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Theatre & The Power of Presence - a Zen Experience !


Recently we revived a play that our group had premiered around 8 years ago and performed to very exciting audience response at several venues across the country including NSD (Delhi), Prithvi (Mumbai), Rangashankara (Bangalore).  The initial version had 12 actors on stage.  This time we had only 7.  I was rather apprehensive about whether 7 actors could generate the energy and the physical volume that audiences had loved in the earlier version.  I expressed my concern to Rajiv, our maverick director.  His answer was simple and direct.
“The challenge is to create the same impact and the illusion of a crowd with 7 actors, that we earlier did with 12.”
We looked at ways to bring in more physical energy and movement, and sure enough, many who had seen the earlier version, came to us at the end of the recent shows and said that they found the current version more precise, more coherent, and more powerful.
A couple of weeks ago we performed at Adisakthi, Pondicherry.  This is a hallowed theatre space founded by the late legendary Veenapani Chawla. Adisakthi conducts highly sought after theatre workshops attended by actors from across India and outside.  The audience consisted of several theatre practitioners and teachers.  At the end of the show, one of the well-known theatre trainers came over and said that the show was intense and powerful, with great performances, and that every single member of the audience had gone through a rich emotional experience.  Pointing to one of the actors he said,
 “Your performance was outstanding.  You anchored the play.”
This actor was genuinely happy to get the feedback.  However, he seemed to become rather preoccupied.  Later in the evening at the cast party he spoke to the director,
“I was happy to get the feedback about my performance today.  But I am not sure exactly what I did.  Can you tell me what it was that made the performance special?  I want to get a handle on it so that I can use it as a tool when I perform again.”
 The director thought for a while.
“It is a certain quality of presence that the actor brings to the performance", he said, "the ability to forget the lines and the baggage of rehearsals and earlier performances after having thoroughly internalised it, and then flow completely with what is happening now on stage.  It is about seeing the other character and listening to her as if it is happening for the first time, and then responding in the impulse of the moment, remaining within the framework of your character.  At the same time, you are alert to the cue that the other actor expects, and the scene as it should unfold for the play to move forward.”
His words reminded me of the Zen story of archery.  The master archer is one, who having mastered the art drops it and then becomes an effortless medium through which the arrow finds the target.  A contemporary manifestation of this state of unconscious excellence, to me, is Picasso.  If you see his work before he discovered his unique style, you would think they were photographs.  Having achieved that level of perfection, he dropped all technique and painted with the freedom of competent impulse.  He once remarked,
“It took me 60 years to learn to paint like a child.”
Imagine the impact of the Power of Presence to our ‘performance’ as Leaders, where our teams are co-actors, and our customers, the audience . . . . .

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