One of the major challenges I had in preparing for Mission Suhani this year was finding new actors, as many of the previous actors from last year were not available. This situation is expected when you try to involve community members as actors in a participatory effort like Mission Suhani. Most of these community members are not actors by profession. Instead, they have another job in which they are busy. They are extremely interested in the effort, but they are also limited by their time. For a director like me who wants to make his piece on social issues a participatory effort, it is a struggle to make it happen. This challenge has a very positive side also. Recruiting new actors helps to spread more awareness about Nautanki to more people. It helps me to achieve my mission of increasing awareness about folk forms of India in the US.
I have worked very hard with the new cast over the past month, spending sometimes up to 24 hours on the weekends doing rehearsals. After rehearsing so much, the new cast members have picked up the Nautanki form very fast. Although they are from India, for most of them, it is an epiphany to be introduced to this amazing art form from Indian villages. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, due to British colonialism in India, a strange situation has developed where people in the cities hardly have exposure to art forms from the villages in their own country. The parents from most affluent families in Indian cities send their children to English medium schools where they are mostly exposed to the Western culture that has been absorbed by the Indian elites and middle class. As a result, without any fault of their own, young people growing up in Indian cities see Western culture as the “legitimate” culture, and most of them miss out on their own heritage.
After all of our hard work during the rehearsals over the past month, it was an exciting experience to do our first Work-in-Progress show at CounterPULSE. All of the artists loved the experience of performing to a sympathetic audience. A very important benefit of doing the Work-in-Progress show for my artists was that they got a feel of the space where they are going to do the final shows. The Work-in-Progress show gave a lot of confidence to our artists and made everyone feel more prepared for the upcoming shows. I think that our excitement was also reciprocated by the CounterPULSE members who were present in the audience. They enjoyed watching the new actors perform Mission Suhani. We received great feedback from the CounterPULSE staff. One feedback was that they liked the extended script because the transitions were smoother and the story felt more complete. We also received some critical feedback about the characters of Devesh and Suhani, which will help us a lot to finalize the performance for the October shows. During the feedback session, we also discussed various other things like choreography, sound, and presentation. In essence, it was very beneficial for us. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, the feedback method devised by CounterPULSE is very helpful in protecting the artistic vulnerabilities of creative people, while at the same time helping them by giving them important critical suggestions about their piece. All of us in the Mission Suhani Nautanki troupe are very excited for our shows in October at CounterPULSE. We hope that you are too and that we will see you at the shows!!