Neeraj Kabi
It is usually that one role in a film that can be career transforming for an actor. So it is probably with Neeraj Kabi who has come out as a winning actor in Anand Gandhi's film Ship of Theseus (2012). But long before the film, Neeraj Kabi has been acting on stage and has directed too. He started his theatre company Pravah in 1996, which is known to do a lot of physical and movement based theatre. Neeraj has also been a prolific trainer to aspiring actors and his group has been regularly conducting workshops. In an upcoming workshop, he partners with Dalip Sondhi, Director of the SDDS Education Group, Geraldine Cook, Associate Dean at the University of Melbourne's Victorian College of the Arts and Indian film actor Jugal Hansraj. Let's hear from Neeraj what he has to say about this workshop and of what it has to offer to its participants.

 By Deepa Punjani

Neeraj KabiDeepa Punjani (DP): You have been involved with theatre training for a long time. What will you be focussing on in this workshop?

Neeraj Kabi (NK): I will be conducting two full day sessions at this workshop with two groups of participants, one on each day. My focus would be to share the grammar that I am personally trying to research and evolve as an actor. It would be to explore a scientific technique towards the craft of acting, treating the space as a laboratory where we try to process information in a script or a character in multiple layers, experiencing each layer as we move on.

The idea is to develop the skill required to combine all the information in the final act. Therefore, the work would specifically deal with using the brain, breath patterns and personal experiences of the participants to find a way of expression in a scientific way.

We do not deal at all with imagination, reactions and improvisations in the technique that I am trying to work towards. The craft of the actor is to find the mind, body and voice of the character in order to reach the soul of the character he is playing, so that whatever he does or speaks thereafter would evolve on its own. This is the actor's joy of discovery.

DP: How do you warm up the participants for every new workshop that you start?

NK: I usually start with breath-body rhythm exercises to warm up and then shift immediately to breath - emotion exercises which are based on personal memories. This becomes a complete warm up of the entire apparatus of the actor. It is enjoyable and a quick way to become one with the space around you, the people you are working with and your own self. At other times, I warm up with very slow Kalaripayattu movements using breath.

DP: What are your core strengths as a workshop teacher/facilitator?

NK: My core strength as a workshop facilitator is my experience of it for 18 long years with a variety of age groups from all walks of life. I have worked a lot with children between 13 to 16 years of age. Using theatre as the base, I have conducted workshops for actors, animators, corporates, parents, schools, etc. I have been myself a practicing professional actor in theatre and Art-house films for a long time. I run a theatre company in Mumbai where I direct my own productions using urban actors and traditional Indian art forms to interpret global dramatic texts.

I am serious about my craft and I make sure that I give it to the participants with dignity, grace and discipline. They are made to realise that the craft of acting requires a scientific, methodical training and a life- long arduous culture of practice. I don't treat theatre pedagogy as fun or a space where you could just open up. To me it is about the immense joy of discovering this craft called Acting and realising how important a tool it is for human engagement and debate.

The very process of training to be an actor can be life - changing because it is about going deeper into understanding human relationships, human emotions and finally the causes of who we are today as a species. It can alter the very perspective with which you look at life and yourself. This is the respect I try to develop in the participants' minds about this art form and that probably is my strength.

DP: What are the three essential things participants must follow in the course of the workshop in order that they get the best out of the programme that has been planned?

NK: 1. Don't ever miss a session of the workshop whatever your reasons. Just arrive. Even if you are sick or unwell, come sit and watch the workshop. We'll make sure we provide you a nice cup of coffee to relax yourself with.

2. Sort out your lives and schedules much before the workshop begins so that you are there everyday physically and mentally. Even if there is a case of urgency elsewhere in your life, try and have the courage to give the workshop the first priority because such programs don't happen everyday. Learning anything comes at a cost, so be prepared to lose something if the need be.

3. Participate in the workshop like a child. Do everything told regardless of whether you like it or not. Come with an open mind everyday to learn. If you know something already, throw it out of the window and absorb everything like a sponge. You can never learn anything if you say ''I know''.

DP: What do you think that the participants will take away at the end of this particular workshop?

NK: The workshop that I will be conducting is based on the premise that acting does not necessarily require is a function of the brain and requires very advanced skills of processing multiple information at a particular moment in time through mind, breath, face, body and voice. The workshop trains you to see things as they are and at the same given moment react to it as well and ultimately respond to the situation within a given context. It is this orchestration of the sub-text, physical text, verbal text and the over- all context, that an actor strives for all his life.

This entire process is highly meditative in nature and can sometimes even transform the performer into higher levels of sensations and understanding which he ultimately needs to deliver to his audience. To be able to do all this one has to live a huge and engaging life, constantly exploring and experimenting with life itself. It requires a very deep understanding of human feelings and the human psyche. One is therefore pushed to break one's own patterns and live a life that is not about them but about human existence on earth. It is these philosophies with which the participant will leave the workshop so as to begin thinking along these lines to be able to hone his craft as an actor and be valuable.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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