The Sydney-based acting academy Crescendo Theatre & Film recently put on its annual showcase titled The Times We Live In, a bill of performances by its students.
Each performance was short (lasting only 10 minutes), sharp (with only two or three actors per scene), and sweet (touching on subjects like loss and anxiety with empathy and truthfulness).
Bolstered by a troupe of actors who were unafraid to take the stage, it became a dynamic display of our complicated lives and messy relationships.
Directed by Jyotsna Sharma, The Times We Live In was a curated selection of sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, and sometimes absurd stories about people and the world.
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Kicking off this order of comedy, drama and the absurd, was special guest Shishir Sharma, who expertly combined all three elements. An acclaimed actor himself (Raazi, Fanaa and Zee TV’s Ghar Ki Lakshmi Betiyann), Sharma was in Sydney to mentor the student actors at Crescendo for the showcase. His choice of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his particular presentation suited him to a T.
Following his compelling opener was a mix of themes, content, and performance styles.
Broken, a script about the complex connections we share with our kids and our spouses, was performed aptly by Poornima Menon and Akanksha Srivastava. Bringing nuance to their characters, the actors managed to transcend initial impressions, reaching a more profound outcome to finish off.
Fate’s Steady Hands, a comically tense meeting between an employee and his boss, was played well by Ajay Gawande and Manmohan Makker. Both drew big laughs from the audience as the story twisted and turned.
On the more experimental side of the bill, Upala Sunthankar, Mahesh Arora and Bobby Philips surprised with Anxiety. The story was about overcoming one’s fears, and it is unlikely that so many on-stage deaths have occurred in 10 minutes before or in such comedic ways – from failing to correctly tie one’s shoes to choking on a toothbrush.
Manstruating, a bawdy scene where a woman has to deal with a man during his monthly grumpiness, was well captured by Ruchita Dhiman. Her monologue with co-performer Ajay Gawande both shocked and delighted in its openness, vulgarity, and authenticity.
Rounding out the evening, Shishir Sharma returned on stage with Bobby Philips for the strangest performance of all: a conversation between two spiders, and the simultaneous fear and love they individually have for their partners (a spider and a cockroach respectively). Appropriately labelled Spidermen, one can only wonder how they found such a script – or why such a script even exists in the first place.
Director Jyotsna Sharma founded Crescendo in 2019. She brings to it 20 years of experience in acting and directing (film and stage), voiceovers, and musicology. Equally, she is passionate about teaching the craft to students of all ages.
“Teaching drama is teaching life skills,” she told Indian Link. “The lessons in drama are about overcoming inhibition, facilitating public speaking, building confidence, developing personality. Students are constantly giving me that feedback – even the adults tell me they are doing better presentations at work! Acting is not about becoming the next SRK or the next Madhuri Dixit – it is about living your life better.”
The Times We Live In 2023, however, was all about getting her actors to strut their stuff.
Two actors, in particular, were singled out for their acting chops. As observers, Indian Link Media Group made this judgement call, the announcements left to yours truly.
The Best Performer award went to Rachana Vishwanath, for Ash. Her character had to convince her stage partner (Namita Matani) of the best way to dispose of her late partner’s ashes. She impressed with her ability to completely understand the situation her character was in, bringing her dialogues to life, and allowing the audience to participate in her laughter as well as her despair.
The Highly Commended award went to Poornima Menon for Broken. Her performance took us on a journey of twists and turns – one which not only surprised her but also left us in a deeply emotional state of mind.
Ultimately, The Times We Live In presented audiences with a chance to question themselves and their connections with others. It was a program that balanced the humorous side of this questioning well with its introspective elements, giving everyone something to ponder.
Crescendo Theatre & Film offers theatre workshops and drama classes for actors of all ages and backgrounds. It also provides a platform for eager performers to make and display their own work. It has produced numerous student films available on YouTube, shows for theatre festivals like Short + Sweet, and independent plays performed across Sydney.
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