Maya K. Rao and Her Theatrical Techniques

This initial article will deal with Maya K. Rao’s performance ‘ The Non-Stop Feel-Good Show’. I will reflect upon how Maya Rao uses several narrative elements and her techniques of alienating herself from the narrational character in the performance. Through her performance in short episodic manner, she draws a major concern towards the biographical, political, social, cultural and gender issues. Apart from herself as a character, this paper will also examine the impact of costume, music, light, and props as lively characters that intensify the character of Maya Rao as a performer and add deeper meanings to the narrative. A nuanced critique of modern day consumer culture is very sharply portrayed through the involvement of her biographical elements as well as the political realm of the current scenario. The underlying tone of criticism even gives a clear hint that she is also not sparing her family members ranging from her great grandparents to her generation members. In order to deal with the ideas that I have proposed here, I will be using some texts that will help me to contextualize the framework that I want to work upon.

The show was performed and directed by Maya Rao in the year 2013 on 15th January as a part of Bharat Rang Mahotsav. The place where the performance happened was Abhimanch and the language used was English. The beginning of the performance seems to be meant for serving a deeply invested purpose of making an impact upon the consciousness of the audience. In this section, I am referring to the use of light that creates an illusory environment. It certainly retains an impression on the consciousness of the audience. What really intensifies the scenic purpose of intensified light is the trembling music score. The opening scene as a composition of light and music without the presence of a central character (Maya Rao) in the composed space for some time gives a dynamic momentum of the narrative that will be performed by her. This very scene is the main reason behind my analysis upon the use of non-living characters (light, color, costume, props) which in my opinion are as important as the central character. From this very perspective, I see a co-relation and similarity between Maya Rao’s purpose behind the performance and the purpose of the non-living characters being composed as a unified narrator and contributor to the purpose behind their own composition.

 In the article, An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative Roland Barthes argues in The narrative situation that Indeed, it is in that self-emphasis of narrative that the units at the lowest level take on their full significance. This ultimate, self-designating form of narrative [i.e., the narrational level] transcends both its contents and its properly narrative forms (functions and actions). This explains why the narrational code should be the last level to be reached by our analysis; going any further would be overstepping the limit of narrative-as-object or transgressing the immanence rule which underlies this analysis. Narration can indeed receive its meaning only from the world which makes use of it: beyond the narrational level begins the external world, that is to say other systems (social, economic, ideological) which no longer include narratives only, but elements of another substance (historical facts, determinations, behaviors, etc.). Taking into account what Barthes proposes here regarding the narration and how narration derives its full significance and importance from the contents as well as other systems (social, economic, ideological) along with another substance (historical facts, determinations, behaviors, etc.). Taking this very approach and looking at the range of elements (like biographical, socio-political satire upon the present day milieu of political shift, consumer culture and sense of alienation through the visible shift of character and visible engagement of people from the spectators side) used by Maya Rao certainly provides her narrative of the performance take full significance. Apart from the elements used we also see the nuanced and almost saturated use of light, music, colors, costume, props and her own improvised voice that heightens the purpose of effectively portraying the concerns in her performance. Just before the scene where a visible and conscious presence of the band member is made to the spectator and he says Autobiography part 2- we see a complete absence of physical presence of Maya Rao as a performer but what really takes the place of her physical and visible presence from the stage is her voice over the slides that contained her family photos. Every element and content in this section was certainly taking its significance from the lowest level of the narrational unit. This is a fascinating point, but the description is not well worked out for the reader to understand the critique properly. In such a case, what might be helpful would be a full description of the stage and the sequence and then moving on to the analysis. That allows the reader to follow the thread of the argument while keeping in mind the sequence as a whole. Now that if I think of  the reader as someone who has not seen the performance, but is very interested to know about it.

Moving to another section of the performance where she uses individuals or lets them make an involuntary intervention to the domain of stage and creates defamiliarization among the spectators including herself again without the description the reader is at a loss to understand what you are indicating. She certainly is engaged there in the intervention of individual in the domain but what really gives the impression that she herself is defamiliarized from the scenic narrative element is the becoming of the individual from the band to be the leading narrator. It is this individual that seems to be keeping an upper hand upon the power dynamics of Character-Narrator spectrum. This symbiosis relationship between the individual from the band and her reflects the issues and the dynamic relationship that they have with the socio-political frame outside of the theatrical domain. When she plays the role of Mamta Banerjee as a newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal as well as Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, it is quite clear that her distortion of the two personalities are carrying within her major concern that comes out to consciousness of the spectator as an underlying tone within. She is working with parody and embodies them. She is trying to provoke the celebratory mental attitude of Indian people in the political arena of change. The population seems to be living in a political illusion (that always finds its own way of manipulating and convincing the innocent minds). Maya Rao uses her personally in an improvised version of Alienation Effect to address these issues. What makes her performance more striking upon the conscious self of the spectator is the way several socio-political issues are presented. She does not directly tell the spectators that she is addressing these socio-political issues, rather what she does is to make them engage and probe into the layered and complex but seemingly comical on-the-surface performance. Only through the active engagement and dialogue between these two parties can the purpose reach its fullest.

Concluding this paper, I come with the certain observation that can in my opinion only appear on the surface when we engage with the performance and the situation accompanied by the milieu of that very contemporary time frame. My observations from the performance are as follows:
1. A certain performance not only derives its full significance from the performer as a living being but also through the composition of different elements like light, sound, music, costume, prop, and the voice of the performer/These play a crucial role in the performance.
2. What really comes out of the performance needs to reach the receiving end and this receiving end is in the form of a conscious audience that can question, critique, or evaluate the context of the subject matter of the performance and socio-political and cultural domain as well.
3. The conscious engagement of the performer also works as a dynamic part in shifting the impact of the performance for the audience. The paper analyses the performance by Maya Rao and its critique.

As of now, the paper is too short to develop a proper argument. It will be taken forward by engaging with the secondary works surrounding her works and developing my own argument making an intervention in the field of literature. As of now, the description of the sequences of the performances may appear too short and cryptic for the reader to understand fully the argument I am making, For instance, the reader may not have become aware of what the performance overall is about or what form she uses but they may find the point about lighting and communication with elements other than the actress body fascinating. Especially, in the case of Maya, she uses a lot of other materials in a fascinating way in the performances. For instance, even her use of video is unlike others an active engagement by her on stage in real time. It is important to develop these. I will try to incorporate several point which I may not have addressed here in this writing in another writing which will certainly have more elaborate and thorough approach towards decoding her performance.



 1. Rao, Maya k. “The Non-Stop Feel-Good Show” Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Abhimanch, 2013. S.A.A Library: Accessed: 23-11-2018

 2. Barthes, Roland. “An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative.” New Literary History, Vol 6, No. 2, On Narrative and Narratives (Winter, 1975), pp. 237-272. JSTOR, Accessed: 26-07-2018 07:04 UTC


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