TODAY -

The making of Ratan's Chorus Repertory Theatre

Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory Theatre
'The Shrine' -Ratan Thiyam's new Auditorium Ratan Thiyam speaking at the opening of 'The Shrine'


The areas which introduce Manipur in the international arena are undoubtedly Manipuri dance, theatre, cinema and sports. There are also a handful of people/groups who contribute in these areas and carving a niche in their respective fields. Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory Theatre is one of the theatre groups which had earned international acclaims with its path breaking plays and introduces Manipur to the rest of the world. Established on April 1, 1976 Chorus Repertory Theatre has been able to occupy its own place as one of the most outstanding organization with not less than twenty five years of experience as an institution of international theatre studies and experimentations in national and international levels. Equipped with its most outstanding performances in many international festivals in India and abroad, this repertory has been able to earn the prestigious "Fringe First Award, 1987" from Edinburgh International Theatre Festival, "Indo-Greek Friendship Award, 1984", "Diploma of Cervanting International Theatre Festival, 1990" and had participated in major theatre festival held in different parts of the world. The company was recently in Fall 2000 North American debut tour and presented the public performances of Uttar-Priyadarshi in eight venues. So far Chorus Repertory Theatre have produced 37 plays since its inception.

In commemoration of its 25 years of existence, Chorus Repertory Theatre has begun the Silver Jubilee celebration on April 7 last at the Chorus prefecture located at Uripok Samushang. The celebration will continue throughout the year. The celebration kicked off with offering tributes to those living and dead who did the needful towards the cause of Chorus Repertory Theatre. On 12th April Governor Ved Marwah inaugurated the playhouse christened as "The Shrine". On the same day its internationally acclaimed play "Uttar-Priyadarshi" was staged on the 200-seated playhouse for the first time. The play was witnessed by theatre lovers of Manipur and by those in the who's who of Indian theatre who were invited for the occasion. A national theatre colloquium under the theme "Economy of Indian Theatre in the last 50 years" was also held on the following day. Renowned local and other visiting theatre activists attended the colloquium. It was organized under the sponsorship of National School Of Drama, New Delhi. A national theatre festival has also been planned to organize during the month of November-December. Apart from this, the year long celebration will be marked others by holding various exhibition, workshops related to arts & culture, folk dance and music, handloom and crafts etc.

Prior to kicking off the celebration, Ratan Thiyam hosted its first press conference at the Chorus prefecture on 6th April last. While addressing the select journalists he narrated the hardships that he and his Chorus Repertory Theatre had faced over the last 25 years. Here are the excerpts from what he said about his production style, role as playwright and director etc…

Motto: Our motto is an "only bread if no butter" theatre. That is why we have to know how to do everything. The theatre is our religion. But I'm not a messiah for all this work. I share my experience of the good and bad things in this so-called civilized world, where we are losing our spirit and balance. As an individual, I feel me must get control. I share the kind of power games we play, the way modern man feels in his way of life. Through theatre, I try to share it with my audience, as if to say, "Let us think together".

Form: I don't utilize any particular form. Whatever I create on stage is not a tradition by itself. The fact is that after breaking the original mould of a traditional form, I utilize them accordingly to the suitability of a particular situation. To me tradition is always a source of inspiration. But I am doing everything keeping in tune with time and space and according to the psychology of modern audience.

Manipuri Genre: Every director should carry a signature of his own while carrying out experiments with which it could be stamped as his creation. I look a tradition as a colour which I paint my theatre in my own way. Utilizing tradition by itself is not my tradition, rather utilizing it as a re-interactive tool is my tradition.

Theatre Activist: An artist is born to attack the system. For years I have been concentrating on war based plays because, given the situation in Manipur, we must present arguments for peace and solidarity. But I don't care for fancy, intellectual ideologies in my plays because they are not practical with the economics of theatre in Manipur. If your actors are starving, you can't contribute to society.

Ethnicity: My plays are not on traditional Manipuri forms alone. I draw my inspirations from many sources. But ethnicity is that original quality inside you. Without which you have no identity. You can't escape it. And if I'm not different from others, where is my signature? As for exporting theatre to other countries, I would like to export my theatre to another planets. Once you are on the international circuit, your work has to be stronger in order to compete. My theatre tries to be a bridge between Eastern and Western theatre. I come from a small state, but I communicate to the world.

Production Style and Aesthetic: Theatre is a composite art, and the actor only a vehicles for expression. So the actor must be a composite man. He need not master all forms of art but he must acquire basics of aesthetic so that he can utilize the experiences as a vehicle of expression in a space called the performance stage. To achieve this all members are trained in dance, acting, martial arts, stagecraft and designs embracing traditional Manipuri forms as well as other methods developed over time to time. Emphasis on vocal and breath techniques and in physical stamina and control, provide the means to accomplish impressive aural and movement feats. My works are lightly choreographed, actors must physically push the limits of character.

Audience Perspective: There may be a process of playwriting; there may be a process of doing a production or even training of actors, designers. There is no way of training an audience, there is no school provided. Whoever is coming to see the production and that is why he is interested. He feels that his own experience of the world equips him to see any kind of production. So the experience serves as a kind of training. In my theatre the audience is very important. But before that I become more important than the audience. If I'm not satisfied, I don't think the audience will be able to understand and grasp the play and I will not be able to satisfy them. I become the first audience, so it doesn't matter if others recognize my theatre or not.

Dream then, now a reality: When we started this, I had an idea of running a professional company with productions of high quality. I ran a lot of theatre workshops in different areas of Manipur, then asked actors to join. We started with a handful of very good actors because the selection process was done over two years. By the 1980's we were getting support from Central Indian Govt, but not from the state government. The Central government still helps us, but the production costs are getting very high. Since its founding, the company has survived a number of hardships, including several inundating floods that damaged its buildings and land (about 2.75 acres a short distance from the centre of Imphal). The collective's members preserved, and today they enjoy a brand new 200 seat home theatre The Shrine. The design is inspired from the architecture of Southeast Asia specially the house design of tribal of Manipur, Thailand and Myanmar.

Courtesy : Atom Samarendra Singh

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