'Music is the second lung of theatre'
Jean Jacques Lemtre has been composing musical scores since 1979, and in 2018, he has been nominated for Best Innovative Sound Design
In a theatre production, the actors on stage are in the limelight but little attention is paid to several other vital elements that go into the making of a successful play. Music is one such component and a versatile French theatre musician and singer-songwriter maintains that "music is the second lung of theatre".
Jean Jacques Lemtre, 66, is a conductor of his own scores. Since 1979, he has composed and performed the musical scores of all shows and movies of the Parisian Theatre du Soleil avant garde troupe.
Now, he has been nominated for Best Innovative Sound Design for a non-verbal play titled "Karuppu" at the 13th edition of the Mahindra Excellence In Theater Awards (META) later this month.
"First of all I must say that I prefer to speak about theatre music rather than say 'Sound Design', which seems to me to be inappropriate for my work, because at the Théâtre du Soleil, when a play lasts six hours, there is almost six hours of music and for me music is the second lung of theatre – it gives the destiny, the gods, the emotions and feelings of the characters, the places, and can even replace the decor," said Lemtre.
He recalled that his interest in theatre and music came from his research on what to do at the end of his studies when he was barely 20 years old.
"After working in several styles of music – Jazz, free-jazz, Baroque music, Old music (Middle Ages), contemporary music – I chose to work in theatre after my meeting with the great director Ariane Mnouchkine (one of the founders of the Theatre du Soleil) and after composing the music of the show 'Mephisto', I decided to continue in this way because at that time, in 1978, there were only few people (doing so)," he said.
Four decades on and his latest tryst with theatre music comes in the play "Karuppu". It is about the "Kala Teeka" or the black spot that is put on a newborn to ward off evil. The play revolves around the fact that Karuppu is black but not evil.
"The darkness in us is tamed by age-old cultural rituals which absorbs all negativity like a black hole, from which rebirth of everything afresh is possible. 'Karuppu' is the world without a creator; it is the vision of a world born simply from the union between Prakriti (the feminine) and the Purusha (the masculine)," elaborated Koumarane Valavane, the director of the play, who has also been nominated for Best Director and Best Light Design at this year's META.
But what makes music so central to a theater production and, more importantly, what is it that Lemtre is attempting to give expression to through his sound design in "Karuppu"?
"The music expresses all that the actor does not play, all that the text does not say – and all that is a plus for the comprehension by the public," he said.
Overall, is he happy with the outcome?
"Yes, I am (and without pretence) satisfied... because it is a first work with an Indian play played by Indian actresses and actors and, except of course all that we could improve, I am proud of the result," Lemtre said.
The one-hour non-verbal play, which has been nominated in six categories at META, will be performed at Shri Ram Centre, New D on Saturday, April 14.
Over 330 entries were received this year at Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards, which were viewed by an eminent selection committee, comprising well-known theatre practitioners. This year's final 10 nominations feature plays in Assamese, Bengali, English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam and Manipuri – as well as a non-verbal movement theatre production.