World Theatre Day: A look at the industry and where it stands amid the pandemic

World Theatre Day: A look at the industry and where it stands amid the pandemic

Also tracing the rise of OTT and its impact on theatre

Ainee Nizami AhmediUpdated: Saturday, March 26, 2022, 03:59 PM IST
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From the play Wolf |

When was the last time you went to the theatre? Which is the last play you loved watching? Ask this question today and chances are most of us have to rack our brains for an answer. The previous two years have been hard on the theatre industry, with live performances taking a significant hit and the emergence of newer forms of content accessible from home. The overall impact that Covid has had on the economy stands at an estimated 2.96 trillion US dollars, and the performing arts industry bore one of the hardest setbacks. With newer and more accessible forms of content becoming available at the click of a button, the big question is: Are people still going to the theatre in 2022?

Changing perspectives

Chahat Arora, a theatre artiste from Shimla, feels that the pandemic-led break from the industry has made people more enthusiastic about the performing arts. Having performed a one-act play, A Woman Alone, by Italian writers Franca Rame and Dario Fo, at Gaiety Dramatic Society in Shimla recently, she feels that audiences are more accepting of a broader range of stories. “I have been a part of the industry for several years now, and pre-pandemic, I felt that people only wanted to watch specific kinds of plays. People are now open to seeing and appreciating different forms of acting and storytelling,” she says.

Khushaal Pawaar, an actor, digital content creator and theatre enthusiast who has trained under the Indian People Theatre Association, feels that the responsibility of making theatre more commercial falls on both the industry and the audience. “Theatre is a great medium to convey a message to the masses in an entertaining yet inspiring way. However, it requires focus and discipline, both to act and watch. Producers in the industry can come together to host theatre festivals to support the community and grow their reach on a much larger level. This will open more opportunities for people in the theatre industry and give the audience a good choice and tickle their interest to explore more plays,” he adds.

Innovation is the name of the game

Understanding the need for innovation, Paytm Insider, for one, hosted its first digital showcase in 2020 under its theatre initiative, Front & Centre. Directed by Quasar Thakore Padamsee, Every Brilliant Thing reimagined theatre in a digital format and encouraged audience interaction. It also had a 20-minute segment where the audience could interact with the performers. “As plays go online, we cannot simply call it online theatre. It is an entirely new medium, one that requires cumulative efforts of everyone executing the play to create an immersive experience that evokes that familiar sense of community, even though we’re all isolated with our devices,” Quasar shares.

How can theatre be more commercial?

Aakash Prabhakar, an actor, director and producer and an alumnus of The Drama School Mumbai and New York Film Academy, feels that “we need a shift in perception. To acknowledge the importance of art and its existence and to support, love and encourage theatre as an art form more than before because the one thing that helped people during all this time and kept their hope alive was good art and good stories.”

Expressing her thoughts, Trishla Patel, an actor, director, producer and co-founder of the ongoing tpot theatre fest, says, “Theatre as a medium can work perfectly for commercial audiences if the cultural set-up is perfect.” Adding further she says, “In foreign countries, going to the theatre is an ingrained cultural practise; something that we need in India.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Chahat adds, “If we introduce theatre as a subject in the curriculum, it can create a huge cultural shift. While that is a process that will take time, at a personal level, I suggest connecting to children, hosting workshops for them and introducing them to the theatre — a medium that exists outside their devices.”

As an individual, you can also support theatre with simple practices. “Buying and paying for the tickets for your friend’s or relative's play always helps. Also, keep an eye out for young talent and new plays,” suggests Aakash.

So, this World Theatre, go watch a play and make a real difference.

Must-Watch Classics

1. Krishnan’s Dairy (1997)

The play explores the world of a Malayali immigrant in New Zealand and his relationship with his wife, Zeena. The play is written by Justin Lewis and Jacob Ranjan, who also performs, alternating between the two roles through the use of masks.

2. Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe! (1963)

Written by Vijay Tendulkar, the Marathi play is about a mock trial of school teacher Leela Benare, who is charged with infanticide and having illicit relations with a professor. The narrative exposes the hypocrisy of a patriarchal society and questions the role of women.

3. Tughlaq (1964)

Girish Karnad’s Kannada play, Tughlaq, is based on the eponymous Sultan of Delhi who had a vision of uniting Hindus and Muslims back in the 14th century.

4. Ebong Indrajit (1963)

Badal Sircar’s Ebong Indrajit is based on something we all struggle with--existential crisis. The Bengali play brings to light the crisis and loneliness in a middle-class urban man’s life.

5. Natsamrat (1970)

VV Shirvadkar’s Natsamrat is considered a revolution in the Marathi theatre world. Focusing on a veteran theatre artist who left the stage but cannot accept the fact that his life as an artist has ended, the play was later adapted into an eponymous motion picture starring Nana Patekar.

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