The audience steps into the theatre and in the first of many surprises to come, finds that the seats are arranged in a circle. They settle down, and soon it is pitch dark. Your eyes in this darkness, are rendered useless and you have to rely on all your other senses to make out anything at all. The play is about to begin. You hear the beating of a heart, loud and clear, amplified by the speakers. You hear the rustling of actors' bodies as they enter the space. Life has begun!
The next one hour, is a wild journey through space and time. You are surrounded by polyphonic voices that sing Gregorian chants, Polynesian songs, ancient hymns from India, China and Africa and it is all interspersed with snippets from Shakespeare, Lorca, the Mahabharata and even scenes from daily life. The actors seem to be behind you, in front of you, all around you. And then thunder is heard and rain falls down on you who no longer know where you are nor all the places you have travelled to in the past one hour.
As the storm subsides, a faint light appears in the distance. One of the actors has just illuminated himself with a pen-torch and in the glimmer, you can make out that he is naked. For the past one hour, he has offered himself body and soul, so that you may experience Rasa (the emotional or aesthetic impression of a work of art). And then another actor lights up her body. And then another. It dawns on you that the intense sensory voyage of the past one hour, was in fact orchestrated by fifty human beings in their most primal state, naked in thought, intent and body. A familiar throbbing sound reaches you. The beating of a heart! You have participated in a ritual that celebrates life in all its facets. As the heart beat reaches a crescendo, the actors turn off their pen torches and you are enveloped in darkness again. Life has faded and the performance is over. The lights come back on. To your great surprise, you are in an empty room, without any actors. You sit there baffled, but satisfied, with other members of the audience. There remains no trace of any performance. It was all just an illusion.
I was called back to Paris in March this year, by a Brazilian theatre director from my alma mater, French National Academy of Dramatic Art (CNSAD) to work on this unusual production. The creation of the performance was an intense and rewarding experience. The performances were exhausting because we had to be constantly alert for aural cues from one another, as well as from the technicians handling the sound. We performed to great acclaim and for the last and final performance on April 8, we had invited journalists, critics and other directors who might potentially present the production. Everything was going smoothly until something near the end, went horribly wrong!
The audience had made the sensory journey and were now surrounded by the fifty actors whose bodies were dimly lit by pen-torches. The house lights were timed to come on in less than a minute. The heart beat was our cue. As soon we'd hear it, we'd turn off our torches and slip away to the green room under the cover of darkness. When the lights would eventually come on, the audience would be in a bare room and the experience would be complete. There was however some technical glitch and the much awaited heart beat never came!
We were getting jittery. In thirty more seconds, the house lights were to come on. And if we could not get our cue, we could not turn off our lights and leave. When the lights come on, the audience would find, not a bare room but instead fifty naked and embarrassed actors! And this had to happen precisely on the day that all the journalists and critics had come! With just twenty seconds left, I stopped hoping for the cue to appear and decided that it was never going to. So I did the next best thing, I began thumping the wooden floor with my heel, and voilà it sounded just like the beating of a heart. The other actors were so relieved, they quickly turned off their lights and bolted back to the green room. I waited till the last actor left and then turned off my own torch and fled! I exited the performance space in the nick of time and was entering the safety of the dark green room, when the house lights came on. We shut the door and waited. There was a brief silence and then, a thundering applause.