The show must go on

Updated: Mar 27, 2020, 10:37 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

On World Theatre Day, city artistes talk about dealing with isolation and how they are using it to create new work

Prithvi Theatre lit up with a lone ghost light. Pic/Prithvi Theatre
Prithvi Theatre lit up with a lone ghost light. Pic/Prithvi Theatre

In this year's message for World Theatre Day for the International Theatre Institute, Pakistani playwright Shahid Naedem writes, "Theatre has a role, a noble role, in energising and mobilising humanity to lift itself from its descent into the abyss." A day ahead, Makarand Deshpande and wife Nivedita Pohankar are reading aloud Peter Shaffer's dramatic work, Equus, to each other. There is no audience and there will be none this time. As theatres in the city lie desolate in wake of the lockdown, save for a ghost light, a rare beacon of hope and a promise of return. Theatre doesn't stop, they tell us; it changes forms. "We are all living theatre at the moment and improvising each day. It's like performing on stage except for an audience of one. In this case, my husband," says actor-director Trishla Patel who is keeping a lockdown diary, documenting her days. "Every day looks the same but isn't," she says hoping to use the material for a script in the future.

Inspiration in isolation

Patel isn't the only one using the lockdown for inspiration. Rupesh Tillu, clowning expert, is already brainstorming for a devised piece that will feature a clown duo in quarantine. "Artistes are a product of their environment. The writing process is therapeutic and the laughter, a release from the emotional turmoil we are all going through at the moment. We will begin rehearsals when we can finally get together. For now, it's the phone and WhatsApp groups," he shares. Akarsh Khurana of Akvarious Productions echoes the sentiment suggesting it is great fodder for a production. "Only yesterday, we were discussing an idea based on a couple in lockdown and the toll it takes on their relationship. But, we don't know how unique it will stay by the time this is over," he says. While the premiere of a new play at NCPA stands postponed, Khurana is working towards a theatre festival in December to mark 20 years of the theatre group.

Makarand Deshpande and Manav Kaul
Makarand Deshpande and Manav Kaul

The lockdown itself isn't all that is driving the creative juices of city thespians. For some, like writer-actor Manav Kaul who was due to open his play Giving up on Godot this month, it is an opportunity to return to the writing table. "I've got more time now so I am rewriting parts of the play," he says while also adding finishing touches to a book of short stories. "It is also driving me to read a lot more and revisit my poetry, something I read aloud on Instagram," he adds.

Rupesh Tillu
Rupesh Tillu

Similarly, Deshpande has also decided to see this as an opportunity for research and writing. "For instance, if I am reading Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, I have the time to delve into Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare," he says. Deshpande is also ready with a Marathi script titled Arrecha Sansar Sansar that tells the story of husbands and wives up for hire. "From to-be newly-weds to 50-year-old couples, everyone is a rental husband-wife," he says, adding that the piece is anchored by a brahmachari. Deshpande is waiting to rehearse and open it on stage, in better times.

Virtual reality

Like the rest of the world, theatre artistes are working remotely too. "Before the lockdown we were working on a piece with dancers looking at the physicality between Odissi and contemporary dance. We continue work on it thanks to video platform, Zoom. It's not ideal but it is the highlight of our day. How do we take a tangible art form and work on it as a detached piece?" wonders Quasar Padamsee of QTP Productions, admitting that it has been a strange and new experience. Khurana has taken a cue from London's National Theatre, which is putting out work online, to post his older plays on social media. Today, Miss Cuckoo, a play featuring Seema Pahwa goes up on both, his social media and that of India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

Quasar Padamsee and Akarsh Khurana
Quasar Padamsee and Akarsh Khurana

Lastly, artistes believe that despite rescheduled performances and disrupted processes, it is an opportunity to plan ahead. "Plans and provisions about the road ahead, post the lifting of the lockdown are a priority. Stock-taking and an attempt to relook the process of creation is also afoot," reveals Padamsee, adding, "As artistes, we hate admin work, and busy ourselves in the next project so that we don't have to do it. With the lockdown, we have no excuse," he signs off in jest.

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