Introduction to Modern Acting with Debananda Nayak

Introduction to Modern Acting with Debananda Nayak

Afif Janjirkar | Mar 11, 2019

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9th March, 2:40 PM: 37 people took their place in the TIIR auditorium to be a part of the Introduction to Modern Acting workshop organised by Roots 3.0. The audience ranged from experienced actor-students who have already dabbled in some form of dramaturgy, to acting related novices who really just wanted to know more about the art form. The workshop, scheduled for 2 PM, began at 2:40 PM and went on till 5:31 PM. Debananda Nayak, the speaker for this workshop, is an eminent theatre and film director and a recipient of the National Award.

Debananda Nayak instituted the workshop by discussing the contemporaneous state of acting and actors in general. He went on to explain what it means to be an actor in the present time and the various (enticing) decisions an actor is faced with.

Unfortunately, the guys and girls set the target of going on-screen. Nowadays, people don't have an interest in theatre. Actors aim for fame, popularity and money- things which are easily available on-screen. But the theatre makes an actor experienced and mature.

The speaker led the audience through a brief explanation of how the process of teaching acting has changed throughout the years (and not always for the better). He told how there has been an increase in the number of teaching centres, especially in Mumbai and Delhi, which disregard some of the important acting forms like Classical and Greek.

The audience was then presented with the most elementary question- What is acting? Debananda Nayak went on to answer this question (quite literally) by stating the exact definitions of acting in adjective, verb and noun forms. He then went on to explain in depth these cold one-liners available in the dictionary and added life to them by providing the audience with some animatedly performed examples.

Acting is a job for extroverts, not introverts. At its essence acting is just doing bakwass on the stage.

Debananda Nayak then apprised the audience on the various technicalities of acting where he touched upon Actors prepare, Improvisation, and Solo plays. He talked in length about Surrealism.  He stressed the importance of solo plays and the impact it has on a budding actor. The ability to talk to oneself and introspect goes pretty deep in making an actor and is often a turning point in an actor’s journey.

You will find that a normal person says lines differently when compared to an actor. This is because actors constantly cross-examine themselves. This is what makes an actor think outside the box.

Good acting is not sufficient on its own to make a play/movie successful. A lot of other factors play a crucial role in affecting the quality of the performance. These factors encompass lights and costumes. Debananda Nayak expounded how lightning affects the emotion on stage. He even went on to suggest how poor choice of lighting can blemish a good acting performance. He enumerated the different colours used in lightings and the various emotions they represent and bring out.  

Commanding the attention of the audience is an actor’s greatest skill.

Next on the list of must-know terms was “Mimetic Mode”. Debananda Nayak went into expounding the said term, citing it as “one of the most important forms of acting”. A good deal of time was also dedicated by the speaker into the concept of  “Active Idea”. An actor, he said, is supposed to be an expert when it comes to reading minds. The ability to know and understand what the other person is thinking is something that a complete actor possesses.

Debananda Nayak educated the audience on the importance of movement in acting. The revelation of how a simple step in a particular direction can have a profound effect on the audience was aptly illustrated. Around the 4:00 PM mark, the speaker touched upon yet another fundamental question, What makes a good actor? The rejoinder was elegant yet deceivingly simple, betraying the effort it takes to achieve it.

A good actor is someone who can fill their heart and mind with a particular emotion in an instant.

To capture what it means to be a good actor more accurately, Debananda Nayak shared an incident from the life of the great Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. The story goes like this:

One day a lady comes to the Russian practitioner and tells him, “I want to be an actor.” To this,  Stanislavski replies, “If you want to be an actor, go outside and come back in in the same manner that you just did and tell me again what you just told me in the exact same manner.”

The message that Stanislavski and Debananda Nayak try to convey here is the same: Acting is a recreation of events (or anything really) that have already happened in the exact same manner as they have happened.

Debananda Nayak then proceeded to advise the audience on the various practices that they could inculcate so as to become better actors.

  • Recording yourself multiple times on your phone and compare these recordings. Make notes and cross-examine yourself.

  • Studying the actors you admire. Try inculcating the best attributes of various actors. A prime example of this is Sri Devi who had perfectly mirrored the characteristics of Rekha and Madhubala.

  • Focus on your diction and manner of speaking.

