Acting Work Shop with an Indian Theater Pedagogue
by Katharina Ortner (2002) Gisela-Gymnasium, München / Germany on 2019-10-06

05.24.19, The 10th-graders of the Gisela Gymnasium are making their way to the “theater cellar”, there we are received by Kirtana Kumar, an Indian theater pedagogue from Bangalore, who came to Munich as part of a project called “Flucht & Heimat” (= “Escape & Home”), a cooperation between trait d’union, the k25 theater and the Schauburg.

After doing some quick warm-up exercises, we’re ready to start! She tells us that we’re older than her last group, so she’ll be doing something a little different with us. We’re intrigued. “What do you see when you look at me?” Mrs. Kumar wants us to describe her. What stands out? What is different? Her clothes are colorful. She seems nice, open. Silver bracelets sparkle at her wrists. We grow quiet again. She asks if that were everything we saw. She encourages us to name everything that we observe, to simply state what we see. A few flashes of white in her hair. Her skin is darker. She is not wearing a bindi. Mrs. Kumar is satisfied. We move on.

Our newspaper awards great importance to interculturality and that is exactly what our workshop is all about. When working with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it is virtually impossible to avoid prejudices and stereotypes. Mrs. Kumar asks us to think about who she is to us, or what kind of person she seems to be: What does she like to eat? What kind of music does she enjoy listening to? Where and how does she live? 

We split into groups to ponder these questions, but when we reconvene to compare our findings, we notice that, albeit some small deviations, are eerily similar and paint a cohesive picture of who we think one Kirtana Kumar to be. She listens to Indian music, Bollywood, but also some western music: jazz and such. Our food choices for her are similar too: Dahl, Tandoori Chicken, Lassi. Sometimes she smiles at our answers which are riddled with Indian stereotypes. In truth, she listens to Eminem, eats vegetarian, actually likes Dahl a lot, speaks English at home, lives both on a farm in the countryside and in the city where she has a flat. Mrs. Kumar is a colorful blend of what we expect of an Indian person and other things, that are entirely her own. A “real” person, influenced by her homeland, as we all are, but shaped by lots of different aspects, as multifaceted as the country she hails from. The exercise helped us, among other things, to understand and identify the relationship between Stereotype, cultural influence and personality. 

Up next is the acting part of our workshop: each group has ten minutes to create a short sketch based on a handful of words given to us by Mrs. Kumar. The words are part of the pool of answers given by us previously. The storylines ranged from angry bride planning a wedding to family scenes and exasperated jazz musicians. Mrs. Kumar rewards us with praise. Another exercise follows and we find ourselves at the end of the workshop. To round everything up, all of us danced to a Bollywood song and took some pictures as memorabilia.