CHENNAI: Some post-apocalyptic chai for you? Or flavoured water taken from the Cooum River? Are superhero stories your thing or bedtime stories maybe? Mythology or contemporary? Fantasy or reality? Love or lust? Are monologues your favourite? Or maybe ensembles do it for you? From Chennai to Australia, local and foreign, the finals of the Short and Sweet theatre festival had something to offer for each person in the audience.
From 70 plays that were staged through the course of July, 11 were chosen for the finals that happened over the weekend. As the sixth edition of the festival came to a close and winners walked away with their prizes, CE spoke to jury members and directors of the top plays to understand what goes into selecting the winners at the festival.
Mathivanan Rajendran, founder, Stray Factory, bagged the best director award for the play History Boys. Having participated in the festival for five editions as both actor and director, Mathivanan feels that the Short and Sweet Festival allows him to use a readymade platform that is marketed well to experiment with different forms of theatre and showcase what he likes to an audience that gives immediate feedback.
Concurs Sunil Vishnu, whose Song of Love or a boy, a girl and a song tied with The History Boys for best ensemble and best production. “A full length play is heavily dependent on time and cost factors. Here we have to focus only on creating content that strikes a chord with the audience. This is like the T20 version of theatre, a chance to bring in new talent, continuously innovate and make a new future for the art form,” says Sunil.
He had watched two editions of the festival before he decided to jump in and participate. “The 10-minute format is intriguing. It could feel like a constraint, but there’s so much to innovate in that time. It’s challenging to have to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end, in under 10 minutes,” he says. Tall Anu, Sunil’s directorial debut last year at the festival won the top prize. The script came about from a blog he chanced upon. He encouraged blogger Shruthi Parasuraman to convert 27 years of her life into a 10-minute script and his first devised play was born.
The writer-director duo decided to collaborate again this year to create an Indian musical in under 10 minutes. “I wanted to have singing, dancing and acting in the play. It was a new process for me going in reverse — we started with the music and then went on to do the choreography, costumes and design before we plotted the play. At the end we had discovered amazing new talent, put the usually shy musicians on stage, made more people join the actors fraternity and had lots of fun doing it,” says Sunil.
From the beginning of this festival, Mathivanan has had a winning streak at the festival, collaborating with different writers and actors each year. “I try to do something new every year, implementing what I learn and discover into the play I make. There’s one core idea that I take, something that resonates with the audience, and apply a different form to it each year, be it movement, street theatre, puppetry or platform. The challenge is in making these forms work for the audience,” he explains.
So is there a formula to make a winning play? “There are no points for trying with the audience,” says Mathivanan. “The play can be of any genre or format but it has got to be the best within that.” With a critical audience that uses the power of the vote, he feels that the play must connect to them. “Even serious plays can resonate with the audience; it’s not like comedies work every time. A play has got to have all three things — content that connects as otherwise its only a spectacle that is put on, actors who can sell it, and a director who takes it makes it their own.”
“There is no formula to win,” says Sunil. “The competition eggs the extra effort and energy from the actors. But the competition is healthy — the feedback one receives at the festival is huge. The competition also instils a sense of camaraderie that encourages everyone to improve their skill sets and put their best foot forward. With that, what’s to stop one from winning?”
(The writer is a columnist with The New Indian Express)