On March 13, 2020, theatres all over the world began to shut down. It was a dark year for all theatre artistes but not completely wasted. Many practitioners learnt new skills, connected with artistes across the world through online readings, workshops, performances and more. Theatre artistes believe that there is nothing in this world that can make you feel more powerful than a stage performance because that is when you instantly connect with a source of energy that you cannot access anywhere else.
Digital platforms such as Zee Theatre have put in a lot of effort to keep the art of theatre alive. While Mahesh Dattani has directed plays like “Dance Like A Man”, “The Big Fat City”, “Final Solutions”, “30 Days In September” and “Where Did I Leave My Purdah”, Zee’s Sonali Kulkarni has also been a part of plays like “White Lily”, “Night Rider” and “Rahenge Gardish Mein Taare”.
Here is a look at what the theatre artistes from the country have to say on World Theatre Day to keep their hopes alive:
Mahesh Dattani is an Indian director, actor, playwright and writer.
Theatre people are resilient. When have we not kept our hopes alive? Yes, we may have our fragile egos and we tend to pull each other down but that has made us stronger. We have braved the endemic of petty jealousies, backstabbing, insecurities all along. We do it, others do the same to us. The pandemic is like a hiccup compared to what theatre people have to go through in the best of times! For those artistes less privileged, every normal day is one filled with uncertainties and deprivation. So, one good thing that has happened is that our true selves have come out during this pandemic. Artistes have helped each other this year unlike any time before! We are after all professional empathisers. As our lives grow more and more disintegrated with isolation, uncertainty, and void of human contact, theatre offers us every aspect of human connection, on the physical plane, the social plane, the cultural plane, and the ideological plane.
Sonali Kulkarni is an actress and writer.
The adrenaline rush that one experiences before the first performance of a play is something that one lives for. I feel excited and nervous every single time as if I am going for a Triathlon. I feel so eager to just cut loose and flow! Theatre has always brought personal reinvention to me so I owe a lot to theatre. It has been my friend, philosopher, and guide. Each time the audience gave me validation that was a hundred times more than what I had expected and that is what has kept me going. Even my film directors and producers have been supportive of my theatre journey and have respected my commitment to the stage.
I think the magic of theatre is something that really can’t be compared to anything else. There is nothing in this world that can make you feel more powerful than a stage performance because that is when you instantly connect with a source of energy that you cannot access anywhere else. There is an electric flow of giving and receiving between the artists and the audience. Whether you are a performer or an onlooker, what you feel in that moment of exchange cannot be replaced by any other medium.
The stage gives you instant gratification and so of course a digital platform cannot replace the feeling that you get after rehearsing for months and then performing live before an audience. The relationship that you build with an audience is incredible and personal. I know people who have been watching their favorite play for over ten years! That connection and bonding you cannot get in a digital medium when you are giving retakes and never fully following your instincts and a vision that is your own. I think theatre is an actor's medium and it becomes impossible to create that kind of an intimate space on OTT or in cinema for yourself or the audience.
Life has become tough and to run a theatre company without any revenue coming is not easy. We are just hoping that stage plays start soon. There are a lot of uncertainties, we are not sure also if we will be able to afford it or not when the rules are that we can allow only 40 to 50 per cent people in the theatres. Sometimes I feel helpless, but you can’t hold anybody responsible for this situation. So, now I am concentrating on writing the scripts for the plays and keeping it ready. I have written my dream project and the final draft is done, but I don’t know when I will be able to do it. Initially it was the virus that we were all worried about, but now the economy has taken the front seat.
There are a lot of limitations to re-start natak. Even if stage plays start, I don’t think people will have the money in their pockets to afford it. It’s an expensive affair for us to run theatres with just 50 per cent audiences and increasing the ticket rates is also not going to work because now nobody has the money to afford it. Generally, when nataks happen, we travel throughout the country for our shows, but we can’t travel now and we have to do stage performances only in Mumbai. But on a positive note, “jaan hai toh jahan hai”.
Raang manch ki bhabishya ka joh baat kaarta hai, hum toh hamesha sahi ghisatthe rahe hai. Lekin hum usi mein aapni kaala banata hai (If we talk about the future of stage plays then stage artistes have been always struggling. But we create our craft within all these hardships and within whatever we have). That’s the charm of this medium, it’s almost like you put your hand into it and you get your hand dirty. Digital platforms for theatre definitely cannot replicate that effect of stage theatre. If we look at the history of it, some of the plays that have been telecast live from Broadway are not the same. It’s like listening to a live classical music concert and playing it on a radio. Digital platforms cannot be the same as live concerts. It cannot replace or be a substitute for going to the theatre and watching a play.
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