Hi everyone. I would like to begin this post by wishing everybody a very happy 2015. I am particularly excited about this year because of Dell'Arte's 40th anniversary reunion this summer; I will be there performing at the festival and eagerly look forward to meeting both familiar and new faces of Dell'Arte.
My name is Pratik Motwani and I am an actor, theatre maker and educator originally from Mumbai, India. Prior to coming to Dell'Arte, I received my Bachelors degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Mumbai University. I had been wanting to seek training and learn the craft of Physical Acting and was finally able to make it to Dell’Arte after a big break when I scored a voice-over role for the Hindi version of “Slumdog Millionaire” lending my voice to the protagonist. I heard about the PTP program at Dell'Arte from a friend, Deepal Doshi, who was the first Indian to graduate from the MFA.
I graduated from Dell'Arte International's MFA program in 2012 and am currently a part of the touring company at IMAGO in Portland, Oregon. IMAGO Theatre's original productions have toured internationally for over two decades. The universal nature of Imago's work has won audience and critical acclaim in tours across the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Canada and the U.S. IMAGO's signature works have appeared at the New Victory Theater on Broadway in New York. Learn more about Imago here.
I have been touring nationally and internationally with IMAGO for the past 2 years performing in FROGZ and Zoo Zoo and conducting guest lectures and workshops in mask theatre and performance in universities across the United States and countries like Canada, Egypt, Jordan and France. Currently I am rehearsing for our France tour which begins mid March and teaching a workshop series presented by IMAGO Theatre entitled “ Spirit of the Mask” which began at the end of January at IMAGO Theatre, Portland, OR and will continue with several iterations throughout the year.
My three-year MFA training at Dell'Arte International - specifically in movement study, larval masks, Commedia dell'Arte and clown - provided me with a firm foundation as I entered into my professional work with IMAGO. I was lucky to have started working with IMAGO right after I completed my MFA. Apart from desperately needing to start earning an income and getting a visa to stay in the United States, auditioning for IMAGO straight out of school was advantageous because the three years of intense physical training at Dell'Arte International put me in primo physical condition ready for the vigorous physical engagement and stamina which becomes a prerequisite in extremely stylized forms of mask performance. Also, when one comes out of a program where 90% of the time is spent on one’s feet devising work, where one is constantly challenged and required to create new characters, scenarios, short plays, and to produce events, perform in cabarets, write music, create movement pieces, etc. practically every week--sometimes even twice a week in the first year--one begins to develop a knack for creating quickly with the available resources in an improvised manner.
When I auditioned for IMAGO the thing that I feel worked in my favor was that I was able to wear a mask and make it my own. I was able to offer suggestions by doing them instead of waiting for the directors to say what to do. Most of the prompting during my audition was “Do something different” or “ Show us what else you can do” or even “ Don't do that”, but I don't remember them saying “Do this...”
I think many directors like to work with an actor in a collaborative fashion. They want you to offer suggestions and sometimes even contest them. My training in devised work at Dell'Arte has given me that sense of authority and ownership over my craft at the same time my training in ensemble work at Dell'Arte has helped me understand the process of working and creating collectively. Both these aspects of my training have proved invaluable in my creative collaborations with the directors, company members and technicians at IMAGO and in my experience traveling with a touring ensemble.
Working in a touring show like FROGZ means working not only as an actor but also as a bus driver, as a stagehand, as a mover and packer. Sometimes we spend more time on the road as a truck driver than we do performing on stage. Then there are other times when we have a really intense performance schedule with weeks of three-show days in a row with a load in, load out and a drive to the next engagement. The tours can last for up to two months at a time. With such tour schedules and traveling in a bus together, there is not much escape from one another and things are bound to get unpleasant at times, tensions may rise between ensemble members as the tour gets longer. Having previous experience with ensemble work has helped me deal with those challenges in a more mature fashion and has helped me maintain my personal balance and perspective on what is most beneficial for the work and the group as a whole.
The other important aspect of long touring performances is that it becomes essential to find ways of conserving one's energy both on and off stage. A big shout out to my professors Joan Schirle and Joe Krienke for their teaching and guidance with the Alexander Technique. It has proven to be most effective for me in finding a balance between effort and ease. The more shows I perform the more I begin to find economy in movement (particularly vital to mask work). It gives me a new thing to look for every show and keeps the performance fresh every time.
One of the other reasons I feel thankful for being trained in physical theatre and devised work is that one learns to create with what one has whether it be creating a show with a broom and a bucket or working with a production team. Being trained in devising has also offered me the possibility of creating my own work by whatever means the piece calls for. In some ways the training gives one the possibility of making your limitations your strengths. It empowers the actor/creator in that way.
One of my self produced shows IN'Tents: A Conservation Comedy is a show that was born in a similar fashion. I co-devised this show with my fellow colleagues Meghan Frank (MFA 2012) and Janessa Johnsrude (MFA 2013) during our training at Dell'Arte International. All we had was a shared desire to create and perform a comedy for street kids in India, a one person tent that belonged to Meghan's sister and an idea: “Wouldn't it be funny to see two clowns trying to pitch a tent?” Today that show is a 50 minute full-length piece of physical comedy that has been performed for thousands of street kids and in schools across Mumbai and Delhi. In 2012 (when Janessa joined), the project received funding from the Puffin Foundation and private donors through an online Indie-go-go campaign to perform the show in national and state parks across the United States. The Project reached over 1,500 kids and camping families, in partnership with national and state park systems of California, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association of Inyo National Forest, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Bureau of Land Management among many others. Recently the show was invited to perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as a part of their Green Show stage series. IN'Tents: A Conservation Comedy will tour to Egypt in March as a selected works in the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children.
Even though the past two years have been filled with challenges like being on tour most of the time and maintaining a relationship, being away from my family back home in India, immigration nightmares, figuring out a long term sustainable lifestyle in the field, ultimately I feel fortunate to be doing what I love. I have had a fun time touring across the length and breadth of The United States and internationally with the Imago team. Between IMAGO and my own co-devised show IN'Tents: A Conservation Comedy, I have been told that I have seen more of the United States in the past 2 years than most Americans see in a lifetime. I am grateful for that.
One of the things that I really love to do when I am on the road is to connect with other Dell'Arte graduates in other cities from past years. I post the show schedule on my Facebook page or send it out on our list serve and invite people to the show. Its a great way to make connections and be in touch (we are performing on the east coast in February and then in France in March-April so keep an eye out, I would love to catch up). My friends and company members at IMAGO are always surprised by the amount of comp ticket requests I make while on tour. They don't understand how an Indian knows so many people across the United States. I tell them that there are two reasons to that, one that Indians are everywhere and whether you know it or not they are all related to one and other and second, that Dell'Arte has a strong family of former students, teachers, staff members and friends that really help and support each other both professionally and personally and in my experience like to connect and hang out.
I have had several experiences meeting other Dell'Artian's on the road whom I was meeting for the first time but we instantly hit it off as though we knew each other for a while. I was just reading Nathanial Justiniano's (MFA ‘08) blog post the other day on Facebook about his experience working in Dubai with Jerome Yorke (MFA ‘14) and he speaks about this sense of comraderie, too. I feel blessed both professionally and in personal life to be a part of La Famiglia Dell'Arte. Especially for someone who is living in the Unites States and is not originally from here, it is a great gift. Thank You!
As I end this post I am reminded of a quote from Antoin De Saint Exupery that always makes me think of family, community and the other kind of spirit – the spirit of ensemble.
“ Happiness! It is useless to seek it elsewhere ,
than in this warmth of human relations.
Only a comrade can grasp us by the hand and haul us free”