Experiences 9: Kirtana Kumar "Sophia Chews On Me"

OK, this blog was written under duress. Torture. Waterboarding...nah! It's been so crazy-fantastic-rich it makes me want to stay with it a while...and simply mull. So much art, so much inspiration. I've liked it most when performances are questioning of the status quo, when form grabs my throat and leaves me breathles and in love. When theate-makers reference their passions - the cool and intrigue of film noir (hats, spats et al), the music of Frank Zappa - one of my teenage Gods (remember the sex and magic of Catholic Girls?)the lonely heart of Kerouac and his Bodhisattvas, I'm sold. I am not just interested in the form and the content, but the memory and the roots of the work.

From the high culture ethos of Puccini's Turandot to the simple Grotovsky inspired Open Circle (Lithuania), it has been an aesthetic roller-coaster ride. So...some moments.

- A poster for the Pat Metheny Group on the Altefeuerwache, the building that is home to Schnawwl Theatre, Mannheim. As luck would have it I miss the concert by a few days, but am thrilled by the idea of the continuum. We are here, Pat Metheny will soon be here. How cool, no?
- Watching Berlin '61. Lovely details strewn casually all over. The very '60s cocktail sticks, the 3-in-1 lamp, the use of music and that subtle yearning for the West, that we recognise so well. The sadness of it.
- Hanging out with the actors of NIE and Open Circle. Hopefully, friendships made and held onto beyond work, time and space. Listening to the ephemeal Unai speak about his method - transparency, honesty and in improv - just going with things and seeing where it gets you.
- The opening visual for the libretto in Verdi's Macbeth was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Haze of the blue scrim, an installation of trenchcoat behind. Then young girls in red wigs and tiny kilts appearing and pressed against the scrim...oh.
- Meeting and doing workshop with the sweetness of the actors at Schnawwl. Seeking something fragile and organic that is interesting and truthful for children and young adults. Also, chasing an ideal of participation and democracy.
- Learning that the Open Circle actors (so young, so talented, so hot!) have promised each other they will never take the commercial, establishment route. I applaud them and am thrilled by their idealism.
- Portrait la familia! How do actors become so strong of voice and body? I want so much to discuss with them the dramaturgy that I was just so unsure about...which brings me to the last thing.
- What I have loved the most is the German commitment to the discussion and analysis of theatre. What could be more dispassionate? To unpack and dismantle with a clear heart and mind, with only one intention.To forward the journey and movement to theatre.

That's it for now. I suppose I should write about the copious glasses of champagne and Pils, the interesting faces and souls, the nice rollies, the general decadence...but that's a given, no? The reason we do this thing?!
love, peace, freedom,

Experiences 8: Artistic Director Arundhati Nag on the German luxury of subsidised theatre

This is my third German festival ("Sch̦ne Aussicht" in Stuttgart) and my second theatre for children festival and I am completely in awe of the fact that Germany has build this movement of theatre for children, which we could emulate in India also. Its very recent that theatre has been brought into the Indian educational system as an optioal subject, for students at the 10th standard level (16 years old), so we have a long way to go, considering the number of people and the shere size if the country, the diversity of languages. Tt will mean very large political will to bring in change for all. Ranga shankara is a small dot on the map which has this collaboration with Schnawwl and I am an fortunate Indian to have seen these festivals Рthis is a beginning and there is hope.

Experiences 7: Costume Designer Amba Sanyal on the Germans & Truth

The festival has been a revelation as to the way the German percieve reality.
The need to tell the truth, which might not encompass the TRUTH.
But it opens windows, which is very interesting as it gives you a peak into the German mind and rythms.

Experiences 6: actor Shrunga's thoughts on the Cold, Warmth & Magnitudes

I had heard people telling me about how cold the can be, but i had a first hand, first body experience when i got out of my Lufthansa flight at Frankfurt. The cold can just get into ur system in a few moments if u r not prepared for it... Luckily, i was.

I was pretty ill equipped to handle the warmth that i got here....
Having heard stories of the German discipline and punctuality, i was pretty nervous comin here...
But it was all dispelled by the hospitality, the warmth, the openness, the spirit, the cozyness of all the people here...

Funshops rather!!
The ``Do I Know U`` game, which gave insights into eachother, without being judgemental;
The ``Sheep and Shepherd``, which was so much fun especially for a person as disoriented as me!!;
The ``Sunnnies and the Moonies``, which made us literally roll on the floor! But at the same time, opened me up to explore the differences in our way of expression;
The ``Kalaripayattu``, which i ve alwayz been a fan of and been wanting to learn;
The ``Konakhol``, which actually has opened up new avenues for me personally (Am thinking of creating poetry in a serious way now:))....
The ``Translation Line``, that can open up a world of possibilities of saying the same thing in a hundred different ways...
Cant forget the improvisation that me n Nikolai did!
It started with us having to say the same story in two different ways... But then, it took on a totally different and hilarious colour, and it ended up with me and him in each other´s arms on the floor!
They ve all been great learning experiences and great fun at the same time....

The sheer magnitude of the Mannheim National Theatre has totally bowled me over....
I witnessed the magic that a technologically advanced theatre and stage and set can weave.

