Research ArticleThe Pedagogical Practices of Indian Modern Theatre: Focus on...

The Pedagogical Practices of Indian Modern Theatre: Focus on Individual Training


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Sumesh P. B.; Research scholar
School of Performing Arts
Pondicherry Central University

Abstract: The contemporary debates over suitable actor training methods, particularly in Indian context, is presenting rather a dismal picture. What we are feeling here is the various attempts over the time never received positive response because of the practicing pedagogical techniques regulated her/is movements. Plus, the existing pattern does not allow the actor to observe his surroundings critically and carry with experiment with self-explored new techniques for theatre. There is no straight solutions but like to reiterate the importance of evolving a new exercise pattern for the completeness of actors who are coming out of Indian institutes. We need to develop an exercise pattern that helps the actor to continuously and consistently overcome the duality of mind-body nexus but not at the cost of his/her performance. The present paper is an attempt in this direction.


The pedagogical practices of performing arts or theatre in India are a contested terrain, particularly the actor training (Jain 2003).  There are unending debates for a long time about the most feasible and appropriate method of training for performing arts (Bala & Albacan 2013). The conventional actor training methods is not able to respond to the needs of an actor in the contemporary time (Wylie Marques 2003, Evans 2008). The pedagogical practices of performing arts refer to the various theories as well as practices exits in order to perform within the ambit of theatre. This highlights both trainers and trainees as a combined entity where the experience, creativity and intelligentsia examine, expose and construct the existing methods of training and its outcomes. Simultaneously, it traces the various techniques in which the performers uses for maximising energy, power, flexibility of the body and to control and utilize breathing as effectively as possible. The argument made here is that well known institutes of teaching performing arts in the country are not open to the ongoing changes happening in the world of acting. Theatre is not about a story line, stage decoration, music, technology but equally important is the presentation of actors. The most unfortunate is the blind attitude of trainers in the bureaucratic institutes towards the interest shown by trainees on the new methods of actor training.  

Contemporary theatre experiments with everything – front stage, back stage, supporting equipment etc, which means a new trend emerged and it is slowly transcending to Indian theatre where much is expected from the actor. For that the acting pattern, teaching texts, presentation style etc of training sessions need to change accordingly. The theatre itself became a collaborative art form where the actor is expected to perform differently in the contemporary theatre. In the context of the worldwide contemporary and innovative theatre trends, the existing pedagogical practices of our leading institutions definitely require a re-examination.

Statement of the problem:

The institutionalized practices here are focusing on students as a group instead of as an individual and hence the individual student is not getting focused attention in the class room. But, when the modern theatre is becoming more individual oriented, the Indian students are lagging behind. Still, most of the Indian institutes are using the combination of kalaripayattu, chauv, yoga etc for training actors in addition to the theoretical orientation at the other side. The art forms namely kalaripayattu, chauv, yoga etc approach the physical and mental training practices in the modern theatre differently but  none of them individually or as together ensured the complete expression of talent in an actor. To be more precise there are exercises for the actors group in the theatre but very much undeveloped in scope for an individual actor. At present, an individual actor is not trained in a focused manner but in the whole form of any art form itself for instance will be trained in the general classical forms, vocals, martial art forms and yoga.  There is no separate routine training for the mental ability, imaginative strength and thoughts sustainability of the artists at present. It was even observed that even the body language of the actor fail to support the expected performance. So that the actor will fail in delivering what is expected from his/her performance.

Here it is essential to explain the importance of these three sources of exercise pattern to consider in this context. Similarly kalaripayatu ensures the maximum flexibility of the body. Yoga trains actor to control and utilize breathing as effectively as possible and Karate-do for power and speed. An amalgamation of these three will result in the best expected output from the actor. The second reason is the historical or conventional use of these forms in training patterns. Group of actors is already trained throughout the world by using the different combinations of these forms effectively. But the limitation of most of these exercise patterns is that they are useful; hence an individual actor is not able to do exercise alone. Here we are proposing the relevance of modifying the existing kinds of exercise patters in order to suit the individual actor only.

An actor is created not in the class room but in the social canvas. A creative actor should be aware of his social commitment or responsibility for developing a frame work for the educational system of an institution. An actor learns a lot from his society. He finds his characters from the society and their life styles. Society provides an actor his character of the play, their life styles etc. So an actor should become an observant to know about the changing trends in society, mindset of the people, their social life etc. Then only an actor can enact the characters which he creates through his creative thinking in full bloom.

The question here is what kind of actor training method is followed by institutions, say formal and informal, in creating actors? Whether they are following realistic method or physical training method or stylized acting method. There are different acting styles, acting schools, institutions, companies in the world who is very anxiously working to mold the actors, but the relevant point here is the acting schools are losing their perfection. A student of theatre is not clear about his acting methodology. He learns a lot about different acting theories and acting styles but lack clarity on the application of theory in practicality. He fails to make use of his theoretical knowledge in a practical situation. This shows a gap between an actors’ acting theory and acting practice. It eventually results in loss of confidence in an actor. That’s why in India we lack good acting trainers. The students who pass out from the theatre institutions are getting training in acting orientation other than specialization in acting.

