Q&A with Uma Katju

13 March 2017 | Journal


A working, experienced actor from New Delhi, Uma enjoys the challenges of traversing different theatre and performance forms, and is especially drawn to mask-work, realism and the traditional arts. Her study in mask began in 2013 through training in clowning under Reinhardt Horskotte and Michael Moritz. A classically trained singer, Uma hopes to explore the theatricality of music in the future. In Singapore,  she has performed in Chowk’s Pallavi and Space (2016), and co-created and performed The Moonlit Smile at the Esplanade Moonfest (2016).

Uma holds a research degree in Political Science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.  


Q: Tell us about your life before coming to ITI.

I was working as an actor in New Delhi, and was also trying to explore writing and directing.   

Q: What pushed you to travel here?

I had always wanted to train, and had begun researching different theatre schools. A friend, a theatre student in Delhi, mentioned ITI to me by chance.  She told me about the traditional forms training and I was hooked. I was intrigued by studying an Asian aesthetic and felt that it would keep me connected to home even as I was away. This is especially as I was sure I wanted to do work in my home country, so even in being away, I wanted to be as connected to it as much as possible.

Q: What was it like – that first day here, almost three years ago?

I had reached Singapore early, about a week before the term began. So, I’d decided to visit the school. I was walking around the campus – all the trees and plants, the greenery … it was very different from how I had previously imagined a theatre school to be; I’d envisioned this image of very strict teachers and students, working out in the studio in their blacks.

I bumped into Denise [Mordeno Aguilar] in the studio, she had just graduated – this was at the end of 2014. She was so friendly and warm, and she described ITI with so much love.

And then, when our first term day finally began, I recall sitting around in a circle and introducing ourselves, and the Year 2s and 3s began to sing a song the teacher Guillermo [Angelelli] had taught them. It seemed like a true arts community, like a bunch of friends trying to learn together.   

Q: And what can you share of the everyday reality here?

The day is long and the concentration needed is immense. It is a struggle to be present every day.  But once that starts to happen, in small ways over time, the experience is magical. Something starts to move inside, in your imagination and core, and the work opens up in unexpected ways.

Q: What do you take away from the intercultural experience at ITI?

It has often been overwhelming, sometimes strange, and always fun and very funny. For example, I learnt how important it is to listen to one another beyond the words, because everyone can be speaking a different language, even when it’s the same one – like English. The exciting bit is in the ways that we all move, speak, gesture, sing, dance, not to mention our energies, that are so varied and lend different meanings to the same word. It gives that much more for me to interact with and bounce off to.

Q: How have the at-once long and short years of training here shaped you?

It has shaped how I approach my work and how I view theatre and the world. I’ve begun to see how theatre is about constantly going outside of ourselves; the play, the character – they are a new world to be explored and created. I now feel, more than ever, that acting and theatre involve rooting oneself and then going far away.

Q: What will you look forward to after graduation?

I am excited about creating my own work and to continue as an actor. I would like to start up my own practice out of New Delhi, working with the traditional forms, and developing mask and vocal work. At the same time, I hope to tour my work and to keep exploring, especially Southeast Asia and South America as I find the theatre of these regions very energetic and exciting.

Q: Any words of advice to those who are thinking of theatre training?

Just give in to the experience. Sometimes, things will happen, in the studio or outside, that you may not be able to explain or entirely understand. Allow yourself to experience them nonetheless, try not to resist; try to go towards whatever you are most afraid of, it will probably teach you a lot.

Q: And acknowledgements you’d like to make?

The best of my teachers had a strong sense of humour – thank you for that!

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