Why I decided to create a Drama School

Posted By: Jehan Manekshaw|Dated: May 20, 2013

After studying Theatre Direction in London, Jehan Manekshaw returned to India in search of a purpose. A few years later, he is bringing world standards to theater in India. This July he and his team are starting Mumbai’s first full-fledged Drama School. Jehan is an example of the ethos and pedagogy that infuses his school: in order to work in the performing arts, one must not just be an actor but a theatre-maker—an actor-creator-entrepreneur.

You perform and make theatre every day. An hour of working to creating small performance pieces that you present to the faculty every week. DSM’s Performance Lab provides for continuous application of training, you learn, by doing. Always. Listen to one of our participants talk about how they learn from the Performance Lab.

Enter Jehan.

One of the most difficult days in my life had to be the day I boarded an Air India flight from London back to Delhi. I had just finished a two year course Training as a theatre director and producer, and spent the additional work experience year on my visa doing two things: making theatre in an environment full of actors, technicians, producers, whom I could collaborate effectively and to great result with, using the skills I had learned in college; and, interviewing at a thousand jobs in the Theatre to see if one of them would convert to a job, and a more importantly, a work-permit so I could spend my time in this rich environment of professional theatrical practice.

Dance School

I was distraught. I had spent the 8 of the last 10 years of my life in the UK and US, studying and working in places where professional practice and a sector existed. I had no idea how my MFA and BA in theatre direction were every going to translate into a career back home in India. Where the notion of “creative industries” was unheard of. It took me some time to come to terms with my new reality, but having got over my unhappiness (and to some extent, my own perceptions about myself), I started to look around, to see what it was exactly that I could do.

After touring to meet a number of companies, and talking to many people, I realized, that there was actually an extremely rich vein of theatre practice across the country, and in terms of content, depth of practice, ability, India had it all. It’s just that it all existed in isolated pockets of practice, at best, you could say Theatre as a sector, existed like a cottage industry, its ‘fairs’ being the three or four major theatre festivals each year, at which the same plays by the same companies were being seen. Its best practices, lay behind the walls of institutions, that, while doing good work, were inaccessible to many, for example, the National School of Drama, which has 25 seats a year, and caters to regional quotas (being the nations premier institution).

In the meantime, in the city itself, there were a multitude of performers and actors, and people who love and want to do theatre. (Drama incidentally comes from the Latin, Dram, drm; it means “to do”).  These people were creating work, either on the stages of Prithvi, the NCPA, or through vernacular companies, all of whom picked up what little they could, through workshops by local actors, or learnt by getting cast in amateur plays, and gleaning what they could from either their directors, or the more seasonedactors around them.

We needed a new platform, upon which to hone skills, pick up the rigor, focus, and commitment, which is required when learning the craft of acting, and could deliver learning in a structured manner in line with the more evolved pedagogical methods of the west.  But, it wasn’t simply about creating this space for formal training in acting and theatre making to fulfill this need.  It was also creating a School, which would call upon these rich practices that existed across the country, and create a platform in which knowledge dissemination, using methods and techniques from Kallari, Koodiyattom, and Manipuri could co-exist with Greek Chorus, Stanislavsky, and Commedia. A place where actors could, through exploration and tutelage in all these forms, not develop a mastery of them (that takes a lifetime), but absorb the fundamental principals, and through experiencing them evolve a new, contemporary understanding of the fundamental tools of the actor, conditioning of the breath and voice, use of the body, and the imagination.

But is it enough to create an actor? I don’t think so; the last thing a school should create is the out-of-work actor. It’s important to create theatre-makers as well. So while you can keep struggling to look for a job, under a director or get cast in a film, you also have the ability to make your own theatre.  That’s where the joy of theatre lies, its to revel in the act of creation, the act of storytelling, its about having something to say about something you believe in, and having a burning need to share it with the world, your audience, (in a manner that entertains, absorbs and involves them).  It’s important, that any one who is studying performance, is also empowered and enabled to be the authors of their own work.

Drama school

And is it enough to create the actor-creator? Especially if they are going to have this formal training, and the sensibilities of a creator? To then be cast into a sector which I characterized at the top of this as being a cottage industry? This is why, any Drama School in India today, needs to also cultivate the entrepreneurial frame of mind. To understand what it takes to produce something, market something, imagine an idea and create a workable plan that will evolve from an idea in their heads of what kind of sector they want to work in, and to confidently embark on this ultimate act of creating something where nothing existed before.  When Tasneem Fatehi and I created Theatre Professionals in 2008, it was with an aim to do exactly this for ourselves, create a space in which we could be professional Theatre Practitioners, and earn a living from Theatre in whatever way imaginable. Its been a great journey where we now have Drama instructors who earn a living teaching Drama in 22 Schools, directors and choreographers who work on annual day productions in schools, facilitators for corporate workshops, and a team of professional faculty from across the country, regularly conducting training for actors (this year, we embark on creation our own productions as well, two of them, through the school). All of our team work in the Theatre, earn a living from the theatre, and consider themselves theatre professionals. There are now 40 of us, and we live, breath, dream Theatre.  There are so many sectors that have formalized, organized and become professional here in the last seven years, the “creative industry” is now a reality, and its now the turn of Theatre to do the same. But just our one organization, will never make this dream of a formal, professional sector a reality; it will take a whole new generation of Actor-Creator-Entrepreneurs to do this. The Drama School, Mumbai is our first, and the best step, we can take towards this.

To finish the story I started with; last week at a wedding here in India, I had the good fortune to meet all of my friends from the UK, who had come down for it; the same ones who said goodbye to a very distraught and unhappy individual at Paddington Station. Time folded in on itself, the last seven years reducing to a moment (as it does at such reunions). The common consensus, starting a career in Theatre in India was the best thing that ever happened to me, and they were right.

To apply to the Drama School, visit http://thedramaschoolmumbai.in.

About the Author:

JehanJehan Manekshaw is the Founder Director of Theatre Professionals.

Since founding Theatre Professionals in 2008, Jehan has conducted numerous workshops for professional actors, children, and corporates. He has evolved a number of methodologies and a strong process for identifying how to best utilize drama practices for the learning and development of any participant group. Jehan has taught at the Ninasam Theatre Institute, Attakallari Dance School, Shinshu University, Matsumoto and curated and led the Intensive Drama Program over its four year evolution.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.

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