During his training period itself an actor should try to develop his own acting system and time. A relationship has to be made between acting theories and practical and from this an actor should avail the energy to develop as an expert in his own acting style. Then only a theatre actor will be successful in bringing out his creative thoughts. Through a proper syllabus an actor mold himself and present his character well on the stage. So that it is relevant to include these type of self-explored research methodology in the study of Modern theatre.

In modern context it is noticed that most of the students in theatre education feel happy to become a director rather than an actor. To bring about a change in this aspect the inclusion of self-explored research methodology and pedagogical structure is required. Then an actor can do small practicing productions. This helps him a lot mentally, socially and intellectually to be in his place and stretch forward. Then only a theatre student after passing out from the institution can make his own name in the industry.


In the context of the above observations, the objectives of this research are

I. The research will try to map out the existing pedagogical practices of theatre in the contemporary scene of India.

The research questions in relation to the above are

  1. What are the dominant forms of actor training in the country?
  2. How formal theatre institutions train actors?
  3. How actors are trained in informal theatre groups?
  4. What are the requirements actor training in contemporary world theatre which is continuously evolving and enriching itself?

II. How the contemporary training patterns, of here, characterizes the actor’s body and mind in general?

The research questions in relation to the above are

  1. How both trainers and trainees approach and address the different actor training practices in the country?
  2. What are the advantages, limitations and challenges of the existing actor training practices, in the country, in performing arts specifically theatre?


The study is exploratory in nature to map out the unique features related to actor training and to gather the different stakeholder’s perception on the same. The paper traces the present dominant forms of actor training and the pedagogical practices existing here. This will also map out the problems experienced by trainers as well as trainees during the practice in consideration of a world competing theatre performance. We will enquire the experience and reflection of ex-students of these institutes which they faced in the contemporary theatre.

We use qualitative research methodology to get a realistic picture of pedagogical practices of performing arts especially theatre in India. The ethnographic study of a prominent institution as a faculty member helped to sharpen the observations. Particular information will be collected through in depth interviews of both faculty and students in different institutions andtheatre groups. The institutional data will be collected from National School of Drama, New Delhi and School of Drama Kerala. We are approaching two institutions because it will explain the diversity existing among the formal institutions, if there is anything, on actor training methods. Similarly, for collecting non-formal theatre actor training data, we will meet the theatre groups in Kozhikode and Delhi. It is precisely because there exists a very strong tradition of non-institutional theatre practice in India. Ethnographic survey particularly participant observation based on long stay in the field is necessary to accomplish this objectives. Field notes will be prepared in day today manner in order to develop insights into the matter later. Training sessions and daily exercise will be videotaped for future analysis.

Field based information regarding constraints faced by trainers during teaching, the expectations of students, the problems faced by ex-students in performing with actors who had contemporary training etc will be collected from related people. This survey will be conducted among 15present and 5 previous students as well as 5 teachers in both institutions. It is better to decide the number of such respondents in the non-formal set up in the field only. Field based information will be executed through open ended questionnaire which will be separated for different stakeholders. The questionnaire will be administered in a personal face to face manner rather than class room settings. Desk review of existing literature and analysis of documents available will be employed in order to develop greater insights into the research problem.


The literature on theatre training methods are less available and on individual actor training is hardly seen. The history and diversity of Indian theatre proves that it is in search of its own identity here (Chatterjee 2011). All those who responded pointed out that the curriculum or syllabus of any major institutes of performing arts in the country is not responding to the changes happening in the contemporary world with adequate momentum (requirement); hence several teaching mechanisms are merely becoming an orientation course. As a result none of the students are equipped with any exercise pattern even after the formal training period. This makes them very underutilized considering their desire and skill. An actor is not just a tool to materialize a storyline; more than that h/she is a performer who combines the objectives of storyteller as well as the expectations of the audience. Here in order to realize this actor’s body needs to transform through several mediums. He/she need to be a part of the other actors on the proscenium simultaneously present himself/herself uniquely.

From the field studies it is felt that the institutions that trains students in performing arts have to fulfill two purposes which can be divided into practical and strategic. The practical purpose is to provide students training with a formal certificate and exposure to apply and perform in theatre and related activities. The strategic purpose is to enable students for understand, experiment and perform in new and diverse situations according to the desire and requirement of related stakeholders. All the institutes are able to perform better in the first objective but not bothered about the second. The existing institutions, which are conventional in approaches and hesitant to ongoing new trends, are trying to expose its students to wider syllabus which includes both theory and practices related theatre. Theoretical exposure has its own importance while considering the experiments in theatre (Jain 2003). But it is not alternative to the practice that an actor supposed to acquire. 

