Awaken the Performer Within: Secrets from Natyashastra

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Meru-NatyaLEXINGTON, MA–Meru Education Foundation is organizing a workshop, Awaken the Performer Within: Secrets from Natyashastra. This 5-session workshop will be held between July 12-21, 2016 at Lexington Community Center located at 39 Marrett Road in Lexington, MA.

INDIA New England News spoke to Meru Education Foundation founder Shekhar Shastri, who will be leading this workshop.

INDIA New England News: What is your workshop about?

Shekhar Shastri: Why does a song, play, or a movie touch you deeply? Often, the playwright, actor, dancer, and the musician all collaborate together to generate an unforgettable experience – which is the primary goal of any artistic endeavor.

In ancient India, the science behind this practice of performance was called “Natyashastra“. In this workshop, we will be sharing lessons from this deep body of knowledge, which is relevant for all artists everywhere and also for the discerning lovers of the arts.

Shekhar Shastri-Facebook
Shekhar Shastri

What is in these ancient texts on dramaturgy?

SS: In ancient India, music, dance, drama, and other arts thrived with an unprecedented glow and popular reach; scholars thought deeply about the underpinnings of great art, the artist and the dialogue with the audience. They saw the artist as forever engaged in building a bridge between the outer and inner realms.

In Natyashastra, an artist’s palette could be earthly materials, nature, sound, light and her own body. They saw that the performing artist must transform space, time, and the human condition into a lyrical narrative to transport the audience into an extraordinary experience.

INE: Deep stuff! Are these ancient texts still relevant?

SS: Even though the main text was written 2,500 years back, it is timeless in a way. It has profound insights into human emotions and on how to communicate it. Most Western theories of performance and aesthetics are inspired from Natyashastra. When looking for ideas for innovation, it can be a gold mine. Indian films still emulate the structure of drama first elucidated in Natyashastra.

INE: How would one apply these ideas in the modern day?

SS: Purpose of art is to provoke, evoke and invoke the audience. However, communication requires skillful use of the body, voice and a narrative. Natyashastra is full of ideas and techniques on how to tell a story, or how to communicate a subtle emotion, so that the audience remains hooked for 3 hours and then never forgets the aesthetic rapture for the following 30 years.

INE: How is it going to help us awaken the performer within?

SS: Long before Shakespeare, Bharata the author of Natyashastra wrote that ‘we are all engaged in a cosmic drama frequently changing roles’, and that ‘the real stage is our everyday life’. He went further by stating that the ultimate triumph of drama is when one is able to observe oneself with deep love carrying on the daily life with full engagement. This intent observation brings about an awakening and a natural joyful celebration of life.

INE: Who should take this workshop?

SS: This workshop is open to everyone; anyone who loves life, and wants to develop a keen aesthetic eye. If you are a musician, dancer, or an actor, it is an opportunity to explore your own creative center in an immersive setting. Specifically, the theatre artist and the classical dancer would discover a host of new tools for acting (Abhinaya), and composition and the classical musician would find a connection with the earliest source of their music.

INE: You posit performing arts as a path for enlightenment or the ultimate joy?

SS: Truth is omnipresent, but only a trained ear can catch the subtle musical note, and it takes an observant eye to pick emotional cues from a silent lover. As stated earlier, the real joy emerges from observation of the Self. Even though one looks for approbation and love from outside, the fulfillment finally comes when one sees the drama of life as it is. This takes effort, very similar to the rigorous training one goes through to learn classical dance or music.

INE: Does this not make it a kind of Karma Yoga? How is this different? Or how are they similar?

SS: These days, talent is projected hard until it hits stardom. Yet, no amount of audience applause can bring sustainable joy, which is why stardom generally leads to sadness. On the other hand, consider a life built as an art gallery where every moment is showtime, and each activity is artwork to an audience that is none other than one’s own true Self; such a life is the definition of freedom, since it does not depend on the ephemeral adulation of the seasonal fan club.  The true artist is his own audience.  This is the primary seat of delight, and this is where Yoga and performing arts find resonance.

INE: There are so many nuances to Natyashastra. How can you possible cover it all?

SS: We intend to cover the key driving principles unique to Natyashastra that can be transformative for the participants. If there is further interest, we can always have follow-up sessions.

INE: Why are you so excited about teaching this course?

I have taught principles of Natyashastra for many years at MIT and elsewhere and each time it has been a thrilling experience for students. They are amazed that such an ancient text is so modern and profound. As a poet and a performing artist, it is my goal to unleash the creativity latent in people. Most people hold themselves hostage to the ‘looking good syndrome’. My task is to facilitate their rebirth as empowered sources of creativity and freedom. The ‘Cosmic Drama’ of everyday life is way too underrated; I want to uncover its inner effulgence.

INE: Who else is on your team and how are they contributing?

SS: Natyashastra is a manual for the performing arts; this workshop combines both theory and praxis. Thus, we have senior practitioners of the arts with us. I am being joined by Meena Subramanyam who is an accomplished classical dancer-teacher of Bharatanatyam, and Shuchita Rao who is a leading classical musician-teacher of Indian Classical music.

INE: When and where is this happening?

SS: This 5-session workshop (Awaken the Performer Within: Secrets from Natyashastra) will be held on July 12, 13, 14, 19, 21 (6:00-8:30pm) at Lexington Community Center, 39 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421.
The workshop is FREE but requires RSVP registration:



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