Jefe's House

Theatre

Adding the Method to my Madness

by on Sep.28, 2019, under Film/TV, NYC, Theatre

logoI’m truly honored and humbled to be a part of The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute family teaching Theatre History for Actors.  Strasberg is one of the world’s top acting conservatories celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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Tagore and Whitman at ICCR Kolkata

by on May.21, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

On 4/25/19 I was in a show at ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) Kolkata performing selections from Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel-winning “Gitanjali” poetry collection in English while my counterpart Indrani Majumder performed them in Bengali. I ended with a selection from 19th century US poet Walt Whitman‘s “Song of Myself” as it always reminds me of Tagore. Their shared search for the divine in the everyday seems to make them a perfect pairing. Above is a short excerpt from the show.

 

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My Indian Film Debut

by on Apr.28, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

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Anirban Bhattacharya as Kolkata detective Byomkesh Bakshi on Hoichoi.

Today I had my film debut and I’m thrilled it’s in an Indian flick. I was honored that accomplished director Abhijit Choudhury, whose current HoiChoi (think Bengali Netflix) series Astey, Ladies rocked my world, asked if I’d do him a favor and play a British officer in his new feature film, a period drama entitled Maanbhanjan adapted from Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Giribala.” Really he was doing me the favor because it turns out he’s shooting a historical film set in the 1870s against the backdrop of the nascent Bengali theatre scene which is exactly one of my research areas.

I’m not going to give away the entire plot but suffice it to say they had done their homework and recreated it spot on. My hat’s off to the set designers, choreographer, director and the whole crew. The 1870s saw the first productions of Dinabandhu Mitra’s controversial (for the British) play Nil Darpan (literally “Blue Mirror,” in this case the blue referring to nil darpan coverindigo), which held a mirror up to the gross mistreatment of poor indigo farmers. I won’t go into detail here, but it led to an amazing turn of events and other protest plays culminating in the 1876 passage of the Dramatic Performances Control Act which was only ever enforced by the British against Indian plays.

In my obsession with this time period, and having visited what’s left of Kolkata’s old theatres and perused hundreds of old theatrical advertisements, articles and photos at this point, I have often wished I could go back in time and see the real productions. Tonight on set I got a glimpse of what that might be like. We were shooting in an old playhouse recreating what would have been a typical night at a Bengali theatre, opening with a mythological drama (in this case a story from the life of Lord Krishna and his consort Radha), then a long wait for the audience while the set was changed for the next play, and then a social drama, in this case Nil Darpan.

So here I am watching actors in period clothing doing scenes from Radha-Krishna, then Nil Darpan, while an “audience” of actors in 19th century period attire sat watching and reacting to it. I played a British officer sitting with my wife and our British friends in the front row becoming highly offended and eventually enraged by what I saw onstage. I’m stopping there regarding the plot.

The biggest thrill for me was getting to share the screen with a major star, Anirban Bhattacharya, who is known for many award-winning stage and film roles but he’ll always be HoiChoi Byomkesh to me. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, the stories written by Sharadindu Bandhopadhay and set in pre-Independence Calcutta. I’ve been a fan for several years, have read all the stories, seen I think all of the movie adaptations and all of the HoiChoi episodes. And this was long before I knew I’d not only be meeting Mr. Bhatttacharya but performing alongside him.

At one point I said to a fellow actor who seemed unaware of who he was, “That guy’s a famous actor.” She replied that famous people didn’t impress her.   I said, “Yes but he’s famous for a reason. He’s famous because he’s a terrific actor. One of the finest in India.”

She thought for a moment. “What was his name again?” came her response as she whipped out her phone to Google him. You should have seen me gushing at him between takes pumping his hand up and down saying, “I’m a big fan. I’m aware of who you are. It’s an honor to work with you.”

One more day of shooting for me later this week in which I get to have a face-off with his character. Suffice it to say I’m brushing up on my British accent.

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East & West Poetry Performance This Thursday in Kolkata

by on Apr.23, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

tota april 25th poster

This Thursday, April 25th at 6pm IST I’ll be performing in the East & West poetry reading with Kolkata performance artist Indrani Majumder. I’ll be reading some selections from Rabindranath Tagore’s 1912 Nobel-winning collection “Gitanjali” in English as a counter to Indrani performing the same poems in Bengali. Gitanjali’s central theme in this collection of largely pastoral poems is devotion, or as Tagore puts it in one of his verses, “I am here to sing thee songs”.

