For two decades now, the Wings Theatre Academy has been giving the young of the region a chance to express their creativity through theatre. For Zubin Mehta, each play that he directs is a step towards creating a new expression and giving the young practitioners wings to fly. Mehta looks back at the journey, his plans to explore new spaces with the medium and staging Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to celebrate the years on stage. Excerpts from an interview:
How were you introduced to theatre?
I used to be quite dramatic at home as a child. My father’s friend used to run a Punjabi theatre company called Sarghi Kala Kendra. One day, he took me along and I vividly remember the old rehearsal hall of Tagore Theatre. The smell of wood, props scattered all around, the actors with powerful voices, passion in the air, I was smitten by it all and ended up doing a small role in the play, as an eight-year-old.
When did you form Wings, your theatre academy for schoolchildren?
I taught Theatre at YPS School and directed their annual plays for seven years before meeting Gurpreet Bakshi from St Kabir Public School. We both wanted to start something permanent to give a platform to youngsters of the region. Wings began in 2012 and has been running theatre classes regularly with several age-groups ever since. The academy also started branches at Vivek High School, YPS and Sanawar.
How does theatre impact the lives of children/ adults who work with you?
Theatre for me is a spiritual space and I have seen it changing lives in many ways. Theatre not only helps children/ adults in becoming more expressive, creative, spontaneous and confident but it also helps them become better human beings with empathy, understanding, sensitivity and an overall spiritual elevation. I often see my actors purging bottled up emotions during improvisations, making the process cathartic, apart from being creative.
What are the subjects and themes that you like to explore in your productions?
I like realistic dramas. Most of my plays are set in realism. I know, theatre has moved quite ahead of realism. There are many theatre directors doing very powerful work in avant grade and post dramatic theatre. I am a fan of many of them. But somehow my heart is still in realism. I like telling stories that delve into simple human emotions, be it from Indian or foreign literature or the play we write together.
How have you evolved over the years as a director?
A lot has changed over the years. Initially I used to be very controlling in every department of the production, especially in making the actors act. I used to craft every little movement of their hands, bodies, eyes etc. But over the years I realised that it’s the actor who has to find his truth and I have to just guide him towards it. Same is with the other departments; a director has to be open and accepting, of course, without compromising on the overall vision of the production. I have been directing six plays on an average every year over the last few years. There is always a fear of following a pattern and becoming mechanical, when you do so much of work. So, I have always tried to find new ways of working with the actors and the text. One has to be very cautious; else the subconscious draws formulas and patterns.
Please talk of the new production with the Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi that will be staged on July 26.
We will be staging Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It is a story of Willy Loman, an ageing salesman, who is disillusioned by the American dream, a victim of capitalism. The play was written in 1949, but is still very relevant and relatable. The play delves into the universal and timeless themes of ambition, success, happiness, money and family.
What would be your advice for young theatre practitioners?
Theatre is not just another profession. Get into it only if you like the taste of sweat and blood. There are no vanity vans in theatre. It is pure labour. But there is bliss in it when you reach the spiritual space of theatre.
Are you restricting yourself to Chandigarh or opening Wings Theatre Academy in other cities as well?
Theatre with children makes no sense if you don’t have teachers who have sensitivity and passion to work with children. I am looking for such teachers. Else, theatre becomes just another class in the long list of classes.
Death of a Salesman will be staged at Tagore Theatre on July 26, 6.30 pm. Entry is free. Children below 15 not allowed