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Collaboration bring ancient Sanskrit play to UGA

Collaboration brings ancient Sanskrit play to UGA

The earliest Sanskrit dramas, highly stylized performances of gesture and costume, music and dance, date from the first century, CE. While the tradition of performing Sanskrit plays has all but vanished, the UGA department of theatre and films studies and the Lyndon House Arts Center has collaborated on a production of this ancient Indian art form to campus. 

“The Little Clay Cart,” a classical Sanskrit play performed in English, will be presented in the Cellar Theatre Saturday, Nov. 10 at 2:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 11 at 11a.m. The play will be performed by the Epic Actors’ Workshop, a not-for-profit theatre organization from New Jersey, and directed by Farley Richmond, professor in the department of theatre and film studies. Both performances are free and open to the public. For ticket information contact Lyndon House or 706-254-5374 for details and reservations.

Owing to certain features of structure and language, scholars believe that “The Little Clay Cart” was composed no earlier than the 1st century BCE and no later than the 4th century CE. Accolades are showered on its author, King Sudraka, by the stage manager in the prologue of the piece.

Sudraka composed the play in the form of a prakarana, one of the ten major forms of dramatic composition in ancient India. According to the Natyasastra, the oldest surviving source of dramatic composition, a prakarana may have a hero who is a Brahmin, a maximum of ten acts, and a story that is invented. “The Little Clay Cart” possesses all of these requirements. It has often been compared with Greek New Comedy because of the host of city characters and the fast-moving and complicated plot. 

“Our production makes use of a wide variety of theatrical conventions found in ancient and modern India, as well as those on the tiny island of Bali, an outpost of Hinduism,” said Richmond, who regularly travels to the Indian subcontinent and Asia. “Given the number of characters that make an appearance in the play, we chose to use Topeng masks from Bali to represent most of the minor and a few of the major characters. This keeps the company smaller and allows individual actors to work with many different characters wearing a variety of character masks.”

Lighting for the production is by Richard Dunham, associate professor in the department of theatre and film studies. Broadway costume designer Cathy Parrott, a graduate of UGA, designed costumes. The production is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to the Lyndon House Arts Center.