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World Theatre Day: Mumbai's stalwarts weigh in on the way ahead

Updated on: 27 March,2021 12:37 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Sukanya Datta |

From banding together to tide over the financial crisis, to adapting to the digital format, theatrewallahs have witnessed a change of scene in 2021. On World Theatre Day, stalwarts of stage refocus on the way ahead

World Theatre Day: Mumbai's stalwarts weigh in on the way ahead

This picture has been used for representational purposes

All the world turned into a stage, quite literally, last year. From upskilling for Zoom productions and exploring new storytelling formats, to grappling with economic losses and the lack of interactivity, theatremakers have had to put up a juggling act. Although performance venues started operating since the year-end, the second wave has cast a shadow over the future of theatre. Five Mumbai theatrewallahs make sense of this change in scene in the past year. 

Preserve the theatre culture 

Chandrakant Kulkarni

Mumbai is a place where Marathi plays run at least three shows in a day. So, apart from actors, directors and producers, the industry dependent on them was hit badly. During this time, a WhatsApp group called Marathi Natak Samuha became active and helped out such professionals. Although the situation improved in December-January, since March, there’s been an atmosphere of fear and theatre-goers are hesitant. So, venues are staring at difficult times. Another problem is the spike in digital content. These factors can impact the culture of watching plays, especially in non-metros. We need to find devices to bring theatre home without losing out on the interactivity.

Chandrakant Kulkarni  director and producer

Come together as one family

Manoj Shah

For over six months, every evening, I met artistes, cinematographers, writers and poets on Zoom to exchange ideas. I also used the time to read, watch cinema, and wrote four scripts. I attended an online course and some digital shows, but I don’t think virtual theatre is feasible as we aren’t well-equipped. There is no alternative to live theatre. The theatre community needs to come together as a family and stand by each other now. 

Manoj Shah, founder, Ideas Unlimited

Heading for hybrid? 

Shernaz Patel

It’s been exciting to explore a new medium. We did an evening of monologues early in the lockdown and actors had to be their own cameraperson, do the lighting, handle costumes and work out moves over Zoom; it was fun. The big upside for us was being able to share our work with new audiences in other cities and countries. At the same time, it’s very unnatural as theatre actors are used to feeding off each other. To not have a live response is so difficult, so empty. It’s not easy to earn in the digital space. The audience is still small, and you are either competing with increasing online content or people are just zoomed out. Growing this alternative medium will take patience and time. While digital experimentation will perhaps continue for smaller shows and in urban pockets, it’s likely to be difficult, or rather impossible, for commercial theatre to survive with 50 per cent capacity or in the online space. I think a hybrid format will emerge, where we do live shows, but also shoot them for digital consumption. But that is a thing of the future. 

Shernaz Patel, co-founder, Rage Productions 

The screen is the new stage

Bruce Guthrie

We went from being houseful to shut almost overnight. We used this time to assess the best way forward. There’s been a lot of innovative work on online platforms. In the short term, we need to find a model of remuneration that makes it sustainable to grow the online space as if it’s a new venue. In the long run, there’s another level of innovation that the performing arts can offer once the technological hardware is more developed. The challenge is not to replicate the real thing but  to develop a unique, alternative experience.

Bruce Guthrie, head of theatre, NCPA

Time to upskill

Danish Husain,

I did some virtual shows, but the idea didn’t warm me up. When the venues opened, I watched films and plays. I found there was a larger audience in theatre shows than the cinema; that’s because I feel the joy of watching a fellow human being live is unmatched and was missed. Theatre professionals should use this time to acquire new skills, read up, memorise texts and learn a new language, because this pandemic will be over at some point. And we’ll be back on stage for good.

Danish Husain, founder, The Hoshruba Repertory 

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