David’s Diary Part 7

June 15, 2012

With Cindy’s departure in the wee hours of the morning today, our time in India truly feels like it is slipping away. Still, we had no scheduled activities this morning and were able to enjoy a leisurely start to the day, which was great. We decided to venture into the heart of the city once more to look for a cell phone battery for Joe and do one last round of shopping for souvenirs. Our hunt for the cell phone store took us to multiple locations with little success. I’ve never really understood the Indian system of street addresses and few of the buildings are marked with any sort of street number. So, in looking for a particular business or storefront, one sometimes has to get into the general proximity and then search the street for the right store. Today, we were unsuccessful in finding the cell phone store, but it still felt like a Bangalore adventure. We did, of course, find the shopping mall for the souvenirs and then returned for one last lunch at Marrianick’s and returned home, happily filled with pizza and ready for naps.

We played to our largest house yet tonight; not quite full, but stretching from wall to wall of the auditorium. It was an enthusiastic crowd, which helps me to really get lost in the telling of the tale. We’ve had an interesting development after the shows this past week—every night there are groups of well-wishers waiting for us in the lobby after the show. They are uniformly eager and friendly and it’s kind of amazing to have the chance to greet one’s audience after the show (especially since, at The Rogue, we often greet our audience before the show!). I still feel a little incredulous at the enthusiastic response we are getting with this production and, of course, feel more and more blessed to be sharing our work with Jagriti and Bangalore. One of my big fears in making this trip was that we would get here and find a disappointed reaction, either from the folks at Jagriti or the Bangalore audience. Thankfully, neither happened. I’m waxing a little philosophic tonight, but I think that’s because a part of me wants to stay in this city and continue exploring the culture, the country and the amazing friends we’ve made here.

June 16, 2012

A very full and busy day today. We were able to enjoy a relatively leisurely morning, followed by Patty’s clowning workshop at 11:00. It was a full roster of twenty students, so I decided to be an observer and not a participant. It was so great to see some of the new friends we had made at the workshops the previous week. By this time, most had seen the show and expressed so much enthusiasm. They are such a hungry group of actors, so willing and eager to absorb new information and coaching. Again, I could have been watching a master class being taught in Arizona. As always, Patty was a marvel to watch and the looks of adoration on the participants’ eyes were wonderful to see. How I would love to come back here and teach an extended class; three or four weeks long.

After the workshop, we were headed to Ranga Shankara to see a performance on one of Girish Karnad’s plays, Hayavadana, produced by a company from Bombay. The show was at 3:30 and was about two hours long. We were concerned that we would be traveling a pretty fair distance (it’s about a 45 minute drive) and that if there was any traffic, it might put us back at the theatre with only minutes to spare. Yes, traffic is a problem in Bangalore, too; mostly because surface streets get clogged with masses of vehicles and if there’s an obstruction in the road, one can sit, not moving, for quite a long while. We had been told the story of an actor in Jagriti’s last production who travelled from Ranga Shankara to Jagriti on a show night, got stuck in traffic, jumped out of his cab and took off running, grabbed another cab on the other side of the traffic jam and didn’t get to the show until fifteen minutes after curtain. So, we were understandably nervous about making the same trip! Hayadavana was a revelation. It was based on a Thomas Mann novella which was based on a Sanskrit story in which two men fall in love with the same woman. Her husband is a poet with little physical attraction; the other is a warrior, all brawn and beauty. The men separately visit a temple of Kali and cut off their own heads in anguish over the love triangle. When the woman sees the two bodies, she threatens to do the same, when the goddess—exasperated by all the fuss—intervenes and allows the heads to be reattached. The woman, however, mixes up the heads and puts her husband’s head onto the warrior’s body and vice versa. It is an enchanting story and the company that produced it staged it with virtually no scenery, only two long cushions on either side of the stage and one long cushion across the back of the stage (Ranga Shankara is a thrust stage configuration). When the actors walked “offstage,” they simply sat on the cushions and were no longer “visible” to the action onstage. The actors addressed the audience directly during the course of telling the story and a musician sat upstage right, playing guitar, drums and tabla during the show (sort of an Indian Paul Amiel). It could have been a Rogue production! Any scenic elements were created in the moment by actors dropping on all fours to provide a stool for the goddess, clumping in a complex mass to illustrate the ruined, vine-covered entrance to the temple that the characters had to fight their way through, etc. Costumes were very simple and multiple characters were suggested with a bit of cloth, a touch of makeup, a simple mask. I could tell that Joe was very excited by the staging and at intermission, he immediately started waxing enthusiastic about the production. The magic of the myth, the eloquence of Mr. Karnad’s writing, the imaginative conception of the production—I have a feeling this title will start appearing on lists of possible future Rogue shows! The only sad note was that the production went far beyond two hours and we had to leave before the show was over. Leaving a theatre performance before the end is anathema to me, but I kept telling myself that it was necessary to commit this offense to ensure the we were able to do our show at Jagriti and that the theatre gods would forgive us.

