Bewildered at the heading? Well, this title takes me back years in time. Chewing gum, exams and friends was my debut as an actor. This isn’t the nostalgic report of a movie star who is telling you ‘how it all happened’. And this isn’t going to end with ‘the rest is history’. This is, however, the musing of a teenager who has nothing better to do other than sit at home and go back in a time capsule to the time when she was 13. Chewing Gum, Exams and Friends (damn, I couldn’t come up with a suitable abbreviation, which is so much in fashion these days) was a play I acted in when I was in the 8th std.
Our school had introduced these compulsory ‘Hobby Classes’ and we had to, well, choose a hobby. My first choice was the Newspaper Club. The idea of having my name being printed on every issue of the school newspaper thrilled me to no end. Seeking inspiration from the Archie comics’ ‘Blue and Gold’ newspaper, I imagined myself strutting around with a smart notepad and a pencil behind my ear, interviewing famous celebrities…But I guess I wasn’t the only one with that dream. During a school assembly, when we were officially sorted out into various clubs, I discovered that the Newspaper Club had the maximum number of students. So all the juniors (that would be us) ended up in the Club we had marked as a second choice. In my case, Theatre Club. This wasn’t exactly my second choice. I was so sure of getting into the Newspaper Club, that I randomly ticked another club as a back up. Now, I was stuck in a theatre club.
I had always looked upon theater as a platform for failed film actors. Hey, you can’t blame me for the misconception. I was, after all, a starstruck teen!! So, with a rather forlorn expression [and I wasn’t acting] I entered the basement. I had only three classmates as company. All the rest were 9th std. students. There was a sprinkling of a few 7th std. kids as well.
The first thing [the first of many many more things] that struck me as odd was the location of this club. The Basement. Why would anyone want to learn acting in the basement? It was a place for the TT tables and broken cycle pumps. These were all put to one corner and we had the rest of the basement to ourselves. We all looked pretty clueless as we waited for our instructor. We didn’t wait long though.
Our ‘instructor’ turned up in a kurta with rolled up sleeves and jeans. I can’t say I expected Al Pacino, but still. I thought he would make a ‘dramatic’ entrance. After all, this was drama, right? So anyway, he came in and removed his shoes, gesturing us to do the same. He then kept a duster in the middle of the class [the basement] and asked us to form a circle around it. I thought we were in for a game of dog in the bone. But he asked us all to pick up the duster in turns and then treat it as an object. Any object, he said. All we had to do was act out a scene with the duster. The class kept ogling at him. He finally realized he ad to demonstrate. Now, this was 6 years ago. So I can’t really remember what he made of the duster. But I can, however remember I thought of it as a seed. And clearly, I was the only one who could interpret my acting. The rest of the class thought I was depicting the duster as a misguided missile. They were all staring at my ridiculous antics with awe. I finished my turn and walked away. I was still getting those awed looks.
I thus learnt my first lesson in theatre. No matter what you do on stage, everyone has their own interpretation. Often, this turns out to be much better than your interpretation. This was a feel good factor of my failed first class. If you’ve got bored reading this, I’m sorry to say…there’s much much more to come!! This was just an appetizer for the full 10 course meal I was served in the theatre club.