The rise of the solo performers
While solo performers have existed forever, the world of theatre has, in the recent times, seen a tremendous rise in the number of people who are opting to perform by themselves
The fact that theatre evolves every single day is not something new. If you are an avid lover of the art form, it is hard to miss the fact that the kind of plays being staged now are different than those that were being performed a few months ago. Apart from being more content driven and experimental in nature, not only is the treatment of these plays different but it is soon becoming a ‘one man show’ too. It has moved from a time when people would dramatize the art of story-telling to make it look theatrical to actually performing plays that have been written for just one person. While it definitely has a lot to do with convenience and time constraint, it is also about having the freedom to interpret and express stories and scripts differently with each performance and every artist. TGS spoke to a four theatre artists to find out how different it is to be the only one on stage. They told us about the challenges they face, advantages of being solo artists and how they were attracted to the art form to begin with.
Falling in love with theatre
Her father used to do theatre in Baramati, which is her native place. As a child, Sushama Deshpande would love to attend the rehearsals and with every play her interest only grew. There was this one time when her father could not find anyone to play the role of a girl for one of his plays and he decided to cast his own daughter. Acting and being on stage be it when she was in school, college or even after that soon enough became routine for her. Till date, although she has done innumerable plays, Vhya Mi Saitribai and Tichya Aaichi Gosht Arthat Majhya Aathvanichi Fad are her only two solo plays.
For Aarti Tiwari, Omkar Govardhan and Mahindra Walunj, theatre became a part of their lives much later on. It was either during their school or college days that they took part in plays and fell in love with being on stage. Participating in competitions like the Purushottam Karandak and Firodiya Karandak got Aarti hooked. Just one solo play old, she has already done 14 shows of Mansha Ki Shaadi across Pune, Sidhi, Amboli, Kolkata and Nashik.
“Theatre is a powerful medium for expressing ideas. It is also a way for me to escape everyday life and enter a new world where I can express myself in anunrestrained manner. It gives people a sense of community and belongingness. It is a powerful medium for exposing problems and this power has always attracted me towards it,” she says.
Omkar who has performed several recitations over the last 12 years since he has been doing theatre and has also performed the much acclaimed play Mahadevbhai, produced by Aasakta theatre group. He is the first from his family to venture into this field and, just like Aarti, loves that it gives him the chance to explore and express himself.
Mahindra has done the solo plays Shilak and Upasha which are also a part of Aasakta theatre group and says, “Doing solo plays and theatre more importantly changed me considerably. It brought in a lot more confidence and over time my knowledge of the medium has grown tremendously.” Along with doing theatre he is also working as a printing supervisor with Aay’s advertising at the moment.
The good and the bad
The biggest challenge doing a solo play, all the artists tell us, is to capture the attention of the audience by yourself and holding it for the entire play. “While any and every play is difficult as there are many angles and technical factors to consider, being the only one on the stage comes with an added responsibility. If you make any mistake there is no one to cover up for you or draw the audience’s attention away from you and this is the biggest challenge,” tells us Sushama.
“When I started off doing solo plays in 1989 there was a lot of discussion about it and that’s when I realised that I had done something different. Till then most of the solos were done to only make the audiences laugh and so bordered along the lines of stand-up comedy rather than it being theatre,” she adds.
Agreeing with her, Aarti also feels that getting everything perfectly right from the script to the set design, lighting design, and all the other aspects of the play, in solo performances is the actor’s job. While this can be tiring, it is a fun process too. Talking of the advantages, she loves the fact that when you do solo plays you get the opportunity to read and research on different and complex topics and interpret it in the way you understand it.
The first few minutes is what makes or breaks a solo performance believes, Mahindra. If you aren’t able to grasp your audience’s attention in the beginning there is nothing else that will get them interested again as you will be the only one on the stage throughout and this is the biggest challenge for him personally. On the other hand the fact that it is extremely flexible and can be performed absolutely anywhere is what he likes about it.
There are two types of solo performances, explains Omkar. One is of the intense kind where there is no involvement of the audience and this makes performing it relatively easier. The second kind is where communication with the audience is vital and this is a true test of the artist’s capability. “There is a lot of freedom in terms of expression when one is doing a solo play. But this can be dangerous too. When there are more people you tend to take cues from each other and complete the performance to pack a proper punch. With solo plays, this is not possible and that makes it challenging enough,” he tells us. The performer must know how to use the freedom he has in just the right places and not overdo it, he adds.
The fact that they don’t have to squabble over rehearsal timings and can perform almost anywhere, is something that is attracting artists to solo plays in huge numbers. Competitions that are arranged almost every other month also encourage these artists.
Originally published on The Golden Sparrow