With social distancing rules keeping the theatre spaces firmly shuttered, theatre artists are finding newer avenues to reach the audience. Aadyam, Aditya Birla Group’s theatre initiative is all set to go online this year with three recorded performances of its most popular recent plays, Bandish 20-20,000 Hz, I Don’t Like it, As You Like It and The Hound of Baskervilles.
“The whole theatre was facing challenges as it was shut” said Shernaz Patel, the returning artistic director of Aadyam. “Everyone had to quickly relearn and discover techniques to keep the process going in whatever form it took. Though the nature of theatre implies that we have to do everything live, we have found ways to keep it going through this transitional period.”
However, morphing the live experiences into screens, while staying true to the spirit of theatre, is no easy task. “We have a camera team working in conjunction with the directors so the theatrical vision is in no way compromised, yet it works interestingly on screens. Each play will have its own style and presentation on screen too, like they were on stage. Despite anticipations, people are very excited about doing the play on the stage with sets, costumes and fellow actors.”
Shernaz elaborates that unlike others, Aadyam would be shooting the whole plays with multi camera setup, on a set. “This way you are actually performing the play with your co-actors, addressing them, and not looking at a blank screen, simply imagining. This way, the people involved in the process have much more fun, which makes the product more appealing. However, it is still on screen, a theatre’s essence can really be back only when the world reopens,” she points out.
Talking about the selection criteria, Shernaz says: “All the three plays were already a part of Aadyam’s repertoire and will be performed again, where the cast for all three would remain the same. There were a lot of things to consider while picking the plays, like certain elderly actors did not wish to shoot, some actors weren’t in Bombay anymore, other times the old sets are broken. Despite these hindrances, we had quite a few plays which we could have looked at, but we felt these three were quite different from each other, making them a good fit. There is a good mix of languages, really good actors and everyone was very excited to see it all come together. No tweaks have been made to the play except the medium in which it is being performed. The actors however need to think of things like camera which they wouldn’t have before.”
Explaining the absence of new plays this year, she added, “We had a whole season lined up, if it weren’t for the situation they would’ve premiered by now too. A play requires 45 days of rehearsal to go into it, since we do big shows, you cannot rehearse from homes on zoom. Also, you need a certain production standard. Performing new plays are a health risk right now as well. The artists are already familiar with these old plays; it does not require a lot of personal interaction, except for the actual shoot.”
“In a theatre, the experience is not the same for everyone basis their seating. But on a screen, the experience can be similar for everyone because the lens is controlling the eye. Also, a few moments where the eye needs to get closer can be facilitated through a lens. We are trying to rethink performances for screen and also for COVID. Any extra movement, touching, if can be avoided will have to be. This means a bit of re-blocking for logistics. This basically means pacing, facing, pitching and blocking. However, a live performance has its own pace. A pause on stage can seem too long on the screen and theatricality, the hovering between real and drama ....how does that translate? I am still trying to crack that!”
— Purva Naresh,
The director of Bandish 20-20000Hz
“The lack of audience would be a setback, especially for a play like I Don't Like It As You Like It, because it depends a lot on the interaction of actors with the audience. The actors are clowns after all- and they look directly at the audience and talk to them. For me, the play exists for the purpose that it was designed for- to be watched live. I have resisted this for years- because something dies in the transition process. With this firmly in mind, we go ahead now with the new version of our play. With the idea that the play should retain its identity as a theatrical experience, and what we do to it, becomes more than a mere recording of it. The major challenge is going to be, how to not let it become a recording of the play. How does this new thing become a living organism on its own? The play becomes the text, and we'll try and rewrite this text on a new medium- without losing the sanctity of the original.”
— Rajat Kapoor,
The director of I Don’t Like It, As You Like It
“We are approaching this as we would a live production. So, the direction process has not changed, just that we are doing more online rehearsals instead of physical rehearsals. When in the theatre, the actors will perform as though there was a live audience. The play involves a lot of breaking the fourth wall, and that will continue, albeit to an empty house. Though the medium is different, our craft remains the same. And my prior experience in filmed entertainment is proving to be useful in this respect.”
— Akash Khurana,
Director of The Hound of the Baskervilles