“Rasa is flavor, taste, the sensation one gets when food is perceived, brought within reach, touched, taken into the mouth, chewed, mixed, savored, and swallowed. The eyes and ears perceive the food on its way—the presentation of the dishes, the sizzling. At the same time, or very shortly after, the nose gets involved. The mouth waters in anticipation. Smell and taste dissolve into each other. The hands convey the food to the mouth—either directly as in the traditional Indian way of eating with the fingers or somewhat indirectly by means of utensils (a latecomer everywhere). The whole snout is engaged. In the snout all the senses are well-represented. The lower part of the face contains the mouth, in the center is the nose, above are the eyes. The ears are side-center, but focused forward.”
Rasaboxes have been a continual fascination of mine which goes way back to an encounter with Kathak dance. Rasaboxes have a connection with Kathakali – which is a different dance form, but also a) originates in India and b) focuses on storytelling.
Rasaboxes also appeal to my inner yogi – I have used yoga breathing and asanas as part of my teaching practice. And – another win! – there’s a connection to Artaud’s concept of actors as ‘athletes of the mind’. Rasaboxes are a really powerful way to help actors connect with a range of genuine (rather than manufactured) emotions:
“Since being introduced to the Rasaboxes . . . I have been fascinated by their power to free performers (myself included) to experience ranges of physical and emotional expression that might have otherwise seemed unavailable to them. Through this training it is possible to develop an incredible range of expressiveness—from the filmic to the operatic or grotesque—without sacrificing the element of greatest concern to Western performers: “sincerity” or “truth.” I have found, in fact, that because of its focus on physical embodiment/expression, Rasaboxes training can serve to deepen a performer’s ability to find authentic emotional connections.” Michele Minnick, Rasaboxes Performer Training.
Rasaboxes are usually used as a group exercise but I believe they offer plenty of scope for solo character building.
They were developed by Richard Schechner and influenced by a number of performance traditions, primarily the pshycho-physical practices of Grotowski and the writings about the performing arts by Indian sage Bharata Muni, in the Natyasastra.
Let’s start with a (simplified) description of the process:
- The first part of the exercise is to draw a grid – either using chalk on a black stage floor or using big sheets of paper. The grid is made up of nine big squares, each labelled with an emotion.
- Sringara = Love, desire
- Raudra = Rage, anger, disgust
- Hasya = Laughter, humour, comedy
- Vira = Courage, energy, heroism, vigour
- Bibhatsa = Disgust, vomiting, revolt
- Karuna = Sadness, pity, grief, compassion
- Adbhuta = Surprise and Wonder
- Bhayanaka = Fear, shame, terror
The eight emotions can be placed anywhere in the grid, except the middle box. That is Santa – which is a neutral space of bliss and peace.
Schechner’s advice is to use the original Sanskrit words, rather than their English translations (you could pin these up in another part of the space as a guide):
“To use English (or any language the participants know) from the start would be to depersonalize and limit the range of meanings/feelings associated with particular rasas. And doubly so if the translation were my own. My ‘sringara’ is not your ‘sringara’ and it is important to me that during the exercise your sringara finds it place.”
2. Play some music in the background and ask the student(s) to fill in the squares – they can use words, pictures, quotes, shapes – any sort of graffiti – which relate to the rasa in each box. For solo students, this could be a ‘homework’ exercise. At the end everyone walks around the grid and reflects and what is inside each rasa box. It is important they remain silent.
3. Now the students move around each rasa box, building the exercise as follows:
- PHYSICALISING: adopting a physical pose which reflects the rasa – it doesn’t matter at this stage if it’s a bit clichéd, eg clutching your heart and dropping your head sorrowfully for Karuna, or standing tall and proud like a warrior for Vira. Allow students to travel through all the boxes, feeling how emotions change each time they enter a new box.
- BREATH and VOICE: adding sound to the physicalisation
- SOUND and MOVEMENT: improvisation a combination of expressive movement with sound
- ADDING TEXT: speaking a monologue or poem, or playing a scene with another character.
Paula Murray Cole described how rasaboxes helped her prepare for the role of Ophelia. The essay is available on the Rasaboxes website.
She also describes an exercise using essential oils – worth further research, I think! Maybe I could do the same thing with textures . . . ?!
“Not long ago, I spent a week and a half studying the therapeutic uses of essential oils. As part of an introductory exercise, our class was asked to experience and respond to the smell and effects of various oils; to notice what parts of our bodies were most affected by each oil; what memories, images, or associations were evoked; and to guess each oil’s therapeutic uses. During the exercise, I observed the expressions on the faces and bodies of my classmates as they related to each oil. I noticed that their responses were immediate and extremely physical. Robert took a whiff of German chamomile, a heavy dark blue oil, and was instantly, violently repulsed. His body jolted and jumped backward, his face contorted with disgust. “Auggghhhkk,” he exhaled as he spat. He quickly re- placed the cap on the bottle and put it far from his body. Steve uncapped the rosemary and his body and face widened, his spine lengthened, his breathing became large and even. “Wow,” he said, and he reported that he felt stimulated, powerful, energized. We took turns smelling the substances. After about five minutes, the oils’ essences were not only contained inside each bottle, but had diffused throughout the room, transfusing into our bodies and affecting our psychophysiology.”
Rasaboxes. 2018. Readings. [ONLINE] Available at: http://rasaboxes.org [Accessed 12 April 2018].
Schechner, R., 2001. Rasaesthetics. The Drama Review, 45, 3 (T171), 27-50.