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Playing as the audience

Updated on: 13 June,2024 09:59 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Devashish Kamble |

A new multilingual play will put the spotlight on theatre audiences and their quirks through anecdotes and observational humour

Playing as the audience

The team rehearses the script before the performance

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Playing as the audience

I got a call from Manoj bhai in the middle of the night a few months ago. I woke up, understandably startled as you can imagine, and answered the phone. What he told me was something you’d only expect from someone who holds the artform so dearly,” recalls writer Ishaan Doshi, while retracing the journey of his new play Third Bell, directed by veteran Gujarati theatre maker Manoj Shah.

A moment from a performance of Offending The Audience in 1966. Pic courtesy/Youtube
A moment from a performance of Offending The Audience in 1966. Pic courtesy/Youtube

The duo’s new play, born from a fleeting idea during a show at Prithvi Theatre a year ago, puts the spotlight onto the audiences, their conversations, conflicts, and worries before the titular third bell rings and the show begins. In Doshi’s words, it’s a tribute to theatre audiences who have played an equally important part in furthering the artform.

Shah, over a call, gleefully admits to his obsession with theatre and his audiences. “A new idea had dawned on me. I was at a wedding earlier that day, and I imagined how a married couple in a theatre audience would behave. Of course, I had to make the midnight call to Ishaan at once,” he laughs, adding that he has also been visiting commercial, experimental, regional, and foreign language plays over the past year to note their mannerisms.

“My biggest learning was that across genres, two things remain common — the audience often has better actors than the stage. And most times, better stories to tell,” shares Shah. Echoing this sentiment, Doshi adds, “Indians make for a unique audience. You’ll have a family debating if they remembered to close a water tap before leaving, couples using the time to settle scores, and a few young faces wondering why they agreed to come to the show at all.”

Manoj Shah and Ishaan Doshi
Manoj Shah and Ishaan Doshi

Presented in Hindi, English, Gujarati and English, the duo believes you don’t have to be proficient in either to laugh along. Shah elaborates, “At one of our previous plays, I overheard a family discussing their dinner plans. They started in English, switched to Hindi soon, and when the restaurant was finally decided upon, they all agreed in Marathi,” he chuckles. “The play, similarly, will be presented in a hybrid tongue that Mumbai audiences are familiar with,” he adds.

Amidst all the humour, Doshi reminds us that the jokes shouldn’t be confused for mockery. He refers to Austrian playwright Peter Handke’s 1966 play, Offending The Audience. “Handke was one of the earliest writers to explore this concept. However, he was critical of theatricality and the audiences. We, on the other hand, aren’t judging the audience or looking down our nose at them. The play is our attempt to embrace the humour, the criticism, the mundane, and the emotions they bring when they walk into the room,” he concludes.

ON June 16; 7 pm 
AT Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. 
COST Rs 500 onwards

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