We had a full house for Shipwrecked, which was very exciting, though the audience was very quiet and reserved. I partially blame myself—I was fairly fatigued by the events of the day and didn’t have the extra surge of energy needed to get a full house really roused for the story. Of course, it was Saturday night and those audiences tend to be more relaxed and less demonstrative (once again, certain things are true the world over). We did a respectable show, but it didn’t feel quite as fun as usual. Tellingly, there were not the after-show crowds in the lobby (though we were warmly congratulated by a couple of local actors on our way out the door).

We ended the night with drinks and conversation at the Raja’s apartment, enjoying the company of new and wonderful friends. It will be difficult to bid them farewell tonight and I’m pushing the moment out of my mind until the last minute. Still, a part of the evening continued our discussion of how we can create this experience again and return to Bangalore and re-join the theatre community here in the future—so it’s not goodbye, but “hasta la vista.”

June 17, 2012

A fait accompli – Shipwrecked has come into port, the boat has docked, life moves on. I write this at midnight after our final show, feeling the waves of melancholy lapping the shores of my brain—a little whiskey in my gut and packing still to be done (we leave for the airport at 3:00am). Joe, Patty and I are having philosophical discussions around the dining table and the reminiscing has already begun. What a wondrous journey this has been. Before I came here, India seemed like “the final frontier;” the culture that was the most foreign to my American way of life. Now that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to live and learn in this country, I wonder at my reticence; my trepidations. Not only does this culture not seem so foreign now, I actually hunger to know more and fully intend to return as often as possible. I’ve discovered a little bit more about my own humanity and the communion of human beings that transcends cultural differences. That I’ve learned these lessons through the power of theatre is a testament to the importance of this art form. Perhaps computer programmers and scientists also experience this in the cultural exchanges between our countries—who knows? All I know is that telling stories to people half way around the world has opened my mind and my heart in ways I never would have imagined.

Whew. This must be the whiskey talking—that and the fatigue of two performances today. Both shows were wonderful experiences. Full houses both times and bright, focused, energetic journeys. Normally, the last performance is full of intensity and determination to “get it right,” but I feel like we’ve had that most of the run here in Bangalore. The last performance was more like, “You know what to do; now do it.” In some ways, I’m wishing that the run of the show had been longer, since we’ve learned so much about this script in this second go-around. On the other hand, I’m relieved that I no longer have to keep running these lines over and over, sometimes twice in one day. I would jump at the chance to do this show yet again, but in the meantime, I’m giving my memory a long, long rest!

After the performance and the pack-up of the show, we gathered once again at the Rajas apartment next door for drinks and conversation, this time with a few more folks from Jagriti. Man, I could get used to this life of performing and then hanging out with compadres, sipping a drink and laughing at the absurdities of the day. Our parting was surprisingly not too teary; mostly, I think, because we’re all pretty determined to work together again. I may spend the entire cab ride to the airport weeping about leaving this wonderful city, but for now, it’s nice to just let the whole experience settle in my soul.

Thank you, Arundhati and Jagdish, for a life-changing experience. I may be a dreamer, but I think that this is a true experience of India. The deep spirituality of this country is both subtle and ever-present, and the residents—whether actually religious or not—are genuine, sincere loving and a testament to what is really important in this life: connecting with each other and sharing.

— David Morden



Joe Ponders the Forest

I have offered little here, I’m afraid, but as David has been keeping you abreast in such a thorough and articulate manner with occasional entries from Cindy, you’ve hardly been left in the dark.  It’s 4am on Friday morning, and I’ve just seen Cindy off to the airport.  The cab ride there takes an hour or so – quite smooth, most likely, at this time of the morning – so she’ll be there in ten or fifteen minutes.  The end of her sojourn here, oddly enough, prompts reflection on my part; and coupled with the rich daily accounts already seen in these postings of our activities, I can make use of the early morning to step back and write more about the forest than the trees.

