ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Indian Ink

 

Indian Ink by Tom Stoppard, directed by Carey Perloff begins previews this week and is the first production of the 2014-2015 Season at the Laura Pels Theatre.

At its heart, Indian Ink is a romance. And that’s what I love about Tom Stoppard and about this play in particular. Tom, as the author of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Travesties, Jumpers, and many more, is often pegged as a purely intellectual playwright, yet works like Indian Ink demonstrate that the intellectual and the emotional are not mutually exclusive. In this play, the details of time and place are so specific and so captivating, but what really matters is how the characters behave within this structure – that’s what we as an audience latch onto. And perhaps more than in any of his plays, here Tom has let the characters guide him. He recently cautioned that it’s all well and good if the performers learn everything there is to know about the British Raj and give you an authentic experience of India in 1930, but this play is hardly meant to be educational. The real work is to tell the story of these people: a poet on a journey, a painter at a crossroads, a biographer on a quest, and a sister safeguarding a legacy. It is the very opposite of a dry historical lesson, instead overflowing with passion, with our heroine embracing the surprising joy of mortality, sucking the juice out of life and working to make a lasting mark on the world through art and through love.

While many people think of Tom as a quintessentially British writer (he was, after all knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997), he was actually born in Czechoslovakia and spent a portion of his childhood in India. Interestingly, our wonderful leading lady, the great Rosemary Harris, also spent a good deal of her youth in India, as her father was a member of the Royal Air Force serving there. For both of them, that time and place have loomed large in memory, as they were present at a fascinating time of transition, with a country gaining its strength on a march towards eventual independence. Tom has captured the feeling of the era so beautifully in Indian Ink, raising deep questions about what we mean by “home” and who really is “the other” in a culture of occupation and empire. How do you find authenticity when the culture around you demands loyalty to ideas that seem entirely foreign?

It’s a truly gorgeous piece, and I’m proud to be giving it the New York debut that Tom has been waiting for. With stunning design and the largest cast ever seen at the Pels, this is an ambitious production, and I know that it will have great impact. As Indian Ink is making its mark off-Broadway, we’ll also be bringing back another Tom Stoppard work, The Real Thing, at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. To have Tom present with us for both shows this fall is a true honor, and I cannot wait to share them with you.

I hope you will share your thoughts on this playwright and on Indian Ink by emailing me at artisticoffice@roundabouttheatre.org. I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback each season. Please keep it coming.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!

Sincerely,

Todd Haimes
Artistic Director


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, From Todd Haimes, Indian Ink


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Interview with Actor Firdous Bamji

Posted on: September 2nd, 2014 by Ted Sod

 

Firdous Bamji

Actor Firdous Bamji spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about his role in Indian Ink.

Ted Sod: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and educated? When and why did you decide to become an actor?

Firdous Bamji: I was born in Bombay, though my family didn’t live there at the time. We lived on an island in the Persian Gulf called Bahrain where my father was the regional representative for Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. My mother chose to return to her own native city to have all three of us. My first school was called St. Christopher’s, a British day school. Some years I was the only non-Brit in my class. My parents then sent us all, my two brothers and me, to an American boarding school in South India, called Kodaikanal International. It was (and is) 7,000 feet up in the Palani hills. It took us two planes, two overnight trains, and a very long bus ride to get there. I started there in the 6th grade when I was ten, and graduated six years later with the largest senior class ever, a grand total of 40. It was co-educational, with no uniforms, and an amazing amount of freedom, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time. When you got to the tenth grade you were allowed to get a pass on the weekends, and you and your friends could hike into the hills with no chaperone, as long as you were back by Sunday night.

Kodai is where I started acting. The sixth grade play was called Virtue and Justice Triumph Again. I was given a bit part, but, due to reasons I can’t recall or perhaps never knew, the kid who was playing the lead villain, a character whose name was Snidely Whiplash (I kid you not) begged off or got fired. I was then thrust into the limelight and gathered it up eagerly with both of my very small hands. I can still remember my first two lines. Then in 11th grade, some friends and I did Waiting for Godot. It wasn’t part of the usual theatre program. It was seriously indie, by Kodai standards. The school was established by American Christian missionaries for their own kids, and, though it was “international” by the time I got there and had children from something like 40 different countries attending, it was still strongly Christian. Our production caused a scandal. Kids were suddenly flinging themselves into apostasy and begging-off church. We had to have a student/teacher gathering in the gym to discuss it. Religion was parsed and everyone felt quite free to speak up and say exactly what he or she thought. There was a bit of radical chic at work, no doubt, but it was still very affecting. It made me understand that doing theatre wasn’t just enjoyable, but also dangerous. And useful.


