Beyond the stage act

Updated: May 30, 2020, 09:00 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

In light of the suicide of a young theatre artiste, the community discusses support groups and resource platforms for drama practitioners.

Earlier this week, a young theatre and TV artiste committed suicide in her hometown, Indore. Her Instagram post read, "What does one do when their dreams are dead?" One of the reasons, cited widely for her spiral into depression, was the lack of work. Closer home, young artistes are in despair, as theatre venues remain shut indefinitely, with no sign of hope or income. In the absence of formal networks or government programmes to bail the community out, it is from within that they find support. "I am terribly worried about what young theatre artistes are going through," says a distraught Sameera Iyengar, theatrewallah and cultural practioner. "We live in a society with absolutely no social security. It's always down to individuals, families and communities. People are doing whatever they can, but there is only so much that civil society can do," she says.

Faezeh Jalali
Faezeh Jalali

Actor-director Faezeh Jalali, too admits, she is shaken yet overwhelmed by the way the community is reaching out for its own. It was also one of the things that triggered her to start online workshops for children. "This way I can give a small part of my earnings to them," she says.

From within

Several initiatives and individuals have busied themselves in relief work on the ground, for vulnerable communities and sometimes, their own. Artists for Artists is one such, that has received wide support and volunteers distributing a month's ration to those in need.

Sameera Iyengar
Sameera Iyengar

"It is not easy to ask for help, especially for artistes," says Amitosh Nagpal, writer and director who has helped create Theatre Waale, a database of theatre artistes, who NGOs, corporates and individuals can help fund. Actor Rohit Mehra, a volunteer with Artists for Artists says, "I get asked, do I need to fill in details, or sign? Artistes aren't used to receiving any support," he says, recalling an instance, where the artiste returned a grocery kit so it can go to someone else. "All this in a time when the world is hoarding," he shares. The story is similar for those in need of a support group or simply someone to lend an ear. "We must understand that artistes do take their feelings seriously. It is part of who we are. The way you deal with emotions is the raw material for art. How young artistes have been affected by looking outside their windows is profound," says Bengaluru-based practitioner Abhishek Majumdar who believes mental health support for the community is the need of the hour. "Besides, when it comes to support, we should be asking ourselves, how do we create a situation where younger artistes can reach out to us?"

The new medium

A live medium that celebrates people and their coming together is now, owing to the lockdown, relegated to screens. "We try and create our own work and upload it on Instagram," says actor-director, Priyanka Charan, adding that there is a dearth of creative opportunities.

Jalali herself has been toying with the idea and isn't yet convinced about its effectiveness in the virtual space. Others like theatre trainer Salone Mehta are trying to optimise online sessions through break-out rooms, a small attempt to recreate the intimacy of the original medium. "It's like you are talking to nothing here, as opposed to a living, breathing audience that emanates energy," she says.

Abhishek M
Abhishek M

Whether it is reading or a poem or an attempt at a virtual play, Nagpal says, it is no time to offer judgment. "You aren't aware of the battles the person has fought to be able to come out and perform," he adds.

Resources for theatre artistes

A still from Theatre Wale’s video
A still from Theatre Wale's video

For groceries:
Artists for Artists
Supplying grocery kits for the month across the city.
Call 9022238000 or 900489871
Jitendra Rai (Versova) For assistance with grocery supplies.
Email jiturai05@gmail.com

For emergency grants:
Stayin Alive Fund Providing need-based emergency grants to artistes from across fields.
On June 10 onwards
Email stayinalivefund@gmail.com

For cooked food:
Shubham Tiwari (Andheri West and Goregaon)
He also supplies ration kits across the city.
Call 7976912324

For mental health:
Shamiana Helpline Qualified volunteers to address stress and anxiety issues. CALL Manikankana 9706949245
The Wellness Circle An adda hosted by Shyam Kishore (of Preksha Theatre) with artistes and art therapists to talk, share and de-stress. ON Tuesdays and Thursdays
Time 9 pm
Log on to facebook.com/Shyam.Kishore

My Safe Place
A webinar with counsellor Benaifer Sahukar that addresses issues specific to artistes.
Log on to mysafeplace_in on Instagram or mysafespace on Facebook
Artscape Bi-weekly sessions on mental health awareness.
Log on to @Artscape on Instagram
Happy Space Initiative A team of two trained psychologists offering mental health support.
Log on to @happyspaceinfo on Instagram and Facebook

Database:
Theatre Wale A database of theatre practitioners in the city being built to be shared with NGOs, corporates and individuals offering support.
Log on to cmsocial.in/theatre-wale
Arts and Culture Resources India A database for pratictioners in the industry. Also offers event updates and webinars.
Call 9324415509
Log on to indiacultureacri.in/covid-19

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