This last week has been a surprising fulfillment of our journey to the east.  Hours have been spent during our days this week with the most formidable figures of the theatre of Bangalore, and indeed presences in all of India:  Chandran Sakharan  – who would poo-poo being put in this class, but he has remarkable marketing instincts and skill coupled with such an energetic love of the theatre and significant business positioning that he has a powerful impact; Girish Karnad – who is a primary voice linking India’s cultural past with its theatrical future; Arundhati and Jogdish Raja – our hosts and founders of Jagriti, providing a home and focus for English language theatre in Bangalore (with a taste and mission that closely resembles the ambitions of the Rogue); and Arundhati Nag – celebrated actress and founder of Rangashankara.  Mrs. Nag is a remarkable woman of vision, who has chosen an impossible mission and business model.  She insists on bringing theatre to everyone, regardless of class.  Every voice and every ear.  She sets her own artistic ambitions aside on a daily basis, it seems, to lift up others.   And she does so with her eyes open.  She will tell you, with a graceful smile (and before you have a chance to bring it up) that her enterprise is almost absurd – and yet I could feel the power within her:  her work’s importance far outweighs its difficulty.

These have been people of tremendous grace and intelligence.  We all know, when we reflect, that the world is a very big place, and that such people reside in every corner of it.  But it is revelation to see, in flesh and blood, the confirmation of it, and a relief to be freed of the simplistic visions and prejudices of distance.

Every evening mothers and children in the apartment complex gather around the playground in the courtyard, comparing notes, swapping gossip, and bandaging skinned knees.  From our windows seven floors up, where the details of language are muffled, the sound is like any similar playground the world over.  Bangalore becomes indistinguishable from Tucson.

Cindy is at the airport by now.  Her flight departs in just under two hours.  Soon she’ll be in Rome.  Another place of which distance, report, and reputation have left us with misleading visions.

I am thankful for the clarity of these substantial minds and hearts.   The blessing, humanity, and revelation of these marvelous people.

— Joe McGrath

Cindy’s Last Bangalorean Night

Patty with matinee audience members (click for larger image)

I am sitting in the theatre, waiting for the last show of Shipwrecked! that I’ll see before I leave early for Rome tomorrow. I’m sad to leave the cast for the final four shows, but I know they’ll have a smashing closing weekend. The audience has been building throughout the week – including a matinee for 180 children on Wednesday. What an experience that was – a squirming mass of enthusiasm!

This last week in Bangalore has been astounding. There’s so much to talk about – and I’ll write more soon – but three of the highlights were going to The Bangalore Club with our hosts, Arundhati and Jagdish, having lunch with Girish Karnad, and visiting Soukya – a holistic health center that our dear supporter, Maura Brackett, introduced us to. I have so much to say about each of these experiences, but the show will start in 12 minutes, so let me tell you now about a moment from each.

The Bangalore Club was established during the British colonial years – with Winston Churchill being one of the first members. We sat in the bar with wood paneling, eating peanuts and lime sodas, surrounded by this historical British institution with our Indian friends, imagining that 70 years ago, they wouldn’t have been allowed inside.

David with coconut (click for larger image)

We went to a Thai restaurant with Girish – Patty ordered for us all – and we talked about theatre and the history of India. We talked, too, about the changing face of Bangalore – the rapid growth and mixture of modern and ancient traditions. As it turns out, Girish is now writing a play about this very transition.

All of us, including our musician and friend, Savitr, had soothing massages and toured the beautiful health center of Soukya. It was good to be out in the country – a little ways from the city and surrounded by gorgeous vegetation. We were served beautiful drinks of coconut water!

More soon, about this magical place, my dear friends. The show is about to start!


David’s Diary Part 5

June 8, 2012

A day of fun and a great performance tonight. The day started out with the ‘Bangalore’ routine: tea, yogurt, treadmill; followed by a trip to the theatre to go through e-mails. In the afternoon, Patty and I hired a car to take us shopping. Yes, shameful American that I am, I devoted a day in India to shopping. We were headed to a shop where we were told we could find authentic India handicrafts that was in an, as yet, unexplored part of the city. The driver took us there through a somewhat circuitous route that led us through several neighborhoods that we would never otherwise have seen. As our car snaked through streets barely wide enough for two little cars to pass each other, we watched the scene change from very middle class houses to a rather upscale section of town. We found the store we were looking for, but it turned out to be less about Indian handicraft and more about trendy boutique items. So we headed for our next stop … the mall. I can’t believe I’m admitting to going to a mall—but, hey, it’s a mall in India! In some ways, it was exactly like any mall in America, but in other ways, it was uniquely Indian. We indulged in espresso and the coffee shop, but we also discovered a great store that sold uniquely Indian items (“Fabindia”). I bought two kurtas—the long shirt with the high, banded collar—which was on my list of things to bring home. Expect to see me in one of them at the next Rogue opening night!

