Karnataka Theatre Schools Meet
The five-day Indian Theatre Schools Meet at Sanehalli was a significant milestone in theatre education
Opening act Thirty theatre practitioners, 200 students and performers were in attendance
Sanehalli is a hamlet of 250 homes in Hosadurga taluk in the district of Chitradurga in Karnataka, 50 kms north of NH 206 from Bangalore through Shimoga.
There functions Sri Shivakumara Rangaprayoga Shale, a residential theatre school and repertory, now in the news because of an extraordinary initiative to bring together at this unlikely location theatre schools from every part of India to discuss ways and means to evolve pedagogies for theatre education.
The Indian Theatre Schools Meet, May 28 to June 1, should be considered a significant milestone in theatre education, not only because it was the first of its kind in the country, but also because it managed to get to this village over 30 theatre practitioners and experts on dramaturgy from all over India, in collaboration with National School of Drama, New Delhi.
Also in attendance were 200 students and performers who sat through panel discussions, demonstrations of form and practice and evening performances – folk, classical and modern – to enable exchange and articulation.
“The idea primarily was to discuss pedagogy, share experiences in learning methodologies and philosophies,” said Chidambara Rao Jambe, the head of the school. “It was also to create a network of Indian theatre schools.”
An old hand at the game, with over 20 years as former principal of the theatre school at Ninasam, Heggodu, and a term as artistic director of Rangayana, Mysore, the NSD-trained Jambe easily achieved these goals. If it was discussion he wanted, the meet was a huge success. But a consensus on pedagogy is still a formidable challenge. The participants polarised themselves over touchy and contentious issues of ‘native – national’, ‘local – global’, ‘traditional – modern’ and ‘folk – classical’ – confused and confusing the discourse further. “We have to do more such meets… there was much that was important in this discussion,” concluded K.S. Rajendran who teaches at NSD.
Jambe himself, who has worked out a syllabus for the year-long residential Diploma in Theatre Arts course at Sanehalli, will find that consensus is elusive. His theatre school, which functions under the Sri Mutt, Sanehalli, with the enthusiastic support of the liberal-minded Sri Panditaradhya Shivacharya Swamiji, seeks to grow a theatre repertory of innovation, depth and relevance. The enterprise, however, comes up against the most painful of simple questions: Theatre – why, how, by whom and for whom.
The passionate and diehard sneer at the idea of ‘need-based’ theatre, in the confusing ways it is meant or understood. The ‘egalitarian’ and down-to-earth seethe and bluster at the ‘obsessive-compulsives’ that want high art.
The pontiff himself, who holds a master’s degree in philosophy, and conferred the Rajyotsava Award for his efforts to promote theatre, believes a compromise is possible: quoting the late D.V. Gundappa, he said, intervening in heated debate: “We believe that an equation could be achieved by retaining the best of the old roots and the new shoots.”
The problem is a little more complex though. The idea ‘traditional’, for instance, means an unbroken one of 2000 years for Gopal Venu of Natana Kairali, Kerala, which presented a stunning Fifth Act in Kutiyattam of Kalidasa’s “Abhignana Shakunthalam”.
When someone wanted to know how long it took to achieve performance competence in his Ammannur tradition, he said, “19 years!” And, to confound everyone further, performing the ‘Shakunthalam’ is actually, in a unique sense, his idea of ‘modern’, because it is not part of the Kutiyattam tradition.
The idea ‘local’ is itself loaded with contradictions. A professor from Mysore says B.V. Karanth is local and Kuvempu is local, but when he gives of “Kinnara Jogi”, a contesting participant whispers that it is actually based on “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”.
Even the differences between folk and classical, that were taken to be a given, found challenge at the Sanehalli meet. When the Udupi Yakshagana Kendra finished a demonstration of the form, Natana Kairali’s Venu and his team stood to offer a pleased ovation. One participant grumbled, “The form (Yakshagana) cannot be considered folk; it is actually classical.” When another entertaining demonstration of “Jogera Aata’, a true enough folk form, was performed in chaste Kannada, the expert, Prof. Malashetty, presiding over the session, passed around an article in English which informed us that the folk artistes known as Jogi’s spoke Marathi in their homes.
But where the meet did achieve clarity and consensus were on more practical grounds. Prof. Lingadevaru Halemane, recently appointed the new head of Rangayana, announced that the institution would soon launch degree courses in acting.
He acknowledged that there were now over a dozen theatre schools coming up in Karnataka alone and efforts to evolve pedagogy were critical.