Theatre: Vidushi Mehra & Neil Bhoopalam Decode The Dynamics of Live Performances

The world of theatre is ever evolving and the dynamics of the stage free flowing, allied towards a solitary goal – encapsulating the audience in an engaging experience. However, the thrill of live performances come paired with unforeseen challenges that could force an act to nosedive in the absence of quick-wit spontaneity. Unveiling the alchemy of theatre, we get talking to two versatile artistsVidushi Mehra and Neil Bhoopalam – to decode the spirit of these real-time productions.

Woven from the same fabric, dramatic arts, yet poles apart; theatre and cinema are strikingly divergent. “The experience is as different as eating an ice-cream at a diner and devouring a decadent cake at a topnotch restaurant,” shares actor of Moh Maya Money fame, Vidushi Mehra. “They exist on vastly distinct scales. Cinema is so large, it’s imprinted on every cell of our being. Whereas, theatre is much smaller,” adds Mehra, having delivered ace performances in both. The small scale also gives it ingenuity and a limited audience allows more intimacy than the brimming movie halls. Known in Delhi for pushing the boundaries of theatre with performances like Lives Of Others and Skylight, Mehra observes,“The resources involved, the essence of storytelling displayed through live performances, and the dynamic between artists and theatregoers, ensure this chasm.”

Neil Bhoopalam, theatre, television, and film actor, shares “In motion picture, the scenes are fragmented and every fragment consists of four to five shots captured with different cameras, lens, and angles.” However, the stage allows you only one take, “Theatre’s like running a marathon and we end up getting benefits of the workout, but it’s a different format than sprinting (films),” adds Bhoopalam, known for his work in NH10, Shaitan, and Indian adaptation of the hit TV series, 24. In theatre, the hard work lies behind the curtains with rehearsals per diem, spanning over months to ensure the live performance is polished and superlative, “It’s the everyday sessions that gives you the confidence to pull everything together in a two-hour show,” shares Bhoopalam in this DSSC exclusive.

However, theatre’s pivotal component, audience interaction is what chiefly sets the tone apart. The eligibility to gauge the effect of a performance and adapt according to reactions is key for the process. Though engulfing the patrons into the story is no easy feat, “You require extreme focus, attention, and empathy. You’re not just there to showcase your skill & craft, you’re also entertaining,” shares Mehra. The dynamic evolves through the course of the performance and the actors constantly work off the energy from the audience, “When people start crying or laughing, you have to build on that and create something for the next scene,” adds Mehra. Howbeit, the weight of the performance isn’t solely on the troupers. Audience distractions, like Instagramming, switching seats, and chatter, are sadly now part of the package. As Bhoopalam points out, “Mid-scene you’ll see four or five faces light up, it’s so rude! At that moment all I see is either you’re not interested, I’m doing something wrong, or you’re simply addicted to your phone.”

Image: OddBird Theatre & Foundation; Skylight Cast (Left to Right) – Danish Sood, Samar Sarila, Vidushi Mehra

Public disturbance is a drop in the sea of distractions, for the dynamics of live stage go way beyond it. Sharing an experience that unveils the high-octane world of theatre, Mehra recalls, “During the preview of Skylight at OddBird last December, we had a live set with a functional kitchen. The act involved cooking & washing and everything was proceeding smoothly, that is, until the pipe burst and flooded the stage! My co-star, Samar Sarila, walked in on stage and was left perplexed. I had to improvise and an instant proclamation of ‘I’m sorry, look the pipe burst’ made it appear as that’s how we formulated it.” While the constant mopping and movement of furniture that followed, temporarily set off their delivery, the malfunction was nowhere to be mentioned in the stellar press reviews. In stagecraft, the juggle is constant as you’re always susceptible to a curve ball coming your way. Confidence ensures you don’t butcher your piece and the right motivation is key to keep you going, “I don’t want to do the scene well simply for personal appreciation, I take it as my responsibility to deliver and entertain,” shares Bhoopalam in this DSSC exclusive.

Image: NIN9Studios; Neil Bhoopalam in Hamlet, The Clown Prince

Upping the ante with previews, trailers, and social media buzz to create a momentum, theatre has witnessed an added boost of visibility in recent times. “Once you have the right ingredients and you market it right, theatre can be a commercially viable property,” says Mehra. The evolution hasn’t been limited to fiscal growth, for experimental theatre is now gaining velocity in India. “People who come for immersive theatre experiences, well know what they’re getting themselves into. It’s a live space and the audience is doing a lot more work than us, by buying into the illusion,” professes Bhoopalam. Reminiscing about the earlier times when street theatre was as immersive as an experience got, the gent, who graces the stage as a clown in Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet, The Clown Prince, adds, “Once, before a street performance in Worli, I hit the roads dressed as a clown and just stood in front of people with my arms open. They needed to come to me. I didn’t talk at all and I didn’t intrude in their space. I got six to seven hugs that day, as a clown! Manoranjan is the biggest national art. Human beings love to see people perform.”

Camaraderie is theatre’s curtained weapon and Mehra supports the stance, “You’re never a lone shark up on the stage, even in a monologue.” Be it amongst co-actors, lighting manager, costume designer, or audience, the curtains drape immense trust and faith. As we discuss the gamut of theatre performances now gracing #OurCity, the two artists who shared celluloid time in No One Killed Jessica, part with the thought that theatre is an art form integral to society and will continue to be.

We look forward to watching Neil Bhoopalam take the stage once again this August 25 in the ace play, Hamlet, The Clown Prince and Vidushi Mehra’s upcoming projects (wait for it, you know your sneak peek will be here).

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