The show tonight was very special, in that Girish Karnad, the author of Naga Mandala was in the audience. I really wanted to do a good show for him and have it reflect well on Jagriti. I very much admire his writing and was very eager to share some of my (our) art with him, as well. The audience was delightful and was right with us throughout the whole show. In fact, I think it may have been our best performance in the entire run of this show (including Tucson). Focus was clear, concentration was good, memory was intact. It was one of those shows where I was able to stay in the moment for nearly the whole time. Of course, as an actor, one has fleeting thoughts of “What’s the next scene?” or “That didn’t work the same as the last show” kind of stuff, but I was able to let go of the self-analysis (for the most part) and just play the play. It was really, really gratifying to be able to ride the ride and not watch it from the third person point of view (does any of this make sense?). Mr. Karnad was extremely gracious and congratulated us warmly after the show. He’s promised to get together with us for lunch before we leave, which I really hope is possible. It’s such a joy to connect with other theatre people in the city (and country).

June 9, 2012

Today was the big day of our workshops (well, the first two, anyway). My workshop about creating a character through physicalization was first. I was actually quite nervous, not knowing who would be taking the class, what level of experience, and whether I had sufficiently prepared enough material to fill two hours. It was a very full session—twenty people—and I needn’t have worried. It was a delightful mix of actors, mostly twenty-somethings. We had a good time (as least I did) and I was really struck by how similar this group was to classes I have taught in the U.S. It’s kind of mind-boggling to discover first-hand that people are people the world over. They were a very willing group and jumped into the exercises and improvs with gusto. I feel like I was able to give them some tools for their work. I just wish I had the chance to stick around and see some of them in shows here in Bangalore in the future. The only dark spot of the workshop was that it was really a challenge to get their names in my head. The Indian accent is so unbelievably musical and elegant, but hearing names that I’ve never heard before and trying to remember them (I can’t remember American names, much less Indian ones) was well-nigh impossible. By the time we finished, I had one or two in my head but wish some more had stuck with me, simply as a matter of courtesy!

The show tonight was another delightful romp. I think this was our largest audience so far and they were as enthusiastic in their response as last night’s crowd. The show is really taking on a new life (at least for me) and feels so much more like a trip to the playground each night. I’m able to let go of some of the more forced sections in my delivery and just talk to the crowd and tell them Louis’ story. Having Patty on my right and Joe on my left makes it even more fun—like hanging out with your best pals and just jumping around and being goofy and having a really good time. Knowing that Cindy’s smiling face is in the audience gives me an added feeling of security, as well. It will be strange to not have her here for the last four shows.

After the shows, we come back to the apartment and just sit around the dining table and shoot the breeze, which has been an added joy of this trip—getting to know these delightful folks even better. I’m quite privileged to be sharing this experience with them all.

June 10, 2012

This was a birthday to be remembered the rest of my life–what a day! It was a two-performance day, so I was gearing up for that and the amount of energy that was to be expended in pulling that off. But first, I attended Patty’s workshop on economy of gesture in acting. Having gotten to know some of the participants from Joe and my workshops the previous day, I was eager to watch them at work with Patty, as well. Patty does a great workshop and I was thoroughly engrossed–not only watching the participants, but watching Patty, as well, and making mental notes for my classes back in Arizona. At about fifteen minutes into the class, she apologized and said that she really should have given them a vocal warm-up and started leading them through some exercises. At one point, without any prior instruction to the students, she started counting “5-6-7-8”–I thought, “What is she doing? I don’t understand.” All at once, twenty eager faces snapped toward me and broke into one of the most enthusiastic renditions of “Happy Birthday” I have ever heard. It was an incredible moment and I concentrated so hard on searing it into my brain so that I would remember it always. At one point, I wished that I had a video camera–the participants in the workshop were such open, good-natured, adventurous actors and to get that kind of warmth and–dare I say it?–love from them was one of my best birthday memories ever. By the way, the rest of the workshop was brilliant.