In general it says that an actor have three aspects only that is body, mind and voice (Jain 2003). But here we are proposing that a fine actor need to amalgamate four basic aspects i.e. body, mind, voice and space as shown below.


Here neither one of them are more important than others. An actor need to better trained both in understanding and exploring them in order to excel later. In general, an actor is expected to possess four skills namely quickest, slowest, flexible and stillness in body movements and voice modulation. Here actor need to enhance his sharpness in being quick simultaneously in being slow (similarly in being flexible and being still).


An actor is impoverished in these skills by furnishing four abilities i.e. imagination, concentration, observation and sensibility. They are not separate but having an evolving relationship with each other simultaneously enriching the acting edge of the actor as shown below.


The four above mentioned abilities of the surroundings and oneself helps the actor to examine his performance in relation to others. This supports in the visualization of new perceptions with originality. Through the process an actor can continuously consolidate and steadily improves as well as crystalizes his/her experiences for better performance. A training or exercise pattern which will help the actor to combine body, mind, voice and space will enrich all the above referred skills and abilities. This helps the actor not just to learn continuously throughout his career but also to continuously keep his body, mind, voice and space in rhythmic and healthy manner.

The conventional and strongest thoughts consider acting as an outcome of the collective practice of theatre, where it does not carry any unique importance (Zarrilli, 2002). In such a context the actor performs as trained; it does not mean that his/her personal contribution does not carry any weight. A skilled actor not just receiving but also enriching the acting. The chances of discovering the talent has limitations here. Even though the trainers in the institutions disagrees with this notion, in practice it is happening. The trainees unanimously agreed that they are not receiving the expected training in these institutions. For instance Kalarippayattu is teaching in these institutes for flexibility and rhythm of body; but the course is maximum for one semester whereas it really requires years of practice in order to cultivate the required harmonious relationship between actor and his body. This is known to both the trainers and trainees. Usually trainees will continue to practice the same from an outside agency which actually does not help him/her in enhancing his acting skills. What we observed from the field study is that there is no institutional framework to distinguish acting requirements from others.

It will be better to learn one or two forms exclusively will ensure better performance. For example training in Koodiyattam sharpens vocal skills and Kalaripayattu ensures flexibility. But after training period most of the actors forgot or cannot practice these forms because they lack the basic skills in them. They are not experts in those; so that without guidance they cannot perform such practices. Usually these actors, in general, move to other or related fields. It is suggested that what is required is a new pedagogical training pattern based on mind-body relationship in the context of modern theatre training in order to realize the completeness of an actor who will be imaginative, circular and emotional.

Performing arts requires a precisely defined technique, instead of the existing hotchpotch of different streams, for the training of students. But unfortunately the institutions are not interested in that. It is only through institutional framework, experiments to develop a new exercise pattern can develop which is suitable for Indian conditions (or with in India according to regional requirements). But neither the established faculties not the policy makers are not supporting this. Usually these institutions through conducting invited classes, workshops or special camps tried to fill the gap, which actually nothing but a bureaucratic furnishing only. Research in the area of pedagogical practices on performing arts need to be encouraged. Institutions itself must take up the responsibility of leading such initiatives in the field.


What we are feeling here is the experiments to evolve a genuine contemporary actor in India is not getting expected results because of the existing pedagogical techniques does not allow him to break the concepts of the conventional theatre. Similarly, the existing pattern not allow the actor to observe his surroundings and experiment with self-explored new techniques for theatre. There is no straight solutions but like to reiterate the importance of evolving a new exercise pattern for the completeness of actors who are coming out of Indian institutes. We need to develop an exercise pattern that helps the actor to continuously and consistently overcome the duality of mind-body nexus but not at the cost of his/her performance.



Allana, Nissar (2012) “Redefining the Actor”, Theatre India, New Delhi.

Bala, Sruthi & Albacam, Aristita I. (2013) “Work Shopping the Revolution? On the Phenomenon of Joker Training in the Theatre of the Oppressed”, the Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, Vol 18, No 4.

Evans, M. (2008) “Movement Training for the Modern Actor”, Routledge, London

Jain, Kirti (2003) “Theatre Training in India”, theatre India, New Delhi.

Kapur, Anuradha (2004) “Actors Prepare”, Theatre India, New Delhi.

Pillai, Vayala Vasudevan (2005), Theatre India, New Delhi.

Wylie Marques, Kathryn (2003) “Opening the Actor’s Spiritual Heart: the Zen Influence on Noh Training and Performance with Notes on Stanislavski and the Actor’s Spirituality Fall”, Vol XVIII, No 1.

Zarilli, Phillip B. (2002) “General Introduction: Between Theory and Practice” in Zarilli, Phillip B. (Ed) “Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide”, Routledge, London

Chattejee, Mrinal (2011) “Indian Theatre: Past Perfect, Future Tense”,




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