neatly represent various societal positions.

The three friends share a unique friendship where they create a space where no one else is allowed and where the three can share their intimate motions with each other. They laugh, cry, grieve, agonize, hurt in this small space. In the play, as the conflict among the three peaks over the issue of a white canvas, they repeatedly hurt and injure each other, not sparing even
their respective kin and family. It seems their friendship will collapse under the stress and a separation seems imminent. If moving out of the sphere of their friendship, we consider society at large; we will see a picture of a society at unrest, which does not tolerate dissenting opinion – an idea that is quite relevant to our times. In the end, however, the friends reunite.
The issue of male bonding thrown up through their mutual dependence is very significant from a societal point of view.

Previous Kaahon Theatre Review:

When the same play is performed in an intimate space and also on the proscenium, a comparison is automatically invited. The main thrust of intimate performance is to erase the distance or boundary between performer and audience to create an atmosphere of intimacy. Having witnessed the two performances in two different spaces it can be said that the proscenium performance touched the audience in a way, which the intimate performance could not. There was not much difference between the modes of acting in the two spaces, which is why the performance in the intimate space seemed a bit loud at times, undesirably so. Even with the performers and the audience on the same plane, in close proximity and within the same light-zone, the performance takes place with the audience completely ignored, quite like the performance that happens on the proscenium. One of the strategies to connect with the audience in an intimate space is by making eye contact, something which was missing from the performance. With the performers taking control of the performance and the audience fixed in a spot, the entire performance takes on the character of a proscenium play. This, of course, might have been done intentionally. At times, with a performer very close to one section of the audience and the second performer with another section, and sometimes with the performance happening around or behind the audience, parts of the action and reaction are missed by the audience. All members of the audience face this problem at some point of time or the other, a sense of unease is created, and it becomes difficult to be immersed in the play. It seems the issue of performance space and the seating arrangement of the audience needs to be reconsidered.

The proscenium performance is, however, quite eye-catching. The director has elevated a powerful text to the level of a successful play. There is no breaking up the action that lasts for an hour and twenty minutes into distinct scenes, which gives to the movement of the play tautness. The play is dialogue driven, but the skill of the performers never allows the play to
seem weighed down by words. The wonderful sense of timing of Anirban Chakraborty, the brilliant vocal performance of Satrajit Sarkar and the measured reactions of Gautam Sarkar lift the play to a certain height. Anirban brings to the play an intelligent yet simple fluency through his acting, Satrajit’s physical and verbal acting captures the essence of Manak, while Gautam’s slightly muted portrayal of Wrishel brings to life the character. The well-thought out ideas of the director is clearly evident in his using the whole stage space with well-planned compositions. A fine overall coordination of the set, light, costume and makeup is clearly evident. Though virtually unused in the intimate performance, the immense significance of costume and makeup becomes easily understood in the proscenium performance.

Hiran Mitra’s artistic ideas have enriched the play. He has used only a handful of elements to make the stage performance-worthy. All in all, there are three chairs, an empty frame, a low box-like rostrum and a tall stand with a goldfish in a glass bowl – all in either black or white. The goldfish swimming in futile circles in its bowl becomes a wonderful symbol of the small space of friendship that the three people inhabit with their anger, frustration, happiness and grief. Hiran Mitra has always been successful in making the performance space come alive with meaning using minimal set elements and props.

In the gallery space, the light remains fixed at the same luminousity. On the proscenium, however, the light dims and brightens to suggest various movements of mood; a definite strength of the light design is that it does not attempt to do too many things. The significance of the violet light that comes on sometime during the middle of the play remains obscure.

Though there is no music in any of the performances, there is an inherent sense of musicality that the audience receives on their own. Still, some music perhaps could have been used in the proscenium performance.

On the whole, it has to be said that the intimate performance is not as successful as the proscenium. The reason is perhaps the ignoring of the conventions of performance demanded by intimate space. The director played with the intimate space by breaking it up into sections, something which might have intrigued the audience without being successful in getting them to engage with feeling with the play. But it is important to keep on experimenting with various performance styles and spaces in theatre practices keeping it dynamic. Only this can open up new horizons of theatre. Kolkata Praxis and Gautam Sarkar deserve our praise for having attempted to do this.

Pradip Datta
A post-graduation diploma holder of the Department of Media Studies, University of Calcutta, he has been a theatre activist in Bengal for the last twenty five years. He is a freelance journalist by profession. Besides theatre, his passion includes recitation, audio plays and many more.

Related Updates


Follow Us

Show Calendar

Message Us