Send in the clown/actor/engineer

Janine Volkmar
Mad River Union

BLUE LAKE – Pratik Motwani is the son of an engineer father and a botanist mother. And he has a degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Mumbai University.

No wonder his one-man show in this year’s Mad River Festival is all about the effect that technology has on our modern lives. #//<Embedded>//#, a theater piece created and performed by Motwani, performed Wednesday as part of Mad Lab 2 in the Carlo Theater at Dell'Arte in Blue Lake.

Motwani shot the images in the show on his laptop and iPhone, and these will be projected on a screen. Described as “a peek into the broadcasting room of a YouTube cyber celebrity,” the work-in-progress piece “questions notions of identity and image.”

Motwani’s identity as an engineer infuses that work. But in his soul he’s an actor, a clown, a mask maker, a teacher, a gifted theater artist whose presence lights up any stage.

Pratik Motwani

Humboldt County is fortunate that he came here to study at Dell'Arte in the Masters of Fine Arts program, graduating in 2012. And so fortunate that he returned after touring nationally and internationally with Portland-based theater company IMAGO.

He now teaches at Dell'Arte, graces the stage as part of the company and still fits in guest teaching gigs around the country. Audiences who enjoyed his performances in both the musical and film versions of Mary Jane: The Musical will recognize his singing, acting and comedy skills. If you haven’t had that pleasure, don't worry. It was just announced that Mary Jane, A Musical Potumentary will soon be available from Netflix and Amazon.

That wasn’t his first foray into film, though. Motwani started his career early, being chosen to do the voiceover work for the Indian version of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), directed by Danny Boyle.  He dubbed the voice of the star, Dev Patel, an English actor, into Hindi.

“I wanted a young unspoilt voice,” said Loveleen Tandan, supervisor of the dubbing, according to Wikipedia. A friend of Motwani’s called him and after “three or four auditions, I was chosen,” recalled Motwani.

“It was an unusual dubbing project,” he explained. “If he [Jamal, the lead character] was thrown into a bucket of water, then I was also.” The dubbing was done carefully, according to Motwani, matching “how he [Patel] moves, his breath and syncing his lip movements to the words.”

Having caught the acting bug, Motwani heard about Dell’Arte from a friend, Deepal Doshi, who was the first Indian to graduate from the MFA program.

After Motwani earned his own MFA, he auditioned for IMAGO Theatre and credited the three years of intense physical training at Dell’Arte with his being chosen. In a blog post, he wrote, “When I auditioned for IMAGO, the thing that I feel worked in my favor was that I was able to wear a mask and make it my own. I was able to offer suggestions by doing them instead of waiting for the directors to say what to do.”

The challenges at Dell’Arte stood him in good stead with his new company. “When one comes out of a program where 90 percent of the time is spent on one’s feet devising work,” he continues in the blog, “one begins to develop a knack for creating quickly with the available resources in an improvised manner.”

Audiences can check out his improvisation skills in another production during the Mad River Festival. Motwani plays an Indian man, Bumfal, in The State of Jefferson Picnic [reviewed in the June 21 edition of the Union], which runs until July 2.

“Bumfal’s entrance onto the stage was all improvised,” he said. “Improvisation is always welcome here. The incense, the coconuts, the ladoo, are all part of the scene.” Ladoo are Indian sweets made with chickpea flour and ghee – and “delicious,” Motwani said with a smile. They must be, as Motwani sneakily gulps one down onstage during the show.

That’s appropriate, as Motwani describes his part in Picnic as having “a sweetness about it, a playfulness” and said that discovering the moments on stage where the relationships among the characters develop was fun in the rehearsal period. One of those small moments happened, he said, when Grandma (played by James Peck) found the missing lid to the ladoo container, on opening night.

“These characters are real,” he added. “Bumfal is real for me. I know these people.”

Motwani himself is becoming well-known. He will be performing at the Edmonton Clown Festival in September, as one of three selected pieces this year. The Long Way, a piece Motwani and James Hildebrandt created for last year’s Mad Lab, will be performed in October at the United Solo Festival on 42nd Street in New York. “It’s the biggest solo festival in the country,” said Motwani. “After the Mad Lab feedback, I worked on it more and applied to a bunch of festivals.”

And he will be teaching at the Michael Chekov School in Hudson, N.Y.

“The director of the school came to IMAGO when I was there,” he explained. “He was interested in the overlay of the Michael Chekov method and masks, so it will be part of the curriculum.”

Motwani has also taught in local schools, including the Arcata Arts Institute at Arcata High School and at Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy, also in Arcata.

He teaches mask work and physical theatre but also directs the rural residency program at Dell’Arte, in which 24 students take theater into places without a permanent theatrical presence, advancing Dell’Arte’s mission of “theater of place.” They work with groups in Table Bluff in Humboldt County and Spring Valley in Lake County. “No faculty members go with them,” he explained, “but we do all the support we can.”

Hollywood or New York may beckon but Motwani is happy to call Blue Lake home. “When I was with IMAGO, I felt like a nomad,” he said. “I like living in Blue Lake.”

Audiences rejoice!


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