The real action backstage

Some time back, celebrated British-Bangladeshi dancer Akram Khan’s performance had wooed the audience at Bandra’s St Andrew’s auditorium. His highly technical show, what with stunning sound and light, was testimony of the technical bandwith and facilities at the venue. Through the year, the biggest names in the music, dance and theatre industry perform at Mumbai’s most visited venues that include St Andrew’s, NCPA, Nehru Centre and Shanmukhananda Hall. 

Over 100 Carnatic musicians with various instruments like Mridangam, Violin, Veena, flute and Ghatam perform at Shanmukhananda Hall. Pics/ Pradeep Dhivar , Bipin Kokate

Whether it is Hema Malini, Terence Lewis, L Sivamani or a visiting troupe from London’s Globe Theatre, all have graced these stages giving the city’s culture buffs much to savour. While the lay public is witness to a terrific show what they are unable to gauge is the background work as far as the technical aspects that make or break a performance, are concerned.

A matter of choice
While some artists prefer the stage at St Andrew’s, others root for Shanmukhananda at King’s Circle. However, several theatre artists feel that the St Andrew’s auditorium is the best if one takes cutting-edge equipment into consideration.

German conductor Christoph Poppen with 50 musicians at NCPA’s Jamshed Bhabha theatre

Perhaps, this has got to do with the fact that Roger Drego, the man whose company supplies some of the best sound and lighting equipment in India, runs the show here. “We have state-of-the-art equipment. There’s a professional, motorised LED backdrop. The entire auditorium has LED fixtures. We are in the process of making the foyer LED as well.” Drego claims that no other city venue has such a facility, adding that the next step will be to run the general lighting, foyer and campus lighting through solar panels, which his team is in the process of working on.

Raell Padamsee, who stages her musicals often at this venue agrees, “The auditorium has been designed using superior equipment. NCPA and Nehru Centre are good too but a lot of the equipment has to be rented. At Andrew’s, we get everything that we need,” she adds.

Theatre director Rahul Da Cunha, who opened his massive production Jesus Christ Superstar here, echoes the view: “It is the best technically-equipped stage to handle international productions in Mumbai. In 2000, we opened Jesus Christ Superstar here. It has a large stage to allow for the 40 actors/dancers in the production. Plus, it has fantastic sound and lights.”

Akram Khan performed at St Andrew’s Auditorium recently. File Pic

Hindustani Classical vocalist Jayateerth Mevundi, who has performed at numerous venues across Mumbai, prefers Sion’s Shanmukhananda Hall, for live performances. “They take care of every kind of sound requirement. Their systems are good,” he asserts. It is one of the biggest auditoriums in the city, with 2,763 seats. According to their stage consultant staff, what gives the venue an edge over the rest is that they have a dedicated sound and light team for 14 years. It has hosted Classical music and dance performances, film orchestras, Tamil dramas, Fusion and Folk music acts.

“For good listening pleasure, the most important aspect is perfect acoustics, and we have got that in place,” one of its stage consultants declares. The auditorium’s plan is such that the music quality heard in the first and last row is the same. “The operator hence manages the console amid the audience so that he hears exactly what the audience hears,” he adds. They have their own sound and light equipment. But when there is a need for special equipment, it gets sourced. Though the venue has a good stage and great auditorium, it’s not suitably equipped to handle a large orchestra, he reveals.

Different stages, different acts
“The NCPA has multiple stages that have been designed for specific purposes,” says Nayan T Kale, GM, Technical, NCPA. Tata Theatre is meant for Classical music and dance, Jamshed Bhabha, for Operas while the Experimental Theatre is designed to stage plays. “Different performances need different stages; these venues have been built to suit their requirements.  The Jamshed Bhabha theatre is a huge stage designed for Opera, and can accommodate a full orchestra,” he says adding, “Most auditoriums are multipurpose and cannot fulfill particular requirements. The acoustics required for Classical and Western music are different. Even the lighting required in different performances is varied.” He believes that NCPA is equipped to handle any international production, and they have hosted several in the past. “This is the only place that provides all kinds of facilities. Our acoustics are so good that electronic amplification is not required. We have great equipment for lighting and sound control,” he states. 

Sound personnel
As opposed to this, there are artists like percussionist L Sivamani who prefers to carry sound equipment and microphones to every venue. “I need an advanced set up, so I carry it along,” he says, adding that all venues are good but he likes NCPA’s Tata Theatre and Shanmukhananda Hall.

Apart from equipment, the individual or team that handles the console is crucial, feels Mahesh Babu, Managing Director of Banyan Tree Events, who have been organising events regularly, at the Nehru Centre in Worli. “Our sound engineer travels with us for every programme. It is important to have a good person at the console, who understands every genre of music,” explains Babu. According to their sound engineer, Jayawanth Rane, Shanmukhananda Hall is the best for sound systems, whereas NCPA’s Jamshed Bhabha and Tata Theatre top his list, for lighting equipment. “For a performance to be a success, the speakers, microphones and stage monitors need to be good. In a dance performance, the boundary microphones are very important,” elaborates Rane.

Kathak exponent Uma Dogra, who has been hosting the Pandit Durgalal Festival at Nehru Centre for 22 continuous years, feels that for dance performances, the light projected on the artist’s face, to depict the abhinaya (expression), and foot microphones for the ghungroos, are important. “Nehru Centre and the NCPA are great in taking care of such requirements,” she says, adding that rentals can be the deciding factor, at times. When contacted, Qazi Hussain, Director (Culture), Nehru Centre tells us why the venue is a favourite with artists: “We have fully digitised systems. We provide professional light and sound and do not allow outside equipment.”

Clearly, most venues seem to be in the process of upgrading or procuring new equipment as the stakes and challenges to host technically sound national and international performances get higher.  

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