Saturday, May 31, 2008

Activate Rural Theatre

Indian theatre recently is getting more and more concentrated in urban areas and cities. Earlier theatre in Kerala was more vibrant and flourished in the villages and small towns and it continued to be so till the 1990’s. The village theatre was very rustic, crude and yet meaningful. But now almost all the significant theatre activities are focusing the cities. It is high time that sensible and continuous theatre activity should happen in villages. Strengthening and empowering village theatre will enrich and enhance Indian theatre in its quality, content, form and aesthetically too.
It is a relief to see that there are a few places where villages have started doing workshops, and related activities. Children’s theatre can be a good activity to initiate, but ample care and comprehension is needed in designing and sustaining it.
I visited one such village, Thampakamukku, almost 10 kilometers from Alapuzha town. A few theatre enthusiasts and cultural activists have joined together to initiate some kind of theatre activity since two years. In this midsummer vacation too they organized manchadikoottam - a 20 day workshop with 25 children in the age group 4 to 15. The children played, improvised, danced, acted, wrote and did many activities connected with theatre. They performed the visualization of three poems, one each by Kumaran Asan, Ayyappa Panikkar, and Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. They also performed a play Vachumattam written by Kavalam and directed by T.V.Sambasivan.
It was good to see that the workshop along with theatre and art, attempted to connect the children to the environment and the mindless mayhem exercised on it. Agriculture was also given the same importance along with cultural awareness. This link to environment, trees, lakes, and agriculture will generate a green mind in the young children.
The organizers were Nrupalaya, instituted for Traditional Art theatre that conducts regular shows of traditional performances like Theyyam, Koodiyattam, Kadhakali, and Mudiyettu etc. They had build a stage, and an open theatre that can seat about 300 audiences, a protected hall for rehearsals and make up, and also a library. This group functions on the enthusiasm of few individuals like Aaryadu Vasudevan and Kichu Aaryadu; but the larger society has to shoulder it and see that the activities continue. Proper caring of such rural activities, and providing the needed orientation and support is the responsibility of cultural organizations such as Sangeet Natak academy and other state machineries.
Hope that this place will emerge as a true centre for theatre with good productions, performances, theatre festivals etc and will contribute largely to the theatre of the area and the state. We have great examples like Ninasam that has grown from rural background to nationally acclaimed theatre institutions.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mazhavillu performs ‘The Girl in the Photograph’- fragmented images of war and its victims

Mazhavillu the children’s theatre wing of Lokadharmi premiered its new play titled ‘The Girl in the Photograph’, written and directed by Shirly Somasundaran.

The girl is Kim Phuc, the little nine year old, running naked down a road, screaming in agony from the jellied gasoline coating her body and burning through skin and muscle down the bone, running through the burning streets of Vietnam.

And the photographer is Nick Ut who won the Pulitzer Prize for capturing the collective conscience of the whole world against the brutality of war, through this single picture, – the one photograph that captured the horrific nature of Vietnam War.

Her village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam was napalmed that day in 1972. It would take many years, and 17 operations to save her life. And when she finally felt well enough to put it behind her, that very photograph would make her a victim, all over again.

This play in Malayalam, enacted by 25 children, narrates the story of agony and survival, pays a floral tribute to the war victims, and sends out a strong message that the prey of war is always the children,- the next generation. The play was also about John Plummer who dropped the bomb and about the trauma and guilt-feel he undergoes.

The end of the play suggests the possibility of sparkling of lights from the stars in the dark sky, a ray of hope when Kim pardons John and they join together to dedicate their life in bringing some illumination in the lives of the war victims, as symbolized by the lit candles, shared by the actors on stage and the audience.

The play in six segments that take place in a pagoda in Vietnam, the mess hall of a military camp in Vietnam, a hospital room, the office room of Plummer, the Class room of Kim, the visiting room of Dr.Lean in USA, is all set in a continuum. All the scenes except the last one take place in Vietnam. The production has tried to represent the locale with suggestive settings, cloths and spreads, and the use of dried bushes indicates the war tone nature.

The cultural characteristics of Vietnam and nature of the backdrop of the story were depicted in a suggestive level, as the priority of the production seemed not on the authenticity or the specificity of the culture, backdrop or the environment; but on the historical facts that were well researched and authentic. At the same time the little fluidity in the depiction of the background, atmosphere, costumes, rituals, properties, music, etc helped to transport the premise into a universally valid experience, beyond time and place of the incident.

The play used the projection of the photograph of Kim which served as the key motif behind, scenes depicting napalm bombing, and a depiction of the famous reply speech of Kim on her selection as the goodwill ambassador of UNESCO. The production is an amalgamation of the facts with fiction and these projections provided the needed link. In the last scene Kim breaks open the screen and comes to John Plummer saying “I am a victim of war, I was a victim of many things, but Life is beautiful”.

