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German Play Readings Programme
Das Schauspiel

Sapan Saran
© Sapan Saran

By Sapan Saran

In May 2018, Tamaasha Theatre kick-started ‘Das Schauspiel’ — an exclusively curated bi monthly programme of Dramatic Readings of contemporary German plays. The readings were led by some of Mumbai’s exciting young directors in collaboration with actors, musicians and designers, under the guidance of theatre-director Sunil Shanbag. We facilitated the mounting of 4 such readings: 

1. Simon Froehling’s ‘Going to the Sea - Play with Child’ (5 shows) 
Directed by Sukant Goel
 
2. Thomas Jonigk’s ‘You Shall Give Me Grandsons’ (5 shows) 
Directed by Sheena Khalid 

3. Roland Schimmelpfennig’s ‘Arabian Night’ (6 shows) 
Directed by Sapan Saran 

4. Sibylle Berg’s ‘Dog, Woman, Man’ (6 shows) 
Translated and Directed by Abhinav Grover 

Participants & Audiences 

In total, the programme saw the coming in of over 30 participants from the theatre community in Mumbai - directors, actors, musicians, designers, and technicians - and attracted an audience of 450+ ranging from young students and theatre enthusiasts to senior members of the community. Each performance was followed by an extended interaction with the audience in which both, the audiences as well as the makers participated with a remarkable degree of openness and enthusiasm. 

Methodology 

The first step of the process for us, at Tamaasha, was to shortlist play scripts which we thought could be undertaken as part of the programme. We then invited young directors to participate. They were offered one or two scripts to choose from. From there on, we were involved in facilitating the projects separately, in varying capacities. Wherever required, we helped them with contextualising the text, putting together a cast, and mentoring the process. 
The makers followed distinct yet interesting methodologies of approaching their texts and the settings these were situated in.
To summarise: 
Sukant Goel, in his reading of ‘Going to the Sea - Play with Child’, decided to stay with the original text, but interspersed it with video projections and stylised movement sequences. On the other hand, Sheena Khalid in ‘You Shall Give Me Grandsons’, did a ‘dramatised’ reading, adding ensemble movements in certain places but usually sticking to a more stationary format, by way of which an inherent emphasis was laid on the text. Sapan Saran’s ‘Arabian Night’ was an intricately staged, movement-oriented piece which, owing to the text’s dynamic spatial-temporal quality, worked a great deal on transforming the same stage set-up into many widely different and often absolutely unrelated spaces. Finally, Abhinav Grover went ahead to translate (into Hindi) and, to a large extent, adapt his text. The universality of ‘Dog, Woman, Man’ rendered itself to such auteurist liberties. 
Thus, one can say that none of the 4 makers approached their texts in the same or a similar fashion. 

Learnings & Possibilities 

Das Schauspiel has been an extremely interesting and enriching experience for all those involved. 

Director and Actor Responses: 

1. The directors, in these post-show discussions, almost unanimously talked about the new possibilities and ideas that these texts brought out, helping them rediscover and reinvent facets of their practice.

2. They spoke about the challenges posed by having to enter a text from a very different tradition and culture of theatre. A common observation was the difference in the way narratives were envisaged and structured in the German texts when compared to more familiar Indian modes. 

Our response as facilitators: 

1. For us, as facilitators, it has been very exciting to see the sheer variety in the assemblage put up in these performances. Certain patterns emerged in both contemporary German writing as well as the practices of theatre here in Bombay, today. These were sometimes embraced and cashed on, and often enough, the attempt was to deliberately break out of them. In that sense, the programme has been a thorough learning experience. 

2. The fact that these were to be performed readings and not fully realized productions meant less anxiety for the makers, and hence they were much more open to experimenting and stepping out of their comfort zones. For us this was a very important outcome as it encouraged young directors and actors to take creative risks. 

3. Our challenge was to find young directors willing to take on the texts and work on them with rigour and interest. We believe a sustained programme would be of great value, rather than a one-off. 

4. We were not fully satisfied with audience numbers at the readings, and need to find ways to generate greater audience interest, especially from the theatre community. The turn out at the Goethe Institut performances were disappointing. The fact that these shows are free may also be the reason why a section of the audience was less committed to the performances. 

5. A common response from audiences was that at least three out of four teams were able to go much beyond what is normally expected from a reading. We know how much effort these teams made, and we feel that this needs to be encouraged and supported both in terms of rehearsal space resources and financial support. 

Audience Responses: 

1. The performed readings opened up an entirely new yet somehow familiar style of theatre-making to audiences. 
2. Given that these were readings, audiences came prepared to experience something new and unconventional, and responded very favourably to being challenged.
3. Post-show discussions saw a sensitivity to cultural differences and the need to bridge different cultures through more such initiatives.
4. The readings have worked very well in theatre spaces such as the Drama School Mumbai, and the Prithvi Fringe (as a part of the Prithvi Theatre Festival 2018) where a more theatre-familiar audience, including several theatre-makers were able to experience the plays. For many of them this was their first experience of contemporary German texts.

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