That first time you stood in the wings waiting for the third bell or tensely chewed your nails watching the audience file into the theatre; that first sound of applause; that first time when an industry stalwart came backstage and shook your hand; that first tour to another city with your team; that first time you actually got paid for your work….these precious moments and many more stay etched in your memory forever. The masti, the friendships, the sudden feeling of self-worth as if you have finally arrived. That creative high of your first professional experience.
Thespo understands this better than anyone. For they have, over the years, given artists and theatre makers that final push from where so many have deep dived into the profession. So, what better way to celebrate their 22 years than a series of 22 heart-warming and nostalgic chapters from the life stories of a range of theatre professionals… handpicked by Thespo from across the Indian theatre spectrum.
The First Chapter asks each of them a very simple question – “Tell us about your first ever professional theatre experience?” From there unravel stories of joy and inspiration, struggles and triumphs. And that one thing that ties them all, young and old, together – the incredibly contagious spirit of theatre.
Ft KALKI KOECHLIN
My action triggered my dialogues
Kalki Koechlin is no stranger to the world of theatre. She made her debut as a director with The Living Room and went on to co-write Skeleton Woman. The latter got her the MetroPlus Playwright Award.
I was so exhilarated by this opportunity to pick her brain about some of the questions I had prepared, that I jumped right in!
What was your first ever professional theatre experience?
“The first ever professional play was David Hare’s The Blue Room in 2005. It was directed by Crispin Levy. I was still a student at Goldsmiths, University of London, at the time. It was an incredible experience that showcased at the Brockwell Lido.”
“While I was studying in London I worked for a local theatre group, Theatre of Relativity. Apart from The Blue Room, I acted in Marivaux’s The Dispute and wrote Rise of the Wild Hunt. It was immediately after this that I decided to move back to India and explore my craft further.
What was your most memorable experience from The Blue Room?
“There is a scene in the play where my co-actor needed to light his cigarette. The matchbox that he needed to use to light it, refused to work. And when we made eye contact it wasn’t our characters laughing at all. We broke into genuine laughter as actors.”
When did you decide to seriously focus on acting for the theatre?
“The theatre is something that has always been a part of my life. I was drawn to it from a very young age and found myself studying it before I even realised that it was where my passion lay. I’ve been working in the theatre since I turned 18. As I have mentioned several times while working, theatre really is an Actors Playground.”
What about screen acting? How did that happen?
“My screen acting career began in 2007 when I decided to come to Bombay. While I was still a struggling student in London, I did quite a few odd jobs to pay for my fees and living expenses. It was during this time that I was introduced to Bollywood films. I had done a very small cameo for a film titled ICU. My first film was Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and my first major film where I had a substantial role was Dev D.”
According to you, what are the key differences in your preparation for a character portrayed on screen and on stage?
“They’re totally different. The stage is a collaborative ensemble-centric process. The body in relation to the space and other actors is key. It is a continuous process of exploration and repetition that is done with your company. Being part of the theatre is an all-consuming process. It takes over your mind, body and soul while extending an arm to the ensemble, welcoming them to add to the spectacle.”
“On screen it’s a more personal journey. As an actor one needs to figure out the subtle nuances, intricacies and minute details of the character in order to manoeuver the graph of the film to one’s advantage. More often than not we do not follow a linear trajectory of shooting and it is essential to be able to deliver the best version of the character regardless of the excerpt picked to be shot.”
“I guess something that they both have in common is rehearsal and warming up before a performance.”
Is there a stage production you’d love to be a part of?
“I’d love to work with the UK theatre company Complicité, I think they make some of the most exciting work in the world. It would be a dream to be able to work in something as movement oriented as their plays and with the accompaniment of their surrealist imagery…amazing! A lot of their work is inspired from the work of Lecoq, which is just another reason in the mix for me to work with them.
In India I look forward to an opportunity where I work with Naseeruddin Shah again. This time around I would want to be directed by him.”
What started the journey into the world of theatre for you?
“Being a flower, a sheep, miming a giant peach, a choir voice, Titania and many other such experiences sculpted my dreams of the theatre. Basically, the experience of crossing physical boundaries and using my imagination.
All of this in combination lured me to the stage and I have never stopped since. Like I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t a conscious decision that I had taken to start. I had a very gradual transition into the world of theatre while growing up. It came to me quite naturally because of how fond of it I was.”
I am honoured to have had this opportunity to ask Kalki about how her journey began. The answers are inspiring and have only motivated me further to nourish my craft. The next three questions are my favourite part of this interview as it allows our featured guest to reveal something they may not have spoken about before.
- Your most nervous moment in the Theatre?
“MANY! Before every new production, my stomach goes for a toss. I’m unable to be still. There is one particularly haunting experience during a show of Skeleton Woman. The show was directed by Nayantara Kotian and my cast mate was Prashant Prakash. I have to admit that it has probably been one of my most challenging performances as I’m there in every scene of the play. The most nervous moment was going blank on a show day. I remember taking my exit into the wings having no idea of what was about to happen next. It was only when the stage hand put a prop in my hand that my action triggered the dialogue.”
2. Your fondest memory of the theatre?
“The opening night of The Living Room at Rangsharda Auditorium. I remember the feeling of calm that took over knowing that it was all up to the actors from that point forward. I could just sit back and really enjoy the show.”
3. Is there something that you do specifically on show day?
“Switch off my phone and sing in the shower before a performance.”
“Theatre has survived pandemics throughout history. There’s a need for human beings to gather and have a collective experience together. Keep finding ways to make money and make ends meet, but know that theatre will be waiting whenever you are ready and able.”