A new stage

Updated: Apr 17, 2020, 10:10 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

Amid the lockdown, recorded plays and festivals have found a place online. City-based theatrewallahs talk about reimagining the medium.

Bombay Dyeing by Akvarious Productions is available for online viewing
Bombay Dyeing by Akvarious Productions is available for online viewing

The world as we know it has shifted online. On any given day at any time, live feeds abound all our social media. There are conversations, performances and interactions. Effectively, our entire social experience has changed medium. What then happens to one that relies on live audiences and physical spaces? Theatrewallahs in the city have found multiple ways to stay relevant and make an appearance on the web in these times.

Last month, city-based group D for Drama hosted multiple sessions with actors and playwrights talking about their process, the craft and even sharing reading lists. Some, like actor Gitanjali Kulkarni chose to perform a moving piece from her play Gajab Kahani. Close on its heels came Theatre Live with an impressive repertoire of guest speakers who switched between lectures and performances.

Ghanshyam Lalsa and Yuki Ellias
Ghanshyam Lalsa and Yuki Ellias

Danish Husain, who is stranded in lockdown in the USA, recited fervent poetry while Sonali Kulkarni read a Marathi story she wrote. Suhas Ahuja sang songs, and Denzil Smith read erotic letters. Both festivals took the same route of calling up a bunch of friends to join in and before they knew it, the word had spread. "I wanted to do a few monologues on Instagram. BookMyShow approached me to curate a theatre-driven idea for the web, and so I started reaching out to theatre folk, and it became a full- fledged festival," says Meher Acharia-Dar, actor and curator, Theatre Live. D for Drama (curated by Vara Raturi) followed a similar strategy with a week-long festival that had to be extended further.

Meher Acharia-Dar and Akarsh Khurana
Meher Acharia-Dar and Akarsh Khurana

Both festivals will return with a second edition. Does this mean that the future of theatre in these circumstances is online? Akarsh Khurana of Akvarious Productions who was part of both believes it isn't a substitute for an in-theatre experience but a way to keep the connection with audiences intact and rebuild it within the theatre community. Their initiative, Akvarious Live on Instagram, has a programming roster till August. "There are performances every Friday and talks on Sundays. This was supposed to be a big year for us with our 20th anniversary in December. We chose to do the build-up online," shares Khurana, revealing that it is an activity he will continue post the lockdown, too. Ghanshyam Lalsa, co-founder, D for Drama, believes that though it isn't the future of the form itself, it has opened up new avenues for theatre practitioners. "It has become a platform for discourse. We don't meet and discuss work often," he says assuring us that even post lockdown, these sessions will continue. Even Acharia-Dar feels that there could be an opportunity to monetise this medium in the future. "In the short term, there is no option but to do this. It's all done with the sentiment that the show must go on."

Director Sharanya Ramprakash in an Instagram session with Vara Raturi
Director Sharanya Ramprakash in an Instagram session with Vara Raturi

Besides festivals, there has been an increase in recorded performances on the web and online projects the world over. Pune's Aasakta Kalamanch and Akvarious Productions both have plays up for view while Mumbai's Studio Tamaasha is chronicling the lockdown through actors and stories of those around them in a documentary series.

Suhaas Ahuja in an Instagram session
Suhaas Ahuja in an Instagram session

Theatreperson Yuki Ellias puts things into perspective: "I like the slow process of theatre. If it becomes an entirely online world, it may be a different story. However, I do like the fact that other people are doing this. How else would I watch a piece of Polish theatre if it wasn't online?"

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