What are the characteristics of Third Theatre?

The term ‘third theatre’ was coined by Eugenio Barba, founder of the Odin Teatret in Denmark, who, in 1976, was given the task of organizing a conference on theatrical research by UNESCO and the Institute International du Théâtre.

In the Indian context, Badal Sircar was one of the leading and most influential playwrights and directors in modern Indian theatre movement. Inspired by Grotowski and Euginio Barba, he started a new movement in the Indian theatre world, also known as ‘Third Theatre’.

Third Theatre has certain unique facets which can be elaborated as follows:

1. Unity of Rural and Urban

Theatre Third theatre is the fusion of two theatres rural and the urban theatre. In the exploration Sircar had seen the inherent features of folk theatre i. e. live performer and direct communication technique. And the emphasis on the performers body rather than the set-ups and mechanical devices from the proscenium theatre. Thus Sircar combined these features of the rural and the urban theatre and made the third theatre as the synthesis of these two theatres.

2. Emphasis on Audience Participation

In exploration of the theatre Sircar came to realize that the theatre is a human act. Experience is the key word in every art and theatre is also a kind of art, where people come to have experience. According to Badal Sircar theatre should be a collective exercise to awaken and enhance the social consciousness of participants, including the viewers. So, he preferred doing theatre in the open air where audience can participate. Sircar has said of his own theatre: There is no separate stage—the performance is on the floor; that is the Performers and the spectators are within the same environment. This is intimate theatre. The performers can see the spectator clearly, can approach him individually, can whisper in his ears, can even touch him if he wants.

3. Anti-Proscenium Nature

Third theatre is anti-proscenium in nature. In proscenium theatre elaborate stage set-ups, props, spotlight, costume, make-up etc. are used to create illusion of reality. But in the Third theatre emphasis is given on the performer’s body rather than set, props and costumes. In proscenium theatre raised stage is used to keep distance from the spectator. But the Third theatre offers openness to the spectator.

4. Portability, Flexibility, and Inexpensive

Third theatre is portable, because it can be moved anywhere. As it does not require heavy set-up, spotlight, furniture, costumes etc. so it becomes portable. Third theatre is flexible because plays can be performed anywhere, it does not require stage. A theatre which can go to where the people are without waiting for them to come to a specified place. Since it reduced the cost of theatre, and it can be offered at freely, so it is inexpensive. Sircar believed in human relationship, not in the buyer and seller relationship. He believed that theatre is a human act; it is art not the source of earning money.

5. Approach to Acting

In the Third Theatre emphasis is given on the acting rather than set-ups, costumes. Set-ups are made of collective human act. Emphasis is totally given on the human body. For the free flow of action games exercises are taken in the workshops. Training is given to the performers through improve. Instead of imitating certain stage voices and movements, the performers are taught to giving more from within, replacing the fake in theatre by a true expression of the self. Freeing them from the constraints of realistic depiction, Sircar encouraged the performers to use movements, rhythm, mime, formations, and contortions to express them physically. The body of the actor becomes the text.

6. Synthesis of East and West

Third theatre exhibits an openness and receptivity. Sircar was influenced both Indian folk theatre and western experimental theatre. Sircar adopted direct communication technique and live performance from the Indian folk theatre. Open performance and emphasis on the performer’s body from the west theatre. Thus, he combined these features and made the Third theatre.

Sircar himself admits that he learned the most from observing and sometimes working with practitioners like Jerzy Grotowski, Joan MacIntosh, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, and Richard Schechner. But mere observing is other thing; he has not imitated them. Third or free theatre can never be like Grotowski’s physical theatre because, Sircar says, those conditions of performance are simply not available in India. Sircar focused on doing theatre than writing plays, because he had profound knowledge Indian society where physical, psychological, cultural, mental, political, and spiritual dichotomies reclined. To bring about a change Sircar used theatre as a tool. He was conscious that the dichotomy in the cultural field cannot be removed without a fundamental change in the socio-economic situation, and he knew that it cannot be done through theatre. Though he knew that theatre by itself can never change the society, he firmly believes that theatre can be one of the many facets of a movement that is needed to bring about the desirable change, and that makes the idea of Third Theatre, a theatre of change meaningful to him.

7. Theatre as the servant of Nationalism

During the exploration Sircar realized the existence of two cultural trends running parallel to each other giving rise to a fundamental dichotomy between urban and rural lives, with this understanding he had come to realize the existence of two distinct kinds of theatre in rural and urban areas of India. As he was basically a middle-class man of Calcutta, he was attached to the city of Calcutta. A city of alien culture based on English education repressing, distorting, buying, promoting for sale the real culture of the country. Sircar had an intimate feel of the urban conscience of this city and had a profound understanding of the middle-class life, and through almost all his major plays, he is found probing into the Calcutta middle-class mind. Sircar produced plays that hit the rural and urban dichotomy as he wished to create a link between the two theatres through his Third theatre, a theatre of synthesis.

8. Theatre as a Tool of Political Ideology

Sircar was active member of undivided Communist Party of India in 1940s, the decade of Independence. Thereafter he says he criticized the Party and was suspended. After a year of his suspension still he continued in organized politics. Though in the early 50s he left politics never to return, his political ideology has not changed. As he said party had let him down but the ideology of Marxism has kept him alive. As Sircar believed in Communism, he wished to work for the society. He wished to make the world change. The transition from depicting the alienation of the middle classes to writing about the lives of workers and peasants is arguably a Marxist progression. It is best outlined in his play Hattamalar Oparey (Beyond the Land of Hattamala, 1977). The story of two thieves— named Kena (Bought) and Becha (Sold), obviously representative of the evils of capitalism chance upon a land of no money that operates according to the Communist principle of each to the best of his ability and to each according to his need. After many escapades they decide shamefacedly to give up their evil ways and live in this new land, one as a mason and the other as a gardener. Hattamala ends with the chorus singing “We’ll share what we have together. Come, let’s share everything together.”

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