Far from the madding crowd

Nov 24, 2018, 10:00 IST | Snigdha Hasan

With better productivity in the calm of nature, theatre groups are choosing to hold residencies in dedicated spaces within a driving distance from Mumbai at more affordable rates

Far from the madding crowd
Faezeh Jalali's play, A Farming Story was rehearsed at Banyan Bliss, Khopoli

Plays that stir the conscience, leave you speechless, or in splits, have no magic wands to thank. Nor is it the natural gift of acting that comes to the rescue of an under-prepared artiste on stage. Rehearsal and rehearsal alone, to paraphrase Naseeruddin Shah, is what determines the health of a production.

Mumbai, however, isn't the city that lets artistes eat, sleep and breathe theatre, the way they would like to. First comes the commute to the rehearsal venue, for however convenient the location, it will likely be far for someone in the cast. Next is the rent, which could be anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 per hour. Which means that a four-hour rehearsal for five days alone could cost Rs 10,000. Then there is the very nature of theatre, which compels many to take up other projects, and the juggling could hamper the creative process.

Atul Kumar Started The Company Theatre Workspace in Kamshet. It has a big hall, living quarters and an outdoor space
Atul Kumar Started The Company Theatre Workspace in Kamshet. It has a big hall, living quarters and an outdoor space

Far away, yet close enough
Not surprisingly, a solution to this theatrical hydra has emerged from within the community. Artistes are opting for intensive residencies in dedicated spaces for creative endeavours located within a driving distance from Mumbai - often built by thespians themselves.

The per head cost of rehearsal, accommodation and food for a day charged at these venues, as we learn from the owners, is usually less than what a studio would charge in Mumbai on an hourly basis.

Atul Kumar Started The Company Theatre Workspace in Kamshet. It has a big hall, living quarters and an outdoor space

"My cast is usually quite large. So, [once everyone's dates are coordinated], I try to hold residencies, which result in a lot of concentrated work. What a four-day residency gives you takes over 10 days in Mumbai, in terms of both, the quality and quantity of work," says theatre director Faezeh Jalali, who, for her recent production, A Farming Story, rehearsed with the 19-member cast in Banyan Bliss, a rural retreat near Khopoli. "Though they don't have a separate rehearsal space, the little huts in the premises and outdoor space worked well for us," she adds. This time, though, was an exception, as Jalali usually prefers theatre director Atul Kumar's The Company Theatre Workspace in Kamshet, which was booked. "Atul has created it in such a way that it is well-suited for theatre. It's not a resort that doubles as a workspace," she shares.

Atul Kumar
Atul Kumar

Kumar's sprawling space by a lake, can accommodate around 50 people. "Something as drastic as this arises from one's own needs. I had always dreamt of moving to a place on the outskirts of a big city. It took me 15 years to be able to save enough to build it, and it finally opened in 2012," Kumar tells us. Apart from focussed work, he likes the opportunity of keeping the conversation going even after the rehearsal is over.

Kalki Koechlin and Bhushan Korgaonkar (below) have rehearsed and conducted workshops at TARPA in Sonale, Wada
Kalki Koechlin and Bhushan Korgaonkar (below) have rehearsed and conducted workshops at TARPA in Sonale, Wada

Bhushan Korgaonkar, who conducted a two-day residential lavani workshop at Geetanjali and Atul Kulkarni's TARPA in Sonale, Wada, agrees. "Once you are out of the place where you conducted a workshop from 10 am to 6 pm, the link is broken. But staying in the space lets you soak in its energy," he says. With little or mobile network in the village, says Geetanjali, the mandatory digital detox is an added boon.

Bhushan Korgaonkar

Community spirit
It isn't just the veterans who are giving back to the community. Siddhesh Shelar who has trained under Sunil Shanbag, recently started Creative Acres in partnership with fellow artiste Mousami Tondwalkar-Hadkar at a space in Panvel, co-owned by the latter's husband, Rohit Hadkar.

View from Banyan Bliss, Khopoli, where Faezeh Jalali (below) held a residency
Creative Acres, Panvel

"The proportion of the performances staged in Mumbai to rehearsal venues is highly skewed. When I worked under Shanbag sir, he put the germ in our head that as artistes, we should explore smaller venues instead of aiming for proscenium set-up," he shares. With two specially designed, semi-closed spaces for performances and rehearsals, the four-month-old venue has already started receiving queries from theatre groups, independent musicians and dancers in Pune and Mumbai.

Faezeh Jalali

"We are sure we don't want to rent out the space for any other purpose. Artistes have other expenses to meet, too, so we wanted to keep our rates affordable," says Shelar.

Rehearsal for her play in progress
View from Banyan Bliss, Khopoli, where Faezeh Jalali (above) held a residency

Rehearsal for her play in progress

"The theatre community in general is very understanding and we eventually find a way to get our work done," affirms Jalali. "Much of theatre thrives on goodwill. And goodwill cannot be boiled down to numbers."

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