TS: You have a history with this play.  You played Anish Das, the son of Nirad Das, in an earlier production of Indian Ink. How will the experience of playing Anish affect your approach to the role of Nirad?

FB: I don’t know. I’m not sure that it will affect it. I’m about to find out.


TS: What kind of research or preparation do you have to do in order to play Nirad, who is an Indian artist in 1930 during British colonization? Can you give us some insight into your process as an actor?

FB: I’ve been learning from and painting with two brilliant portrait artists who live in my village. And I’ve been reading The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian by Nirad C. Chaudhuri. Also, The Hindus, An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger. And another useful book, Rajput Painting, by Rhoda Ahluwalia. I’ve also been learning about the Pre-Raphaelites. Many of the pieces at the Tate here in London have gone off to Turin for a spell. That’s okay, though. Nirad wouldn’t have been able to see the real thing himself any way.

British colonization of India


TS:  What do you make of the relationship between Nirad and Flora? What do you think Flora means when she says to Nirad: “Why do you like everything English?” Do you see Nirad as an Anglophile? And, if you do, is it a means of survival in colonial India, or his curiosity, or both?

FB: I don’t know what their relationship is; I haven’t experienced it yet. But I think Flora makes a very common mistake. She thinks that what she feels is the truth. We all do this constantly. She sees Nirad as someone who is denying his own roots. She doesn’t allow for true inspiration to be his motivating factor. If Nirad is simply dismissed as an Anglophile, then the whole northern European neo-classical tradition can be dismissed as ‘Grecophilia’ or ‘Romano-philia’ or whatever the condition is called when you’re obsessed with the Romans. I think he is truly inspired and awakened by these artists. Also, whenever a person from what is considered to be the dominated culture finds inspiration in the arts of what is considered to be the dominant culture, that is seen as somehow base, predictable, and banal. Whereas if it happens the other way around, that is seen as open-minded, refreshingly unique, and even intrepid. What’s going on here?


TS: What do you feel Indian Ink is about? The concept of Rasa plays an important part in the play thematically. How would you define Rasa?

FB: Indian Ink, I think, is about relationships, and how we get each other wrong. “Only connect,” E. M. Forster wrote. We hardly ever do. Properly. Perhaps we can’t. Too exhausting. Easier to stay in our own little bubbles.

As far as I’m able to understand it, Rasa is what Nirad Das says it is: “The emotion conjured up by what we see, read, hear, taste or feel.” If something has Rasa, it elicits both a spiritual and an intellectual response.


TS: Does acting in a play written by Tom Stoppard present any specific challenges?

FB:  The answer is yes and no. Yes, because each play is a specific challenge. But Tom’s, as far as I'm concerned, and I’ve just done two, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Indian Ink, are easier and less challenging because they're good. It's like the difference between trying to ride a well-made bicycle and something with only one pedal.


TS: What do you look for in a director?

FB: Someone who is constantly exploring, curious, and likes a good laugh. Intelligence is vital. Boundless energy. Openness. In other words, Carey Perloff. Someone who can keep the whole picture in her mind, while not feeling like she has to shrink away from being fascinated by the smaller details. I also think a good director is like a good writer (or a good reader for that matter), in that she must fall in love with every one of the characters and judge none of them.


TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist? Do you see the work of other actors? Go to museums? Travel? Take classes?

FB: Good books, good plays, good jokes, good movies. Baseball. Travelling certainly. People in general, life in all its varied aspects. History and current events. But mainly good books. In my experience, a museum only really amuses after I’ve read a good book about what I’m going to be looking at.


TS: What advice would you give to a young person who wants to pursue an acting career?