The play demanded a lot of emoting and subtlety in acting which the kids did fairly well. They did not drop into the clutches of melodrama, neither into soulless sentimentality, but carried the struggle and feel of the characters inside. Special mention to be made about Aparna as Kim in her war hit days, and Namitha as her mother who excelled with subtlety in performance and carrying the emotional levels quite convincingly and truthfully.

Assosciate director Rema K Nair appended the technical aspects of the play, Music by Aarsha and Aadarsh, Set by Manoosh and Jolly Antony, make-up by Pradeep Chittoor and lighting by me, Chandradasan.

The production was trying to be simple, direct, and matter of fact, devoid of any pretentious stuff and this transparency helped the communication of the basic idea quite successfully.

The performance took place at Changampuzha Park Edapalli, Kochi on 15.05.2008.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Abhayarthikal (Refugees) by G. Sankara Pillai* – Production Journal II

The reading, discussions and analysis of Abhayarthikal continued and this exercise brought new ideas and insights in us. The propositions that came into limelight can be summarized as —

  1. The most interesting aspect or ‘the line’ in the play is that of Janaki when she says ‘there is no much difference between the homeless refugees and the refugees with a home and family. We all are refugees irrespective that we have a home’. This statement can be the super-objective of the play. Every human has the same insecurity as the refugees; if we examine deeper and close enough, the helplessness, insecurity and uncertainty of the refugee will surface almost in everyone.

  2. Thus the most important characters are to be the invisible refugees in the text, and they should be brought forth as visible metaphors in the performance. Also there should be links and threads that connect the refugees and the characters of the play. The validity of the production may depend upon the efficiency with which this connection is made.

  3. There is a socio-political rationale that exemplifies the story. The ideology of the play links it with the general radicalism of the sixties where the potency and structure of the concept of a ‘strong family’ started to disintegrate. Janaki breaks the family and comes out. The encounter between Janaki and her husband in the final sequence is eloquent enough to suggest the falsity of the concept of a smooth and solid family set up. Prabhakaran, the other character wanted to marry a girl and initiate a family life which did not take place and his mental balance is spoiled. The old man spent the whole life to bring up his son and tried his best to create an upright family, but he turned into a stray soul on the death of his son. Thus the dream to establish a family and attempts to live in tune with the establishment is disturbed resulting in expatriate identities and that makes the ‘story’ of the play. The play hints on the breaking up and disintegration of the social structure based on solid families.

  4. There are obvious economic reasons for this social transition. The porter married his daughter to a better alliance due to financial reasons. Appu, the son of the old man has to join the army is eventually killed, is also out of economic compulsions and poverty. The peddler and the leader are also the outcome of the same economic and deplorable social condition. The reason for the refugees to migrate to an alien land may also be the poverty and lack of survival prospective in their birthplace.

  5. There is also a mystical and philosophical component in being a refugee. A refugee is almost a gypsy, a group of people sharing the space, sufferings and possibilities; but not bonded to each other strongly. They may or may not be related as in a conventional family, may be blood- relatives or may be unfamiliar and has come together on the demand of time and state of affairs -- a group of people abandoned and living together with its own laws of ethics and customs. They live in temporary arrangements and are always in a threshold to move and that gives immense freedom to make life lighter for them.

  6. We could observe the same slackening of bonds in present day families too, where migration is the order of the new global situation. It is normal that children migrate to other countries and places far away in marriage, job, business etc and the notion of a single family with grandparents, husband, wife and children living together as a unit is already broken; what remains is the skeleton structure of the edifice. Thus contemporary life has made all of us into refugees irrespective of the status and other amenities, and this play is speaking exactly the same bizarre fact. The revealing of this unpleasant reality may be emotionally shocking and at the same time a purgative action. Thus the play reflects the contemporary society and the possible audience.

  7. This argument is reinforced by the parallels between Nora in Ibsen’s Dolls house and Janaki. Towards the end in both the plays, the wife talks directly into the face of the husband for the first time in her life, and then dare to break out of the marital bondage to ascertain their freedom. In both the plays the husbands are shocked and plead their wives to return to the warmth and safety of the home, which the woman denies and walks out.

  8. There is an influence of Ibsen in the narrative structure of the writing also. It is the mode of reflective introspection between the characters that reveal the past story. The play opens somewhere near the climax, and the reader comes to know about the past incidents slowly from references and hints in the dialogues as the play progresses.

  9. The characters in the play are depicted as typical caricatures. But to communicate the depth of the situation and its gravity, the actor has to carry the characters beyond caricaturing and that is going to be the challenge for the actor.

  10. The setting and atmosphere is more important than the characters in communicating the feel and meaning of the play. The rural railway station, the cement benches, the tree with flowers, the ground with a spread of fallen flowers, the lamp post, the darkness surrounding, the moonlight filtering, possibility of a fence of cactus etc enhance the significance to the whole enactment.