Do i know me?!!.........
And my people?? No i dint!
Many things about our own culture were alien to me!
But this journey s helped me to unearth a lot of questions...
Questions that will take a long time to be answered...

But right now, am just gobbling it all up.... Not thinking too much...
I ll chew the cud some time later...


Experiences 5: Pallavi's impressions - ten days in Germany

“Is this a dream?” I ask myself. No. I am lying on a bed looking at the ceiling and it is not my house. I thought I had dreamt it – the magical evening of asparagus at Credi’s, Turandot’s voice sailing above the tenors and the sopranos that had surrounded us with their larger-than-life vocals, the suave conductor confidently creating ripples of music by the wave of his hand, ballet dancers creating a new film noir vocabulary to show us Frank Zappa’s music and Jack Kerouac’s poem, the never-ending corridors of Mannheim Schloss, Mr.Wind opening the magical opera theatre doors to us and walking us in and out of the unending rooms reserved for make-up, costumes, lights, curtains, storage and more storage, savouring the spicy Indian meal that Aru cooked for us, meeting the Schnawwl team- realistically speaking, this had to be a dream. But it was not. This is a dream that Rangashankara and Schnawwl dreamt, a dream that Aru and Andrea dreamt, a dream that two cities dreamt, a dream that two countries dreamt. I am in the dream. I am still in the dream. We meet the Schnawwl team. Dedicated and hardworking Andrea, supercool Credi, gorgeous Evi, super-efficient Anne, soft-spoken Julia, gentle and caring Anne, quicksilver Coordt, mysterious and urban David, ever-smiling Simone, charming Nikolai, full of wonder Maike, strong and rebellious Jule, beautiful Angelika and the most un-German German I have met - Sophia. Ten days ago, my life was different. I didn’t know these people. Today, I am wondering how do I leave them and go away. I also have met Shrunga, Amba, Srini and Kirtana after I come here. Now they are friends for life. Journeys influence me. I change after each journey. I doubt if the journeys of the characters of our play are as magical as this one that has just begun. That remains to be seen. As for now, more of ‘Berlin 1961’, ‘Kill the Katz’, ‘Risiko’, ‘Echoa’, ‘Open Circle’ and many more. Set the sails, we are off to wonderland.


The "Do I know U?" game and the beauty of freestyle swimming

There is an exercise that is mostly used as an Ice Breaker, where two strangers sit in front of each other, describe each other preceisely and then fantasise about the life of the other person. Within the last week this exercise has started to take up more and more workshop time and crept into leisure time, we find doing it in the tram and missing the station (which - to be honest - is mostly due to my extremely bad travel guiding in Mannheim). We have spent a week of getting to know each other, which happend while wokshopping, walking, changing hotels, dragging extremely big suitcases with saris all over the place, watching plays, and, just now, swimming. Language does play a huge role - in the workshop and in the rest of our time. Shrunga and Pallavi say "Danke" and "Leitungswasser" and we listen to the actors speak in Kannada, Russian, Spanish, Swiss German, French, Kannadised English, Russian sign language and creative Bharat Natyamised Pantomime - as of today I know what jogging looks like in Bharat Natyam. Our German brains have worked hard on rythmical patterns called Konokol and we did konokol-rap some weird stuff funky today. Which brings us to the word "Scheisse" which the Germans do not agree on how bad the word actually is - while eating "Mannheimer Dreck" (a chocolate biscuit that wants to visually resemble a heap of scheisse!) in the evening, we heard the word on stage in the Schnawwl play "Risiko" at least five times. In the audience simoultaneous whispered translations af the whole play for our Indian friends, pissed of audience members changing seats. And then we do audio plays for each other in Kannada and German and later have a discussion on the phrase "I love you" and how overused it is, we tend to all agree on that. Language is not a problem anymore, its is music, a difference of beauty I feel after we read part of our play today, simultaneously in Kannada, German and English. I am  systematic
ally relieved. We can talk and talk and we do - but Arundhati says "I know you when I eat what you eat" and so she comes fresh from the plane directly into Sandra's small kitchen where she spends the next five hours cooking for 50 people with brave Gayathri and the volunteers Lisa and Magdalena who heroically dissect the first chickens of thier lives. We all - who cooked-wonder how we will ever get that garlicgingeronion ( yes I am randomly connecting several nouns into one word, as Germans like to do) smell of our skin, which becomes an issue two days later, after partying in Casino and we all smell like ashtrays, which is not such a big problem if you are German and have no hair but if you have long Indian hair to get rid of that smell is a task. But just now we smell like new born babies because we ditched Verdi for the swimming pool where Pallavi and Shrunga learned the breast stroke and freestyle breathing in just two hours. Pure water talent in action. With wrinkeld skin and burning eyes we are all sure we will sleep like logs tonight, while the washing machine works hard on our ashtrayed gingered garlicy sweaty clothes.

A footnote on food - almost all of us people love to eat and we have to mention that excellent Black Forest Cake we all had in the Castle restaurant of beautiful Heidelberg. We know each other quite a bit better today. Tomorrow we leave for Stuttgart, more plays, more workshops and a swmimming pool?

PS: I apologize for being the officially worst travel guide through Mannheim ever!

PPS: I proudly announce the official " Do I know U?" table footall championships. The leading team Kumar / Stepf  is waiting for challengers.