FB: There’s this guy in an old Greek story by the name of Procrustes. He’s a blacksmith, but also a murderer and a highwayman. He abducts his victims, or lures them in with illusions of succor, and then forces them to fit into an iron bed he’s hammered together himself. If they’re too tall he chops them up. If they’re too short he stretches them out. That’s what the acting business can try to do to you, and I mean “the business” and not the art form. It helps to know exactly who you are before you go in, and who you’re perceived to be. Then decide who you want to be. You may not be allowed to decide that for yourself. And if those two things don’t jive, then you have three choices: change your mind, change their minds, or walk away and do your own thing.


Indian Ink begins previews on September 4 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Indian Ink, Upstage


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Interview with Playwright Tom Stoppard

Posted on: August 29th, 2014 by Ted Sod

 

Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg sat down with playwright Tom Stoppard and discussed Indian Ink.

Tom Stoppard

Ted Sod: Indian Ink was first performed as a radio play, correct?

Tom Stoppard: Not quite correct. This play, Indian Ink, was preceded by another play entitled In the Native State, which was the origin of Indian Ink. Indian Ink is very different in structure, but has the same subject matter.


TS: What inspired you to write about Flora Crewe in India? Was it a specific person?

Tom Stoppard: I was in India myself as a child.


TS:  Was that in 1941?

Tom Stoppard: My family was in Singapore when the Japanese War started. We were in Singapore at the time of Pearl Harbor, and by the beginning of 1942 the Japanese invasion of Burma and Singapore had started. Our little family -- my mother, my brother, and I -- had got onto one of the boats which were leaving. It was supposed to go to Australia, but everything was so chaotic; we ended up in Bombay. We got off the boat and the three of us spent the rest of the war in India. Meanwhile, my father got onto the very last boat leaving Singapore, which was sunk by the Japanese, and he didn’t survive. So it was a saga, really. We were Czech refugees. We weren’t in the British Raj at all. We were a Czech family from Czechoslovakia.

My father was a doctor in Moravia, in the south of the country. There were a number of Jewish doctors in the hospital there, and at a certain point – almost too late really, but in time – they were all sent overseas by their employer. It was the Bata Shoe Company -- an extraordinary outfit -- which had its own hospital, school and so forth. They had started a generation or two earlier, and by the time my family was involved, they had places all over the world. There was a Bata in South America, in India, and in London. We were dumped on these poor Bata people who were established in India, up the river from Calcutta. I’m sure they didn’t know what to do with us. I think there were about fifteen mothers and their children who had all arrived there.


TS: So, the character of Flora – did she come from a memory?

Tom Stoppard: No, not at all. It is a different period. It’s 1930, more than ten years before I was in India. Also, when I was there I was a five-year-old boy. I really wanted to write the role for Felicity Kendal, who had been in India and was in a film called Shakespeare-Wallah. I liked her very much as an actor and said, “I’m going to write this play for you, in which you go back to India.”  Of course I had chosen an earlier period and I don’t even remember why I was writing about 1930. But as you know, it’s a play which takes place not only in 1930, but also in what was more or less the present day when I wrote this play, which was about 1990 I think.


TS: Carey Perloff, the director, intimated that maybe Flora was based on someone like Edith Sitwell or Hilda Doolittle.

Tom Stoppard: She wasn’t. Edith Sitwell was a very different kind of person, aristocratic and rather genteel really. Flora wasn’t based on anybody in particular. I just had this notion of a ballsy young woman who was on her own with a much younger sister to worry about. I just made Flora meet all the people I wish to have met at that time. It is a period that I liked.


TS:  So many of your plays are exquisitely structured. Do you start with a structure, with a character, or is it very different from play to play?

Tom Stoppard: I think it becomes different over the years. I feel that when I began writing I had a need to know more about the play before I got into it. I think that’s the way I was thinking. But my actual experience is that the best way to find out what the structure is, is by writing the play out laterally. You just have got to be brave enough to start without knowing where you are going. You might have one or two thoughts about places further down the line, but on the whole, I just try to make what I’ve just written suggest to me what I should write now. I mean literally line by line and scene by scene.


TS: Like Arcadia, Indian Ink is bifurcated into two time frames. How do you keep track of where it’s going? Or is that something that happens later?

