February 15, 2005 > Krea- Community Theatre with a Difference
Krea- Community Theatre with a Difference
by Praveena Raman
Krea, a Tri-City area community theatre group, will be presenting their upcoming production Sruthi Bhedham, a Tamil play written by Anand Raghav and directed by Fremont's Dheepa Ramanujam on Saturday Feb. 26 at the Cubberly Theatre in Palo Alto.
Tamil is an ancient Dravidian language whose origin can be traced back to 500 B.C. It has the distinction of being a classical language like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin as well as a modern language. It has a grammatical structure that is distinct from Sanskrit and other languages, with a rich body of literature dating back to ancient times. Tamil originated in South India and is also spoken in Sri Lanka, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Fiji Islands and Mauritius. The Bay Area is home to about 20,000 Tamil-speaking people.
When Ramanujam first immigrated to the U.S. in 2000 she found that there were many organizations, like Tamil Manram, that promoted Tamil arts and literature and also enjoyed tremendous patronage. The scope of these organizations was broad, promoting all aspects of the arts. Hence they could not devote time and attention to the production of full-length plays using talent from the local communities. Seeing such a need she started producing Tamil plays, together with other Tri-City community members in 2001, which were very well received. The local community has benefited from Ramanujam's prior experience in the media industry in India and Bangkok which ranged from hosting television shows in Tamil, to acting in films, producing documentaries and directing Tamil plays.
After the success of the first few plays Ramanujam, together with her husband Ramanujam Thirumalai and friends Venu Subramaniam (Fremont) and Naveen Kumar Nathan (Union City), formed Krea solely to support Tamil theatrical arts. The group's past productions have included Annenna Pennenna, Oru Naal Kudimagan, Baadam Alwa Pazhaya Soragirathu, Thanimai and Maya, though only Maya has been staged under the Krea banner.
Tamil speaking people from all over the Bay Area have auditioned for the plays and perform in the productions. "Not everybody is selected," said Ramanujam. "I try to cast people who can portray well the characters in the play. That is why auditioning is important." She also realizes that there are differences in the way plays are produced and directed in the U.S. from the way they are produced in India. "In India, plays are usually never blocked. Whereas here they do the blocking and I have started incorporating that as well as cues in my plays."
To learn other techniques that she could borrow from Western culture, she is presently taking a Theatre class at Ohlone College under Tom Blank. Rehearsals for the plays take place at her residence in Fremont. The group would like to rehearse and stage plays in the Tri-City area. That has proved a challenge and they still use the Cubberly Theatre for performances. "We tried to see if we could rehearse Sruthi Bhedham at Broadway West," said Ramanujam. "But the dates and times that the theatre was available did not match our needs."
Krea's upcoming production, Sruthi Bhedham, is set in the 1950s and is about a conflict between a father, who is a famous musician, and his daughter born out of wedlock. The daughter, feeling ashamed about the circumstance of her birth, decided to take revenge on her father by becoming a famous musician herself. In the process the daughter realizes the greatness of her father's talent and the smallness of her own revenge and decides to ask his forgiveness. Nathan plays one of the main roles as the father's assistant. "I think acting is in my blood," said Nathan. "My father has acted in several plays but it was only after I came to this country that I decided to try it. I train hard and try to portray the character to my best ability. I feel elated going on stage."
The play has an interesting concept that is usually not seen in American theatre. Central to the story plot is the rendition of classical Carnatic music, which is rich and requires a lot of training to be sung well. Instead of trying to learn or make people learn the difficult songs, Ramanujam has recorded the Bay Area's leading Carnatic musician, Asha Ramesh, singing for the daughter and Ramanujam, who acts as the daughter, lip syncs in the play. The same is done for the father as well.
The group also uses its plays to raise funds for non-profit organizations. As all the performers and production staff are volunteers participating in the production because of their passion for performing arts, the money that has been raised from their sold out performances is given to identified charitable organizations after deducting production costs. Funds from Sruthi Bhedham have been earmarked to support www.aidindia.org.
Interestingly, not everyone who is involved in the productions speaks Tamil. Set designer K.C. Chandratreya speaks Marathi, but has been able to understand and follow the needs of the Tamil plays. "We are hoping non Tamil speaking people will also come to see the play," said Ramanujam. "They will be treated to something different from the normal plays that are staged here, and if we do a good job in our acting, then everybody will be able to follow the story plot." To encourage non-Tamil speakers to come for the play, the Krea group will provide a booklet with the synopsis of the scenes in English.
Krea will present their upcoming production Sruthi Bhedham, a Tamil play written by Anand Raghav and directed by Fremont's Dheepa Ramanujam on Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Cubberly Theatre in Palo Alto. The shows are 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $12. For more information visit www.kreacreations.com or call (510) 579-7541 or (510) 435-5034. Tickets can also be purchased online, at Mailbag in San Jose (408) 944-3131 or Madras Cafè in Sunnyvale (408) 737-2323.