(Last Updated on : 12/04/2012)
Performance of Kannada Theatre has improved over the years after a thorough experimentation process with the writing, acting and executing. During the short span of about eighty years, the professional stage made a slow but steady progress in the methods of showmanship. Considerable improvements were also made with regard to some of the fundamental aspects of the stage like; stage music, make up, settings, scenery and methods of portrayal. The theatre often gave in, though unwillingly, to the popular demands, and amended its ways both in regard to the theme and the manner of presentation.
Stage Decoration of Kannada Theatre
The extent of the stage development would reveal itself when a dramatic performance of the present day is compared with the ones, staged half a century ago. Reminiscences of some of the veteran stage artists belonging to different parts of the Indian state
compared favourably in giving a picture of very similar theatrical conditions all over the Kannada country. Then, the troupe which usually consisted of about thirty persons halted to stage plays at every village including the ones which had just about two hundred families. Immediately after reaching the village, all the actors including even the hero would set out to erect the stage called Chappara. A pit would be dug in the immediate front of the stage. It was called the "chairs pit" (Kurchi Halla), though actually, the troupe could not afford chairs to put in there. In this pit of about fifty square feet were put some logs of wood to improvise a sort of benches for the spectators of the ?upper class?. When a local dignitary or the official came to witness the play, he brought his own chair. The stage would be ready by the evening with an enclosure around the spacious arena. If it ever rained in the middle of a performance, the actors hurriedly bundled up all the equipment and retired to resume the play only after the skies became clear.
Publicity to the play was given by the village crier. Handbills were printed only by reputed troupes; but they were kept in the personal custody of the proprietor, who, on no account would spare more than eight or ten of them in a village. It was the rolling-up curtain a miracle in the eye of the rural spectator rather than the play itself that attracted the entire village to witness the performances initially. The stage had the front and rear curtains and also drops on the sides. The drop curtains kept hanging loose and travelled on the shoulders of every incoming or outgoing role.
Kerosene lamps were kept in a row in front of the first curtain. The prestige of a professional troupe depended upon the number and size of the lamps. Stage settings were scanty and often improvised. The throne of the inevitable King was always a shaky structure made of an arrangement of kerosene tins, and covered with a coloured cloth. It was literally the privilege of the King alone to sit on the Durbar Scene. His courtiers could not afford any seats.
Make-ups Used by Actors in Kannada Theatre
The Make-up was simple. Ingalika, the native reddish grey provided the foundation colour to the face and the black of the charcoal was liberally used for colouring the eye brows and moustaches. Crape-hair was yet unknown. After making-up, the final touch was given by smearing the face with Abhraka, the gold powder Any person could play the lady-role with the help of a piece of black cloth tied around the head and a string of artificial pearls dropping from the centre to indicate the parting of hair. The entire equipment of the green room was a big wooden box containing all the dresses. It was on this box the lamp was placed and all the actors sat around, with small mirrors in hands while colouring the faces. The size of the mirror usually indicated the status of the actor.
Neither was there any such distinguishing feature among the different roles as could be marked by the dresses they wore. Only when they talked, one could distinguish the king from his courtiers. Each actor was given a pair of socks, a long shirt, a necklace and a headdress which he had to preserve with care. The artist wore them all, immaterial of what role he played; he wore the socks and the necklace even if it was the role of an orthodox Brahmin
, lest some other actor should use it if it was left behind in the Green room. It was a usual custom to go round the village to borrow colourful sarees and ornaments for the evening's show.
Enactment of Roles by Artists in Karnataka Theatre
The audience would usually recognise the ornaments worn by the characters as belonging to a particular family or the other, while the play was on. Sometimes ornaments and head-dresses had to be borrowed even from the audiences. Quite often, members of the audience volunteered to lend the actor their shawls, walking sticks and ornaments. This fact at once reflects on the meagre equipment of the professional troupes on the one hand, and on the other, the survival of an element of the most ancient theatrical principle, the absence of any separatism between the performer and the audience. The plays mostly were written to highlight the mythological themes in Kannada theatre
Role of Music in Karnataka Theatre
Actors were mostly illiterates, and yet, the secret of the troupe?s success was the undaunted enthusiasm of both the players and spectators to please and to be pleased. The plays were infested with songs. The audience would not consider him an actor who did not sing a good number of songs. Each time when the curtain came down, it was a custom to sing again from behind the screen in order to engage the audience. The only accompaniments were the Violin
and naturally, every actor had to adjust the pitch of his voice to the common single pitch, the Sruti of the instrument, with obvious disadvantages. Songs were often philosophical and moral in import, and many of them being compositions of saint poets like Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa, captured the audience and brought credit to the performance. Quite some incongruities had come to be accepted, like the king announcing the gift of half of his kingdom to every one who brought him a bit of good news, and, the good news was brought to him at least half a dozen times. The wild gesticulations could not be anywhere near artistic acting. Wild movement of the extended hands invariably accompanied the spoken word and when the actor became silent, the tired hands rested on the waist. A King, a demon and in fact, the hero always engaged his right hand in the usual heroic method of twirling the moustache while playing the role, and his partner on the stage would be naturally standing still and cold like an immovable statue.