For me theater mostly meant performances on a stage. Even while growing up, I regarded to staged performances as theater performances; the ones at the proscenium because I never got to see an act outside a proscenium. I realized it later, that we are surrounded by performances all around us and that there are numerous platforms where theater is practiced apart from the stage. This raised questions like what is an ideal platform or where could one perform or how does one select a site or how do we entail a space for performance?
I got interesting insights related to these questions when I read ‘Beyond The Proscenium’. The insights are discussed further in the blog. I drew insights from a conversation iterated by Sunil Shanbaug as he talked to Astad Deboo a trained Kathak dancer who is known for performing with unconventional platforms; and stories narrated by Anmol Vellani about Bansi Kaul, a director who created a permanent repertory company to avoid monotony and stagnancies of performers. Both these artists have a unique sense of space and are extremely skilled when it comes to their art. They are trying to share their experiences and relations with a proscenium and the vast plethora of performance spaces that lies beyond the proscenium.
A performer should focus on utilizing a space to maximum. Any space can be brought to life when there is a performance that the audience can connect / resonate with. Astad has always tried to establish this in his acts. His site selection is impromptu, he analyzes space in a way that every inch of the space is utilized and done justice to and he structures his choreographies in a way that they are open to changes. This contemporary approach enables him to reduce formation of central viewing, ensuring complete engagement of the audience. He is weary of prosceniums and even when he uses one, he uses it in a way that the audience is left intrigued. He has also used the vertical dimension of prosceniums in many of his acts.
Bansi Kaul on the other hand has an ethos for fragmenting the proscenium. I personally relate to this a lot given that for the longest time I too thought of theater as proscenium acts. The preconceived notions about theater have to change only then will there be a change in the physical form of theater. This fragmentation will intrigue and pull the audience. This will eventually help them to connect to the artist better and enjoy the performance further.
Both Astad Deboo and Bansi Kaul withstand the idea of restricting theater to a proscenium. Their works certainly shows how they practice what they preach. We see how an artist improvises his act according to the space of performance but isn’t it the job of a designer to improvise his design according to the needs of an artist? Because theaters are made for performances, so performers should get a say in how the space should be like or how they use a given space. There are many restrictions that kill the creative freedom of an artist. The audience comes to view the performance displayed by artist, but even in that case, more importance is given to the comfort of the audience as stated by Kaul.
A performer needs a receptive audience for which abstraction, adaption and experimentation is needed. In spite of all these challenges and restrictions that an artist faces. He adapts to all spaces be it prosceniums or site specific locations, along with all the technical things like light, sound etc. For me that’s the beauty of an artist.