  • Expose yourself to a wide range of roles.

  • Know thy audience- Always keep in mind the nature of the audience you're performing to.

  • Know the concept of empty space.

  • Catch the attention of the floating audience (in the case of street plays) by incorporating folk dance and songs.

  • Slow your lines down and stress different words.

  • Know the importance of pauses. A pause is an actor’s breathing space.

  • Speak your dialogues in different moods. Some of the most important moods are sarcasm, uncertainty, authoritative and arrogance.

There is no formal education required to become an actor but a course done in acting or drama can be useful for learning certain technical skills.

The workshop was as informative as it was entertaining. The ingenuity of Debananda Nayak deserves a special mention, who kept the audience enthralled and involved throughout the three hours. The workshop finally concluded with members of the audience being tasked with enacting lines in Hindi, English and Odia with Debananda Nayak giving them feedback. 

Below is a conversation between Monday Morning and Debananda Nayak

Monday Morning:  How did you like Roots 3.0?

Debananda Nayak: I am overwhelmed that you guys invited me. I really loved the campus and the students. I was happy to learn that the students here are taking part in things other than their education and found them rich with culture and heritage. It was really pleasing meeting them and talking to them about theatre-related activities.

I found that the people here have a very contemporary attitude and thought process, and all the students are very soft-spoken and don't have arrogance. But in my opinion, a little bit of arrogance is required according to the times. And from the session, I have noticed that the people here are pretty introverted.

MM:  How integral do you feel Art and Filmmaking is to our society?

DN: It is a difficult question. Art is a very vast thing. It is deeply rooted in our daily lives and encompasses nearly everything we do. Filmmaking is a separate thing. Films are based on an event or a fabricated story and sometimes even reality. Filmmaking is recapturing things, but art is not recapturing. Art is a regular thing. My mother cooking food is art, a person doing his daily work is art, even cleaning one's room is art. This art differs from person to person. No two people will do the same thing in the exact same manner.

MM: Tell us about your days at Utkal University?

DN: It is my personal opinion that the teaching of literature and pursuing arts is going downhill and deteriorating. In our time the practice in the auditorium is completely different from now. Nowadays guys have a plan to immediately pursue on-screen. But in our times we made matured our acting within the four walls of the theatre. On-screen, you have to do all the things spontaneously which can be only done properly when a person has a matured acting skill set.  For this, you have to practice a lot, and you have to get into a variety of characters in numerous plays.

MM: You have been a recipient of the National Award. Brief us about that.

DN:  At the age of 25, I had an idea of doing a film. Making a film requires a story and fortunately, Odisha has a writer named Pratibha Ray. She had a story titled Mukhya which meant salvation. Being a student of drama and a lover of European theatre, I have a passion to make a film on the intricacies of a man-woman relationship and Mukhya focused on that. The plot basically revolved around how a man (whose wife had left him) spent 25 years of his life living under the same roof as his sister-in-law without so much as having her shadow fall on him. The film was awarded the President award as the best Odia movie. In that period, I had a feeling that I didn’t know anything yet and my work was done unconciously. Now that I think about it, that was precisely the reason why it was my best work. I don’t think I’ll be able to recreate something of that quality if I start doing it consciously.

MM:  Give us some insights on the kind of Filmmaking you do

DN: Right now, I’m doing films for survival only (chuckles). Currently, I’m on a project of a Telugu movie titled Gangs of Guntur. It is a film on salt farming and how the gangs are in conflict with each other over this issue. But my main focus lies in exploring the male-female relationship. This theme is quite complex and is open to many interpretations therefore making it very enjoyable to work on. There is a lot of scope for acting in this genre and as a director, it is very crucial how you represent a man and a woman and the status you give them and how you look at the relationship between them. Be it loneliness between them, or differences in thought, yet they somehow merge at one point.

MM: Brief us about the uniqueness of Modern Acting

DN: First we have to understand what is Modern Acting? If there is a term called Modern acting then it makes sense to have a term called primitive acting, but this is not exactly the case. Acting by practice and acting by studying the course is called modern acting. When you learn something, understand it and then do it, it is called modern acting.  Earlier, people did not have many resources. So now, even if the acting is not upto the mark, it can be enhanced with the help of the technical resources available.

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