Tom Stoppard: I just do it the way you would do it. I’m not conscious of having some kind of method or game plan. I don’t really have a system or set of principles. It’s kind of common sense mixed up with instinct. If you set off on a certain course, you know that you’re zig-zagging between time frames, if that happens to be what you’re doing, and you’re trying to look out for the unwritten part of the play.


TS: But it’s definitely a puzzle that both you and the audience are solving simultaneously, which makes it fun for the audience!

Tom Stoppard: There’s a puzzle element, and it’s fun for all of us: the writer, the audience, the actors. If you are in control of who knows what when, it’s kind of nice sometimes. The same thing happens in Arcadia where the audience is ahead of the characters. I’ve done that more than once. I probably should stop doing it.


TS: The play is often said to be about “nostalgia and romantic loss.” What do you think the play is about?

Tom Stoppard: The thing is, that’s a kind of critic’s question or an academics question. I don’t mind you asking it, it’s just that it’s about different things to different people. What it’s actually about is what happens in the play. That’s what it’s about. I guess I’ve been asked that about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern now for about forty years and the answer is it’s about two courtiers of Elsinore. And this is about a young woman I invented who is a poet, and she is in India dying of TB.

One doesn’t write these things so that there is a secret “aboutness” which the audience is supposed to guess or arrive at. That’s not how it is. It’s a storytelling art form. You’re telling a story. It’ll chime this way or that way for people who are listening to the story. I think it’s a love story probably. I think that in the end it works as not a conventional love story, but it turns out to be very much about a romance. You have to completely change your mind-set about what a play is trying to be, and when I say you, I literally mean you sitting there today in this room in this chair. I just feel that there is this idea that a play is interesting because it’s actually about something slightly mysterious. That’s not how I see it at all. I think it’s a story about some characters and a story that is trying to hold your attention. If it succeeds, that’s what it’s trying to do.


TS: I asked just in case there is something you wanted the audience to look out for. I realize it’s impossible to answer and maybe I should stop asking playwrights that question.

Tom Stoppard: It’s a perfectly reasonable question. I think that one of the things it ought to be saying to an audience is, “Hurry up. It’s time. Time’s going by; you only get one chance.


TS: That’s why I love Flora. She is obviously trying to make the most of the time she has left.  I think we all do that once we hit a certain age.

Tom Stoppard: I don’t know if we do. I think we still diddle around. I do. I mean I’m seventy-seven and I’m not using my time well most of the time. At the moment, I’m just getting up in the morning and seeing what’s on the diary.

Emily Eden


TS: Will you talk about some of the changes in the text you are contemplating?

Tom Stoppard:  It’s a kind of mantra of mine that the play is the event, not the text. It always bothered me a little that after all these years, anytime Indian Ink is being done anywhere, it ends up with a recorded voice, which is essentially Emily Eden’s letter. I always thought, “Is that really what I would have most wished?” So that was one thing.

Carey knows this play better than anybody, better than I do, and I talked to her about my feelings about how the play ends. It ends with a statement about empire and politics rather than about love and the death of an individual. I thought if I could just shift a necessary few words, which I really wanted to keep from the letter, which was recorded —and move them earlier, then I could actually bring Flora to her own graveyard, like a ghost. We’re sitting here on the first day of rehearsal and I don’t know whether it will work. When the play was new, the kind of audience that would come to it wouldn’t need that much help about who was E.M.Forster or Gertrude Stein. Those two references are still in the play, but there are a few others. I thought that there is no point in including little in jokes about English literary life, so I was quite happy to find one or two trims there.

And finally, although there is no right or wrong length for a play I suppose, I really wanted to get out from under the burden of a ninety-minute first act. We’re in a period of theatre history here where up to ninety minutes is when you go to a restaurant. You don’t go back in for more. With this play and with several other plays of mine, all I remember about the experience of being in production with them is simply trying to make act one five minutes shorter. I’ve been there so many times it’s kind of ridiculous. I said to Carey, “Maybe we can do that before we start this time.” I’m quite pragmatic about these things, especially if that includes lines and references that are literally meaningless to ninety percent of the audience.

 


Indian Ink begins previews on September 4 at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Centre for Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Indian Ink, Upstage


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