One on one with the audience: A reflection by Raghav Seth

Raghav Seth is an actor, improviser and voice artist based in New Delhi, India. His association with Kaivalya Plays started as a cast member in our digital productions How To Disappear Completely and the Tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

Here's his reflection on his third project with Kaivalya Plays called Lifeline 99 99, an interactive one-on-one theatre performance that takes place on the phone.

Q. What is your background in theatre acting and how did you happen to join this project?

I have been doing theatre for almost as long as I can remember. I have always had the affinity for the stage but I never really saw it more than simply being on stage. When I was applying for colleges, I found a course that lets me do Theatre, English and Psychology as a triple major. It was during my time in college I realised how much I loved theatre and not simply being on stage. The process, the insights, the ethics. Just everything was so compelling.

After graduating from college, in 2019, I started looking for work in the field of theatre, and fortunately, I was able to start working on two plays. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit just a few months after I started working on them. In 2020 however, I began experimenting with online theatre and Improv. By the end of 2020, I had been a part of multiple performances online. In the month of October, I was reached out to by Kaivalya Plays to be a part of Lifeline 99 99, a play devised in the form of a phone call. I was initially sceptical but not closed-minded about my experience and I decided to be a part of their initiative, and I have not looked back ever since.

Q. When you first heard about this project, what impression did you have? What were your expectations?

I was a little sceptical but I was intrigued to see how it would turn out. There wasn’t a solid script in place when we started, so I was confused about how we were going to go about it. However, after our first few meetings, we were ensured that the script will be developed with us. My expectation was quite limited because I had never done anything like this before. The two major expectations were exposure and getting paid.

Q. What was it like in the rehearsal room? What was different about it being virtual?

The rehearsal rooms were quite fun, actually. Getting used to using Zoom has definitely helped. The difference is that it lacks that transfer of energy. Eye contact is such an important part of being in sync with other members of the cast/group. We did come up with some exercises to make up for this but it is not the same.

Q. Tell us about some of the challenges you faced during this project, perhaps some which were compounded by its one-on-one nature?

There were many obstacles that I faced. The first and most important obstacle was the lack of a solid script. Coming from a field of theatre, I am used to having a set script and that was definitely a challenge I faced during the whole process. It was being developed and re-developed with each rehearsal and it wasn’t until the final shows that we had a “set script”. The solid script was simply a framework to work within since quite a bit of the performance was improvised.

The second challenge that I faced was the accent that my character was using. My character, Murugan, was using a regional accent from the South, and due to a similar nature of the accent’s sounds, it became very tricky to get it right. I tried to maintain it throughout the process, but there were times when I kept losing the accent in the midst of improvising.

The third challenge that I faced was relating to my character (especially in the initial stages of the preparations). My character was extremely politically charged, which I am not and so understanding where he was coming from was an extremely difficult task. However, over the course of the project, we decided that the character is more driven by his dilemma in life and his character’s story, which added a lot of sense to his political stance without having the need to justify using political agendas.

The final challenge I faced was that my piece was particularly emotionally exhausting. It had a lot of psychological aspects and sympathy-driven elements where I had to draw in the audience and then talk to them heart-to-heart. It is easy to do it once but to do it 6 times over two days was extremely difficult, mainly because I want to ensure that everything I do is authentic. I tried my best to keep that part of the performance fresh, but in doing so, it was quite emotionally exhausting.

Q. How do you prepare yourself before an audience call? What do you do?

I just be with myself for some time. Take a deep breath and compose myself because I know that it is going to be a rollercoaster of a journey through the performance.

Q. How do you ground yourself after a call ends?

I take a moment to break out of the performance because it is quite a difficult ending to perform. Then I immediately join the Zoom meeting, because I like to discuss what happened and just let go of any apprehensions I had during the performance.

Q. How do you approach the world-building of your character? How has an audience's question(s) added to that?

The world-building is a very gradual process and it takes some time because the performance changes drastically from its opening moments to the middle and then, the end. The middle section is where most of the world-building happens. This is where I take a step back from the script, and talk to the audience as the character, building the character’s narrative and his story.

The story is created in such a way that there is room for curiosity and thereby getting the audience to ask questions. Questions are a good way for the audience to assess how real the performance is for them, thereby adding a lot more to the world-building from their perspective.

Q. What's different about performing on the phone than performing on the stage?