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Youth Forum - The Toilet Operas And Ritualistic Theatre

Sidharth Muralidhar

I have never seen a piece of theatre that has really moved me.

Abstract theatre and abstract art in general is widely misunderstood. People often think it is meaningless, pretentious and that “anyone could do it”. For several months, I have been part of a cast of actors and writers working on a piece of abstract theatre called “The Toilet Operas”. We have been working with the ideas of a brilliant teacher/director of modern theatre named Jerzy Grotowski. We (The Lexington High School Drama Department) entered the piece into a drama festival sponsored by the Boston Globe and will be performing it on Saturday, March 27 at the John Hancock Hall in Boston. Through my experience with “the Toilet Operas”, I have been exposed to an aspect of theatre that I have never experienced. Until now, all the theatre that I have seen has been centered on trying to communicate an idea or a feeling by showing the audience a realistic situation, a believable glimpse of a plausible world.

Having grown up in a culture of skepticism, I have always been taught to question things, to never “suspend disbelief” but to always disbelieve until convinced otherwise. So there is an inherent problem: I can never appreciate this kind of concrete, linear, conventional theatre, for I cannot forget that these are simply actors on a stage, acting out a situation that is not real. No matter how talented the actors are, no matter how realistic or complex the set is, I can never lose myself in the piece. However, I have learned that there is another type of theatre, much more powerful and spiritual.

“The ancient Indian theatre…was not a "presentation" of reality (that is a construction of illusions), but rather a dancing of reality (a false construction something on the order of a "rhythmic vision" that refers to reality)…”

At a certain point, theatre stops being about naturalistic, believable actions and occurrences and begins to be about something deeper. This idea can be expressed as “theatre as a ritual”. Humans have always used rituals. We use rituals to escape ourselves, to love and to transcend. Ritualistic rhythm and drumming, for example, is used in several eastern cultures to reach divine states. In this way, theatre, too, can be an almost therapeutic dance.

There is the mythological quotation: “I am without name, without form, and without action … I am pulse, movement, rhythm" (Shiva-Gita). That is the essence of abstract theatre: pulse, movement, and rhythm.

Through our actions and movement on stage, we seek to expose ourselves to the spectators. We seek to make ourselves vulnerable, to connect with the audience on a level deeper than words could ever reach. The only way to do this is by total commitment and total sincerity on and off stage. On stage, we want to achieve a trance-like state.
We do NOT try and play emotions, but instead we try and allow our actions and sounds unlock the doors to the emotion that is there. The theory we work with is that actors do not create emotions in an audience, but that the emotion is already there, inside the collective subconscious of the audience. Through pulse, movement and rhythm, we try and unlock that emotion.
If the audience is open, our actions onstage trigger a complex series of feelings, memories, and then emotions. When this happens, it is a brief moment of magic.
I used to believe that there is no way that one can truly know what another is thinking or feeling inside. Language is but a pitiful attempt, always falling short. But with great abstract theatre, as with all great art, the audience, the actors and everyone else in the space experiences unity, of not only knowing exactly what everyone else is feeling but being one with everyone else in the building, with everyone on stage.

The Lexington High School drama program, after an extensive screening process, was chosen by the American High School Theater Festival to represent the United States at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

LHS will be performing the award-winning student-written play, "Kindred." The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an arts festival with plays performed by professional groups, universities, and high schools from around the world. Twenty-four student actors from Lexington High's drama department will head to the American High School Theatre Festival in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

During its first run, the Boston Globe placed "Kindred" among the top five plays being performed anywhere in the Boston area. I am one of the students in The Lexington High School troupe that will be performing at the Fringe Festival in August 2004.

The American High School Theatre Festival relies on directors from state, regional and national theatre organizations as well as university theatre professors to find the nation's top high school theatre programs. Nominated schools send applications to the Board of Advisors, which is made up of respected college drama professionals. The Board ranks the applications based on the criteria: most recent bodies of work, honors and awards, technical ability, community involvement, philosophies, recommendations and overall dramatic excellence.

Now in its 56th year, the Edinburgh Fringe festival is a unique European institution. Begun in 1947 as an initiative to unite war-torn Europe through culture, the Edinburgh Festival is an annual tradition that now ranks as the largest arts festival in the world. Besides the Fringe, the Festival also features International, Comedy, Literature, and Music sub-festivals.

(Sid Muralidhar is a Senior at the Lexington High School. He will travel to Ediburgh in September as a troupe member of the Lexington High School. )

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Sidharth Muralidhar

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