'I try to edit myself out'

Complex act

'I try to edit myself out'

Expressive: Patty Gallagher.  DH photo by Anand Bakshi

She played the wicked queen in the Spanish version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs while in high school. The defining moment, though, came much later. Patty Gallagher realised that her true calling was theatre, while working as an accountant. There has been no hiccups ever since.

Gallgher, now an Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at University of California, Santa Cruz , directs courses in physical theatre, mask, Balinese dance and clown traditions. Closer home, she played the optimistic Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s bleak comic masterpiece Happy Days, at Ranga Shankara during the weekend. “I’ve been meaning to come to India for some time now and am honoured to be here,” she says.

Happy Days the essentially one-woman show, rests entirely on her shoulder. She, as the central character, Winnie, buried up to her waist in mud, has time and again received rave reviews. Gallagher admits she’s nervous every time she gets on the stage. “It’s bravery for 90 minutes,” she laughs.

The discomfort of being buried and the uninterrupted monologue notwithstanding, Patty says, “It looks crushing from outside. But my set director has been kind. I’m comfortable and not vocally compressed. The second act is claustrophobic. It helps me personally though. Inside the dirt, I’m holding Martini in one hand and cigarette in the other.” Then adds as an afterthought, “Beckett wanted to see his character under duress...”

Ask her how many would go watch a Beckett and she retorts, “One has to be game to go watch his play, to go into his particular complex game. But some days, we are ready for an intellectual play. And I do think you have to be ready for that intensity.”

Her understanding of the playwright is evident, “Beckett has a fascination for cultural translation. He, in fact, tried to figure out which language was best to express human condition.”

She then recalls her journey on stage so far. “I did Ph D in theatre after getting interested in the scholarly angle. I realised I love ‘making art’. Are there times when she dominates the character she plays? Gallagher cites the example of ‘personality actors’. “Take Hollywood for instance, Julia Roberts plays Julia Roberts in all her movies, while Meryl Streep disappears into her role. I, always try my best to edit myself out while acting.”

And she is constantly trying to stretch herself, influenced and inspired by classic clowning of the French traditions and Chaplin.

Gallagher makes it amply clear that theatre is no goldmine. “In my field there are lot of young actors who are pretty anxious to be famous and I say, ‘in theatre, there is no money’. ‘Be ready to be poor,’ I tell them, ‘if you are ready to suffer, take it’.”
Meanwhile, Gallagher also recalls having some surprise guests on stage once in a while, like a rattle snake which appeared between the acts. And on a more serious note, she talks about Bollywood’s influences “Hollywood was so far afraid of movement and music. Not any more, thanks to Bollywood, they have started
accepting music.”

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