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Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as interpreted by the Temple of Fine Arts International: A ‘personal’ devotional poetics

Pillai, D. Muralitharan (2012) Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as interpreted by the Temple of Fine Arts International: A ‘personal’ devotional poetics. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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From the time of Alexander the Great, to the colonising agendas of the Portuguese, Spanish and the English and, more recently, the pursuits of Western theatre practitioners, many have sought for ontological significance from India. What were they looking for? Swami Ramdas once remarked that all who sought him, wanted ‘trinkets’ but none sought him for the greatest treasure of all, brahma gnanam (knowledge of the Self or the Absolute Spirit-Brahman). Drawing inspiration from India, twentieth century theatre practitioners as diverse as Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Strasberg, Brecht, Artaud, Grotowski, Barba, Brook, Mnouchkine, Schechner and Zarrilli have embarked on attempts to search for and develop methodologies that aim to free the actor from the ‘tyranny’ of the Western theatrical idea; that is, the cognitively orientated training that develops in actors a capacity to perform from the ‘neck up’. Various actor-training methodologies, from varying cultural perspectives, have been developed only to find their unsatisfactory conclusion in merely scratching the surface of possible frameworks for an enriched theatrical training program as intercultural theatre reached a theoretical deadlock.

In their search for a solution to this Aristotelian-Cartesian body-mind dualism, theorists such as Mancing and Haney have surfaced the dire need to reassess Western theories of cognitive science that engage literary theory, cultural studies and criticism. The authors have suggested the alternative approach of defining and accessing the idea of pure consciousness as a methodology unique to the performing arts, one which is drawn from their understanding of the insights of Indian philosophy. A new generation of theorists and theatre practitioners, such as Malekin, Yarrow and Meyer-Dinkgrafe have further argued that the actor’s emotions in theatre practice can be successfully mediated and subsequently communicated on the platform of Indian theatre aesthetics taking as their informing paradigm, the Natyasastra. Their research has led them to the door, but I believe they are unable to gain entry because they lack the crucial ‘key’, or “pratyahara” (ethical preparations) that would allow them access. The ‘key’, as I argue in this research as practice/practice-led research project, lies in the practice of Swami Sivananda’s “Spiritual Ladder” elucidated by Swami Shantanand.

This thesis, which comprises an exegesis and the documentation of the unique training schedule developed through my personal theatre practice, aims at bridging that gap in creating a clear pathway for the attainment of the ‘greatest treasure’ in theatre practice: pure consciousness or Absolute Spirit-Brahman. I propose a model of acting-theatre praxis whose theoretical coordinates are located in the paradigm of Devotional Poetics and the Indian Sublime, the Vedic sciences of the Natyasastra as they relate to the state of pure consciousness and contemporary theories of Interculturalism. In order to fully locate the project, I have used the insights of Cultural Materialism and New Historicism, which offer useful frameworks for the interrogation of both collaborative and vertical traditional, theatre making. The insights that derive from the theoretical interrogation, here, of my theatre practice which include the presentation and analysis of the devised production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream adapted by the Temple of Fine Arts International suggest the possibility for the devotee of an actingtheatre praxis based on the pure consciousness of devotion and worship in adoration of the divine. The model developed here as part of the creative component of this thesis transpires in a devotional acting-theatre praxis, informed by my personal creative work at Murdoch University which provides an empirical (experiential) base from which to renegotiate the competing – often conflicting - demands of intercultural theatre practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): De Reuck, Jenniffer
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