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Discover That's What I Learnt

That’s What I Learnt ft Trupti Khamkar

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Are you a theatre artist who strives to be better at your craft? Have you considered studying in a full-time theatre course? Do you find the process of researching universities stressful? Do the options seem too many or too few? Do you question if it is even worth it? Would you like some help making these difficult decisions?

Aadyam’s got your back!

That’s What I Learnt is a series of interviews with theatre artists from across India who have studied full time theatre courses in India and abroad. They share their experiences, the highs and lows, what they wished they knew and what they know now.

The series has been compiled by me, Meghana AT, an actor/writer/production manager who worked in Mumbai’s theatre scene for 6 years before moving to Prague to study a very unique theatre course. For the two years that I was seriously considering taking up this course, I changed my mind a thousand times. Everyone had an opinion on whether I should study at all, if this course was the one for me, how I should finance it, whether I should stay abroad or return to Mumbai. At the end of the day, it was a decision I had to make myself, but I wouldn’t have been able to manage without the advice of the many theatre professionals who were kind enough to help me. I hope this series can offer some insight to other people who are in the position I was once in.

We hope that reading these experiences will help you navigate this next stage of your career! Good luck!

Trupti Khamkar

Trupti Khamkar is a theatre artist who has worked in different mediums, in different languages, around the globe. She is the only actor to have performed in 3 different languages at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (Hindi, Gujarati and Burmese).

She has also worked as a stand up comic, and collaborated with podcasts and shows such as ‘Golgappa’ and ‘BhaDiPa’. Her filmography includes White Tiger (upcoming), Beecham House, Smile Please, Saand Ki Aankh and Tumhari Sulu. Her notable theatre work includes performances in ‘Mother Courage and her Children’ and ‘Piya Behrupiya’.

She can be found on @actortrupti on instagram

Picture taken by Sanket Mhatre

1.What convinced you that you needed to study theatre formally?
While I was in my undergraduate programme, I began to take part in intercollegiate theatre. At the time I was lucky to work in Andha Yug directed by Nirmal Pandey, which was selected for Bharangam 2001 (Bharat Rang Mahostav 1). That was my first time going to the National School of Drama. Seeing the set-up there I immediately felt like I wanted to be a part of this. As an actor you instinctively devise tricks and methods that help you, such as sense memory or “what-if?”. But in that process I found out that these methods have been theorised and formalised by many others before me. That made me want to learn more, because I realised there are these systems of knowledge in place and I was eager to learn more about them and build a strong foundation.

Started in  1999, Bharat Rang Mahotsav is a theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama, Delhi. The performers are theatre practitioners from across India.

A still from Andha Yug, directed by Nirmal Pandey, performed at BhaRangam
A still from Andha Yug, directed by Nirmal Pandey, performed at BhaRangam

2.What was the audition/application process like?
I was part of the first batch of the Academy of Theatre Arts in Mumbai University. I found out about it from an ad in the paper, and had to pass an entrance exam that included questions like “why do you want to do theatre?” and “write an analysis of any play”. Once I passed this exam, I had to do an audition comprising an interview with the staff, two monologues (in two different languages), and a song.

3.What is something you wish you had known before you had started studying theatre?
I wish I had known about the existence of other colleges outside India, and that scholarships exist for some of these art courses. I would maybe have chosen to study something more concrete, like physical theatre or clowning.
I didn’t really come from an artistic background, so I didn’t have the slightest clue about the range of options. That being said, I don’t regret choosing the course I did. I just wish we could raise awareness about such opportunities for everyone.

A still from Mother Courage and her Children, directed by Quasar, performed at Aadyam in 2017.

4.How did you choose your course? Were there any others you seriously considered?
When I finished my Bachelor’s in Management, my typically middle-class Marathi parents were keen for me to do an MBA. I made a deal with them, that I would write the exam, and join an IIM if I got in. If not, I’d like to take a break and apply for NSD2 (which was the only option I really know about). By random luck, the very year that I graduated the Mumbai University course was founded. It kind of felt like destiny! It was great because I could continue to live in Mumbai and work on the side. I do think the quality of this course has gone down over the years.

5.What’s a lesson/learning from your course that you continue to use frequently in your current work?
I think rather than one-time-learning, theatre courses are about training, and that is a process that has to continue. Even now, I do an intensive workshop every year. I couldn’t pick out one particular thing I held on to, because I feel that I imbibed a lot from every lesson, that I have held on to in some way or another. Now that it’s been 15 years since I finished that course, at times I don’t even realise I am consciously using a method from this ‘kitty’ of tools I picked up, until I begin talking about it with a co-actor. It kind of feels like a power-bank of knowledge that can re-charge you from time to time.
The National School of Drama is the only government funded central theatre institute in India. The oldest campus is in Delhi, and it has centres in Bengaluru, Sikkim, Varanasi, and Tripura.

A rehearsal-still from Piya Behrupiya.

6.Were you able to work (in theatre or otherwise) during your course?
The course was quite demanding; at one point we had 21 directors doing classroom productions, and I had a role in all. Over those two years I must have done around 40-50 one act plays in addition to 3 full length plays. Additionally, since I was from Mumbai, I knew people from the community, so I was able to get some theatre work from time to time. This included set design and lighting for other shows. I was extremely busy but I wouldn’t really advise that. I think if you spend all day learning in class and then go home and reflect on what you’ve done that day, and soak in those experiences, you can make the most of your course.

7.Did your course help you in getting work? (through networks, through insights into the auditioning process etc)
Unfortunately, no! I had some work through contacts I had made on my own, and that got me more work and that just kept circling and growing. That being said, it makes a difference to be a trained actor; it makes you stand out and thus get better jobs. No one really cares whether you have a degree or not, it’s more about the skill that the degree can get you. If a degree mattered I’d be the next Dame Judi Dench of this industry!

The cast of Mother Courage and her Children, in a pre-show huddle.

8.Could you recommend a book/essay/speech for theatre aspirants?
For Marathi readers I recommend Vachik Abhinay by Dr Shriram Lagoo. Climbing the Mountain by John Britton was really beautiful. The thing that worked in my favour was to create my own understanding of these theories. Whatever you read, it’s best to then adapt it for yourself and make it your own.

Theatre Ink

Notes

  1. Bharat Rang Mahostav – Started in  1999, Bharat Rang Mahotsav is a theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama, Delhi. The performers are theatre practitioners from across India.
  2. NSD – The National School of Drama is the only government funded central theatre institute in India. The oldest campus is in Delhi, and it has centres in Bengaluru, Sikkim, Varanasi, and Tripura.

About Meghana AT

Meghana AT is an actor/writer/production manager from Mumbai, currently based in Prague. She’s worked with theatre makers like Mahesh Dattani, Quasar, Faezeh Jalali, Trishla Patel, Rehaan Engineer and others. She is the author of two solo shows, ‘Plan B/C/D/E’ and ‘The Art of Crying’. She is soon to finish her Master’s in Authorial Acting and Pedagogy at The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.

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