When I first read “Gitanjali” years ago it immediately brought Walt Whitman’s late 19th century “Song of Myself” to mind in its sensual appreciation for life and its seeking of the divine in nature. I love this epic poem so much that I keep a small pocket edition in my camping gear and always take it with me backpacking or camping, and make a point of spending a few minutes alone in the forest reading it; a tradition I hope to impart to my son. That said, I’ll be concluding my portion of the evening by reading a selection from “Song of Myself.”

We’re part of a larger evening lineup and the event is free.

Location:

ICCR Kolkata (Indian Council for Cultural Relations)

9A Ho Chi Minh Sarani just opposite the US Consulate

 

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But wait, there’s more…

by on Mar.06, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Double-feature on 3/26.  After my lecture I’ll be part of a livestreamed poetry reading featuring, and produced by, pro Kolkata performer of Rabindra kobita (poems by Rabindranath Tagore spoken in Bengali) Indrani Majumdar.  I’ll be reading some Tagore in English along with some Walt Whitman.

tota jeff poetry reading

 

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Lecture in Kolkata

by on Mar.05, 2019, under Film/TV, On the Road, Politics, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

In case you’re in the neighborhood I’ll be doing some standup comedy, I mean giving an academic lecture, at the US Consulate’s American Centre in Kolkata on 3/26.

(click the pic to enlarge it if you actually want to read it)

Vande Mataram

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Jatra With Me

by on Feb.11, 2019, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, The Press, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

tapasi eyes

Jatra star Tapasi Moon

I’m thrilled to share this piece Drexel University asked me to write for their website. It’s only one small part of my Fulbright-Nehru research but the first that any of it’s been published (hopefully this is just an appetizer). I’m honored that they took interest enough to have asked me for it.

Yours Truly backstage with actors Subhayu Mukherjee, Dibakar De and Tapashi Moon.

Yours Truly backstage with actors Subhayu Mukherjee, Dibakar De and Tapashi Moon.

Ashok Banerjee and Biswajit Majhi

Ashok Banerjee and Biswajit Majh

Timir Mondal and RJ Jayee

Timir Mondal and RJ Jayee

Light board operator Atanu

Light board operator Atanu

 Tapashi Moon, Bengali film star Dulal Lahiri, Ruma Dasgupta and Subhayu Mukherjee

Tapashi Moon, Bengali film star Dulal Lahiri, Ruma Dasgupta and Subhayu Mukherjee

Full article on Drexel University’s website here.

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Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

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Jatra Lecture and Workshop 2/27/19

by on Feb.05, 2019, under Shaheb Cafe, The Sixth Boro, Theatre

bridgephlad

Actress-Director Ruma Dasgupta as Rani Rashmoni with Tapasi Moon in the historical-devotional drama “Korunamoyi Rani Rashmoni” (“Gracious Rani Rashmoni”) by Sunil Choudhury. Lyricist Ujal Biswas, music by Swapan Pakrasai. Produced by the Sri Chaitanya Opera.

I’m honored that the Philly-based The Bridge PHL theatre company has invited me to give a lecture and workshop on Jatra theatre, one of my research areas as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar.

Jatra is a Bengali word meaning travel or journey. Jatra theatre, or jatra opera as it is often called in India, is a form of mobile, traveling folk theatre native to India’s northeastern state of West Bengal, dating back several centuries.

By the 19th century, jatra companies began to look away from the purely religious themes that had been their core function, and began to tackle historical subjects and social issues.

Jatra has functioned as a living newspaper, long before any of its playwrights and performers had heard of Theatre of the Oppressed (Augusto Boal hadn’t even been born yet). Long before Brecht, jatra companies worked in a tradition of intentionally nonrealistic acting and minimal use of props and set.

And there is so much more to tell…

Suggested donation $10

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State

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Teaching in Bangalore

by on Dec.03, 2018, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

bltlogoThrilled to be teaching a full-day playwriting workshop this week to members and friends of the Bangalore Little Theatre, affectionately called BLT.  I will also be seeing their latest play, based on the best-selling book The Emperor of All Maladies, as well as traveling with BLT to observe their theatre education program at some rural schools outside the city.

 

 

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The Work Begins

by on Sep.24, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

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Soumya Sankar Bose and Shyamal Dihidar

 

Yesterday the work began in earnest with my  interview of actor-director Shyamal Dihidar who’s been doing Jatra theatre since age 10. I met him through his nephew (also pictured) Soumya Sankar Bose, a Kolkata-based art photographer.  His uncle was kind enough to take a train 150km into the city for the interview which I held upstairs at a corner table of the cafe at the Oxford Bookstore.

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Shyamal Dihidar and Yours Truly

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 video camera and tripod that I brought with me paid off. And many thanks to Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design for lending me a Zoom sound recorder for 3 months.   Also many thanks to Oxford staff for taking it upon themselves to turn off the store music while I was recording.

 

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

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