World Theatre Day 2023: Shining the spotlight on backstage heroes, who create magic behind the scenes

World Theatre Day 2023: Shining the spotlight on backstage heroes, who create magic behind the scenes

With World Theatre Day (March 27) just around the corner, FPJ looks at the backstage supporting crew that works as tirelessly as other artistes in staging perfect shows

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Monday, March 27, 2023, 04:01 PM IST
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Theatre is not one person’s job. Apart from the actor and director, there’s someone who has designed that balcony on the stage for the iconic Romeo and Juliet play scene. Have you ever wondered how these things work perfectly while you are entertained watching a play? There was somebody behind the light, sound effect, and arranging that perfect curtain that was translucent. Unfortunately, often the only way this team gets attention is when something goes wrong – like the window gets jammed when an actor is trying to escape from it or a phone rings out of cue!

One of Mumbai’s top set and light designers Teddy Maurya has worked on several projects in his over a decade-long career. “Every show comes with different challenges and that’s something I find interesting. Designing a set and being backstage is like knowing things from everyone’s perspective. And there’s so much room for improvisation,” says Teddy, who has designed sets for plays like Sir Sir Sarla, Maa, Krishna, and Gandhi among many others.

Robin Das, a professor at the National School of Drama, has designed sets for many plays. He has worked in art direction on Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh and Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi do Yaaron. He says that he designs sets so that he can contribute to the storytelling process. “Set designing is an important part of any theatre production. You can not tell the story without stage, light, sound, properties, and costumes. They elevate the performance experience for actors as well as for the audience. The complete illusion that a director wants to create on stage is supported by sets and lights,” says the veteran art designer.

Still from Krishna  by Makrand Deshpande: Set by Teddy Maurya

Still from Krishna by Makrand Deshpande: Set by Teddy Maurya |

Backbone of a play

Utpal Jha, a senior light designer and the National School of Drama Alumnus, shares that every art designer’s work and the director’s vision need to match. “There’s something about designing lights for a play. Director has a complete play ready and at times may have an idea about the light but it can never be implemented without a light designer. Often, the spotlight is on the actors and then the director but our work is seen on stage and every light designer works hard to support the director's vision,” says Utpal. “Most of the time directors know what they want and some directors are not equipped with light designing so they give you complete responsibility. I design lights with the director’s vision about the overall play,” says Utpal. 

Jayant Deshmukh, a veteran stage designer tackles the set and light from the story’s point of view. “My set designing is based on what the story is about and what it wants to convey. The director’s vision is also important when it comes to what he wants to convey through the play. Of course, it all depends on the budget,” says Jayant. He has designed sets for films like Bandit Queen, Aarakshan, and Maqbool among others.

Not without backstage boys

While there is a drama going on the stage, backstage has its own show with a whole different plot. But seldom has audience seen or appreciated what goes behind the curtains. These background faces don’t long for any limelight either. “We are not looking for any appreciation because it’s beyond that. It’s like being in the process and improvising every time the play is staged, just like an actor,” says Teddy.

Lights designed by Utpal Jha

Lights designed by Utpal Jha |

M K Raina, veteran theatre director and actor says, “Backstage cast is not on the stage but their work is on the stage through their light, music, costume and properties. No one can mount a play without backstage staff. It is only in India that backstage is different from the play cast. In the west, there’s no departmentalisation. They are the backbone of any play and they get equal respect,” says the director.

Pushkar Shrotri, theatre director, actor, and Creative Head, Planet Marathi, points out that backstage staff is the one who reaches first and leaves last during rehearsals as well as on the day of the show. “Everything is ready for the director and actors by the time they reach the rehearsal. Even after the play is over and the actor is free, backstage guys will be working to wrap up everything. A director is relieved if he has strong backstage support. If an actor needs to change a dress in between scenes, the costume guy will be standing with the dress in the wings. If not, the scene is gone and you can’t help it. If there’s no backstage, there’s no play. There’s no full satisfaction if one thing is not proper in the play but the backstage is on their toes to do all right and extend full support," says Pushkar.

"As long as the audience enjoys the show, our job is well done. That’s the most satisfactory thing in the day,” Utpal signs off.

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