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Discover That's What I Learnt

That’s What I Learnt

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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!

Tushar Mathew

Tushar Mathew is an actor-creator and teaching artist. He co-founded the Otherland Theatre Ensemble in 2018, with whom he has created and performed two original shows: Eli and The Bear which toured to the California State Summer School for the Arts in L.A. in early 2018, and Forgive us, Gustavito; which won “Best of Fringe” at the Charm City Fringe Festival in Baltimore later that year. Tushar is currently based in Bengaluru where he is teaching remotely at the Drama School Mumbai, co-creating A Zoom Call Re: Birds, teaching 7th and 8th graders about climate change, and continuing to develop his solo show A Good Neighbour. He can be found on instagram on @tusharmathew

A still from Tushar’s original solo show 'A Good Neighbour'. Photograph by Vijayan Gunasekaran
1. What convinced you that you needed to study theatre formally?
I developed an interest in theatre pretty late in the game. A couple of years into the college theatre scene and I had inadvertently swapped classes with rehearsals. I attended my first theatre workshop in 2010 — the Intensive Drama Program organized by Theatre Professionals Pvt Ltd 1 . It was a formal introduction to different pedagogies via different theatre teachers. I found myself in a room full of really inspiring actors and theatre-makers. The rigor, exercises, perspectives, and structure had an immediate effect on me. It began to shape my work ethic, my imagination, and my creative voice.
I continued attending more workshops over the next year and when the Drama School Mumbai opened its doors in 2013 offering a year-long program, I didn’t think twice.
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2. Once you had finished the course at the Drama School Mumbai 2 (DSM), how did you make the decision to study further?
As a student at DSM I kept running into many self-constructed walls and it was only towards the end of the program where I felt like I was finally beginning to find joy in the work and transform as an actor and theatre-maker. When the program ended, I had a gut feeling that I needed to study more: specifically physical theatre. Life circumstances and my financial situation were such that it was the perfect time to go study abroad if I wanted to follow that route.
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3. What was the application/audition process for Dell’Arte International 3 like?
I remember the process being quite straightforward. I had to submit a statement of purpose, three recommendation letters, and make an audition video that told them my life story and included a movement sequence, a couple of monologues, and a song. Because I was an international student, I qualified for a scholarship from the school, which I ended up receiving and splitting in half with another international student.
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4. How did you select your course? Were there any others you seriously considered?
I was aware of Dell’Arte International (DAI) because two of my teachers from DSM, Deepal and Kathryn Doshi are graduates. A few weeks after I completed the program at DSM, I spoke with Deepal and mentioned I was looking up physical theatre schools, the usual suspects in particular – Lecoq 4 , LISPA 5 , LAMDA 6. Deepal then spent about half an hour giving me an in-depth breakdown of the MFA7 program at Dell’Arte, which I hadn’t yet looked into. After that conversation on the benches outside Prithvi Theatre, I was 80% convinced. I did some of my own research, and the fact that it was an ensemble-driven program for actor creators i.e. actors who wanted to make their own work, had a focus on community-based work, and was located in the middle of nowhere in the heart of the redwood forests were all things that spoke to me and my needs at the time.
A still from the 1st-Year Carlo Finals. Photograph courtesy DAI
5. What’s a lesson/learning from your course that you continue to use frequently in your current work
  • Embrace the unknown especially when it is uncomfortable.
  • I don’t have all the answers. Listen to the others in the room.
  • Acknowledge and admit (meaning both, confess, and allow in) what is present and actually happening, not what you wish were happening.
  • Play fully, don’t be tired, and don’t be a bully.
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6. Any major off-campus learnings that you’d like to share (through working in the city, watching plays, mixing with a new culture etc)?
I think my experience was unique since DAI (Dell’Arte International) is located in a town that has a population of around a thousand people. My biggest takeaway from the 5 years that I spent there is how fulfilling, and soul-nourishing it is to be a part of a community and to know your neighbors. It gave me an insight into how the theatre can be the soul of the community: can listen, house, and tell their stories.
The students of Dell'Arte International in the academic year 2016-17. Photograph courtesy DAI
7. Were you able to find theatre work while abroad? What was that like?
I got a job at DAI itself as the Marketing Director and an Instructor as soon as I graduated. I co-taught games and sports and the adaptation project. Working at a theatre school/company was extremely instructional. It clarified my principles and reiterated a lot of what I had learned as a student.
What was appealing about the programs at both DSM and DAI was the prospect of becoming self-sufficient (which has now become a national motto). I had stories to tell and I wanted to be equipped to tell them. So for the two years after I graduated I consistently made my own work. This included forming the Otherland Theatre Ensemble with my ensemble members and colleagues. I performed shows around the USA, at fringe festivals, I taught and shared work at theatre conferences and met some incredible artists.
The one major drawback to working in the US was that my visa was tied to DAI. So I couldn’t get another full-time or part-time job anywhere else because that would put my visa status in jeopardy. That made me feel a little restricted and like my options were limited, which they were.
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A still from the Annual 1st-Year Commedia dell'Arte show. Photograph courtesy DAI
8. What were some of the steps you took to re-integrate with the local theatre scene when you returned to India?
I came back to India in August 2019. I had no desire to move to a big city and I wanted to continue studying Kalaripayuttu (which I had studied intermittently in the past) so I moved to Auroville and began attending Kalari classes. I created and performed two original shows while I was there and moved to Bangalore in March 2020 to continue developing and performing the second show – a solo-storytelling performance designed to be performed in people’s living rooms. I had set up some showings in Bangalore and some in Mumbai and then the world turned upside down.
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It’s been “interesting” arriving in a new city at the start of a lockdown. The first couple of months were a little isolating and I quickly realized that I needed to shift perspective a little bit in terms of how I wanted to continue creating and pursuing things that I found inspiring and exciting. Reaching out to the DSM community was very helpful and allowed me to kickstart conversations and projects that are now underway.
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9.  A book/play/speech you’d like to recommend to theatre aspirants?
Read “The Irresistible Beauty of All Things” by Federico Garcia Lorca.
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The last paragraph is especially potent:
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The mission of the poet is just that – to give life (animar), in the exact sense of the word: to give soul. Because I am a true poet, and will remain so until my death, I will never stop flagellating myself with the disciplines, and never give up hope that someday my body will run with green or yellow blood. Anything is better than to remain seated in the window looking out on the same landscape. The light of any poet is contradiction. I haven’t tried to force my position on anyone – that would be unworthy of poetry. Poetry doesn’t need skilled practitioners, she needs lovers, and she lays down brambles and shards of glass for the hands that search for her with love.
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  1. Theatre Professionals Pvt Ltd – An organisation by theatre practitioners collaborating to bring the transformational power of drama into everyone’s lives. They are also the founders of the Drama School Mumbai.
  2. Drama School Mumbai – A full time One Year Post Graduate Diploma Course based in the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh
  3. Dell’Arte International – The Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre is based in North California offering a one-year diploma and a full time MFA.
  4.  Lecoq – ‘L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq’ is a school of physical theatre in Paris, founded by Jacques Lecoq, focusing on study of improvisation and movement. They offer a two year course as well as workshops and evening classes.
  5. LISPA – The London International School of Performing Arts (now known as Arthaus Berlin) offers MA and MFA programmes in dramaturgy and devising practice.
  6. LAMDA – The London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art offers courses in acting, directing, production and technical arts.
  7. MFA – Master of Fine Arts; usually a degree that focuses on professional practise besides theory.

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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