Stage is set in office

Updated: Sep 28, 2019, 17:00 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Co-working spaces are opening their doors to performing arts groups. Here's looking at what this means for a city starved of venues

A live gig at Of10
A live gig at Of10

It’s sad, but true. For the global, cosmopolitan city that Mumbai is, it suffers from a serious paucity of venues for the performing arts. People seem to have all the time, money and space here to open, say, new F&B ventures. But only a handful want to hedge a bet on launching a place dedicated to music, comedy or theatre. So, someone in the suburbs is forced to travel all the way to the NCPA in SoBo or a mill compound in Lower Parel to catch quality acts since closer home, there are only limited options like The Little Door in Andheri and The Habitat in Khar. This ties the hands of performers and audience members, which the city has thousands of. And it also shows up Mumbai in comparison to global hotspots like London or New York that are bustling with places where a diverse range of artistes showcase their craft.

concertStand-up comedian Punit Pania in action at Dextrus

But a new trend that’s emerged offers some hope. Co-working spaces in the city are increasingly opening their doors to the performing arts. These places have created an alternative work culture for Mumbai’s professionals over the past few years. And many are now also doubling up as alternative venues for gigs of all kinds.

Take WeWork in BKC. A portion of the sprawling, swanky building is regularly turned around for a music property called Madness JAMS. Vidit Chitroda, the organiser, tells us, "One of the biggest reasons [this venue] clicked for us is that we were looking at an inclusive concept right from the start. We wanted to collaborate and create [videos of the live performances], which is the motto of every single co-working place. So, the DNA fit perfectly for us."

officeVidit Chitroda

He adds that events when held here also help build a sense of community. Chitroda says, "See, when you have a gig at JioGarden or at Habitat, the performance can be intimidating because there is always a gap between the artiste and the audience. But the entire mandate of a co-working space is of an open culture. You have open desks, people moving around, and conference rooms with transparent walls. And that ethos filters through to our events, too, because you are up close and personal with the artiste. There are no barriers at all. And that means that the gig isn’t intimidating, but intimate instead."

officeImaad Shah

It’s a point of view that Imaad Shah — of live act Madboy/Mink who has performed at Madness JAMS — corroborates. Shah says, "We have been restricted to smaller spaces in Bombay. It’s mostly DJs who tend to get gigs these days. So, it’s definitely a great change from that point of view, because it allows for a larger band kind of set-up to play for an audience. Even when it comes to the audience, it was quite evident that people were there for the music. The crowd was more educated than a random, walk-in kind."

 officeGargi Shah

That of course, bodes well for the city’s music community. But there are other performing arts events that have found a new home in co-working spaces as well. Ministry of New in Fort has hosted stand-up comedy and story-telling nights. Dextrus in BKC has had comedy events, too. Plays and other events have been staged at Of10 in the northeastern suburb of Powai. And further north, The Playce in Mulund has opened its doors for poetry readings and open-mic shows. Gargi Shah, its owner, says, "The biggest pro of organising such events is that we have started attracting a completely different kind of audience. The people who show up aren’t necessarily here for the workspace, but are here because they want to be a part of Mumbai’s creative scene. Then there is the joy of hosting new talent. Most of our stand-up comedians have been budding artistes and not established ones. And we love being a home to people when they are in the beginning, or struggling phase of their journey, since it aligns with who we are as well. We are all trying to make it big here."

officeThe audience at Madness JAMS at WeWork

In other words, the advent of co-working spaces starting to host gigs is a win-win situation from every angle. Performers have the oxygen of a new stage. Organisers can play around with their properties given the inclusive nature these places have. And the owners attract a more diverse crowd than a strictly professional one. The trend, of course, is a boon for the audience as well. Romel Changwani, who’s attended many of the gigs at WeWork, says the fact that the concerts are usually held over the weekend and wrap up early sets things up perfectly for a heavier night out. And he sums things up saying, "It’s a nice transition and that’s something fresh that the city now has."

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