March 27 was celebrated as World Theatre Day. And as expected, PR machinery swung into action offering all kinds of suggestions for presswallahs to feature the day in their publications.
The timing couldn’t have been any better, what with quite a few applause-worthy highlights that provided a much needed silver lining to the city’s English theatre-scape.
For one, Lilette Dubey’s Dance Like A Man completed 500 shows, a week earlier, RAGE Productions’ Class of 84 crossed the 250-show mark, and in the same week, QTP celebrated 15 years in theatre.
While for many it might just be a number to smile about in the larger scheme of Mumbai’s theatre-scape, regulars, who’ve been following this section for decades, will tell you how these achievements deserve even more applause, in these challenging times.
Often sidetracked by films, theatre has never had it easy. Ask any director, actor, playwright or technician. Even more so in space-starved Mumbai where spiraling rents, limited attention spans and the multiplex boom that spelt doom for so many, including single-screen cinema halls (R.I.P. New Empire).
A theatre veteran told me how it was crucial in these times to look for new theatre spaces, and also tap new audiences. Such moves have met with success; great news, especially since if one takes the example of the English play that was staged in a venue right in the heart of a middle-class Marathi-speaking neighbourhood. It was a leap of faith, and it worked.
We’d love to see more such initiatives that will mean an even greater reach for plays in the city’s far-flung suburbs. Because while we do have our annual festivals spread across Juhu, Bandra and SoBo, what about the rest of the city? Similar exercises should also be attempted by bringing popular regional language plays and even introducing festivals to all corners of the city to keep the spirit and character of Mumbai’s multi-lingual theatre legacy alive.
We could do with public-private initiatives, as another stalwart suggested, ruing over the phasing out of cultural and performing arts festivals in the city. That concern, one fears would need an entire edition and more, to merely lay on the table.
So, until another such milestone, we can only hope that our cash-rich corporate world looks inward, at our city’s cultural fabric (or the lack of it) to pump in funds and expertise to ensure our city’s theatre gets more than the odd shot in the arm, with more reason standing ovations. This show must go on.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day