The first show was a nice, big crowd with some friends in the audience. There were lots and lots of young kids, which at first excited me until I realized that it dramatically changed the usual audience response. The crowd was much quieter than we were used to, especially for such a large crowd. Still, the show went off without any hitch. As the Japanese theatre artists say, we fought the good fight. Response to this performance was as enthusiastic as ever. The turnaround for the second show is quite quick and on both Sundays that we have done it, I have been a little bit scattered at the start of the second show. There were a couple of the actors from our workshop in the evening audience, which made it fun to perform–I love doing a show for someone I know; it gives me the extra oomph to get it right. The second show actually turned out to be even more fun than the first and I felt very proud, once again, to have accomplished the feat of two shipwrecks in one day.

After the show, we invited some of the wonderful folks from Jagriti to our apartment for drinks. It was the four Arizonans, Savitr (the percussionist/surgeon), Arundhati and Jagdish (directors of Jagriti), Vivek (manager of Jagriti) and Rebecca (education director). As we sat around our table, imbibing our various social lubricants, I kept thinking, “It just doesn’t get any better than this. Enjoying great conversations with new friends who just happen to live halfway around the world … and yet we all speak a common language.” Again, I was taking mental photos and burning them into my memory. I felt so privileged to be a part of such a human, momentous exchange; the conversation was very matter-of-fact and not-out-of-the-ordinary and yet, the communication was sublime. Vivek and Rebecca stayed longer than the others and we quizzed them about all things India; they quizzed us about American popular culture. Rebecca gave me some pointers about Bollywood gossip and the two of them wrote out some Indian film recommendations. I have become quite a fan of Indian cinema (yes, I said “cinema” and not “movies.” So there.) I went to bed overflowing with gratitude for this Bangalore experience and thanking the universe for allowing me the chance to experience it. I will continue to thank Joe and Cindy, as well, for as long as we are friends.

June 11, 2012

Another day off — yahoo! And a very special day off, as Arundhati and Jagdish took us to The Bangalore Club for lunch (but not before we stopped for some shopping). The Bangalore Club was built by the British–a colonial style enclave where they could gather, socialize and, I assume, discuss how to dominate an entire foreign culture. It is now an Indian club, and a beautiful and charming one at that. We were joined by Chandran, Patty’s friend from the Bay Area and the original impetus for this partnership between The Rogue and Jagriti (he was the producer of the run of “Happy Days” that Patty and Joe performed two years ago). Lunch was sublime (have I mentioned that I love Indian food?) and the conversation stimulating, as always. It is still kind of mind-boggling that we have found such kindred spirits here, halfway around the world. We were having coffee after lunch and the conversation swerved to a discussion of how we can keep this partnership alive and thriving. So exciting to think of having a place in India to come back to and feed our artistic souls. I told Cindy later that I truly feel like this is no longer a “once in a lifetime” experience; that I very much want to keep exploring this fascinating country and culture many times over. In fact, when we were shopping, Patty held up a box of tea and said, “We’d better stock up on this, because, you know, it could be a whole year before we’re able to buy any more!”

— David Morden

A Triumph!

You would have been so proud of The Rogue! We had 3 days of very small audiences (one night we only had 13!). David and Patty and Joe were wonderful throughout the week –  their professionalism and good natures were exceptional as they gave strong and delightful performances.  But performing for small audiences can be exhausting, putting all that energy out and getting very little back. Finally, on Friday, we had a large audience, among whom was Girish Karnad, India’s foremost playwright and popular film actor.  It was a great night – one of those perfect blends of the actors being completely in tune with the play, and the audience being completely in tune with the performance.  We had to stop for applause and laughter several times, and the crowd literally leapt to their feet at the end. I was so pleased – not just because it all went so well, but because it was a thrilling night of theatre.  Mr. Karnad sent this email today:
Dear Cindy,

     I need scarcely say how much I enjoyed ‘Shipwrecked’—-so imaginatively mounted, so sensitively acted. The ensemble creativity was just enchanting. My friend Chitra wants me to say she thought she was going to see a play for children—which she was enjoying enormously—and didn’t realize when and how she was led into existential problems about fact and fiction.
                The play still hovers  vividly in front of my eyes.
                        Fondest love,
We all enjoyed meeting the actors who participated in the workshops this weekend.  Here’s a photo of Patty’s wonderful workshop.

Participants in Patty’s workshop. (click for larger image)

A week left in India.  Much love to all!
— Cindy Meier