  11. The play should break away from the proscenium structure. One option is that the group of refugees can occupy the main acting area and the characters can be amidst the audience and can act from there. An open area under a tree with minimum or no walls in the set (that are on the tumble) may be the best space for the enactment). Breaking of the walls is the working idea behind this performance.

  12. The place is almost dark except the moonlight. The characters have the tendency to merge into the darkness than the pool of light.
    The discussion and analysis was productive with the students/participants coming with valid observations and comments. Hope these may influence and reflect in the production. We will do the breaking up of the text into units and then endeavor the discussion further, along with improvisation which is another mode to discuss, relate and reinvent. Also we have to invent exercises that can prepare the acting pattern for this play.

    *G. Sankara Pillai is the author many plays that include Bharathavakyam, Amalanmar, Karutha Daivathe Thedi, Poojamuri, Bheema Ghatolgacham Bommayattom, Snehadoothan, Nidhiyum Neethiyum, Bendi, Anayum Kurudanmarum, Rekshapurushan, Moodhevi Theyyam, Thirumpi Vanthan Thampi, Avatharanam Bhranthalayam, Thavalam, Sabarmathi Dooreyanu, Oru Kootam Urumbukal, Kasmiyude Cherippu, Subhantham, Aasthana Viddikal, Kizhavanum Kazhuthayum, Deepam Deepam, Moonnu Pandithanmaarum Parethanaya Simhavum, Kazhukanmar etc…

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Salute Vijay Tendulkar, the Iconoclastic Playwright who Modernized Indian theatre.

One more master playwright passes away….
Salutations to Vijay Tendulkar (06 January, 1928– 19 May, 2008)
The author of Gidhade (The Vultures) (1961), Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court is in Session) (1967), Ghasiram Kotwal (1972), Sakharam Binder (1972), Kamala (1981), Kanyadaan (1963), and many more plays including plays for children like Bāle Miltāt, (1960) and Pātlāchyā Poriche Lagin (Marriage of a Village Mayor's Daughter) (1965), etc…
He wrote about the wretched lives of the lower middle class and was part of the new awakening in the theatre of 1960’s along with Mohan Rakesh, Girish Karnad, and Badal Sircar; and gave a new idiom in the style, language and substance of contemporary Indian theatre.
Tendulkar was part of the Quit India movement and India’s freedom struggle, but cannot negotiate with the optimism of the Nehruvian age; he wrote stark plays about middle class agony, ambitions, fake morality, anarchy and paradoxes within …
His plays were sagas of conflicts between individuals and society in general, which took his characters through endless and complex emotional states which had no reverence to the so called morality and value system of the society…
He was exploring the themes of violence in its various forms: domestic, sexual, communal, and political.
Kamala is an indictment of the success-oriented male society in which women are the springboard for the accomplishments of men.
Silence! The Court is in Session combines social criticism with the tragedy of an individual (that to a female actor) victimized by society pf her colleagues in theatre.

Sakharam Binder is about the domination of the male gender over the female. The main character, professes not to believe in "outdated" social codes and conventional marriage. He regularly gives ‘shelter’ to abandoned wives, and uses them for his sexual delights without considering the emotional and moral implications of his victims. Paradoxically, some of the women also falls into his arguments and simultaneously want to be liberated from their enslavement.
Ghashiram Kotwal dealt with political violence which unveils the decadent Peshwa kingdom and its political machinations, and analyses how the pursuit of power results in moral decay. This play recounts the power game played out in terms of caste ascendancy in politics. The structure of narration is different from other Tendulkar plays which are mostly written the realistic mode and under obvious influence from the western drama. Ghashiram is written as a musical drama, and the performance of it directed by Jabbar Patel, for Theatre Academy Pune combined traditional Marathi folk forms with contemporary theater techniques to create a new paradigm of expression, turned out to be one of the milestones that decided the direction of the later Indian theatre. Ghashiram Kotwal' was staged over 6,000 times in its original and adapted versions, making it one of the longest running plays in Indian theatre history
Vijay Tendulkar wrote his best plays in the 60’s and 70’s when the Marathi theatre was on the uphill road, shaking of the melodrama and the tear busters to create something more genuine and meaningful in theatre. This was also the period when Marathi theatre was perfecting its craft of acting and technique to give high aesthetic standards in theatre. His plays were produced many enthused directors and actors including Sriram Lagoo, Vijaya Mehta, Damu Kenkre, Arvind Deshpande, Bhakti Barwe, Satich Alekar, Satyadeo Dube, Mohan Agashe, Sulabha Deshpande, Naseeruddin Shah, Amol Palekar, Om Puri, and Smita Patil, among others..
Tendulkar wrote his plays mostly based on real experiences. He says in an interview. “I personally don’t bother about people who haven’t seen life. They close their eyes at the sight of suffering as if it doesn’t exist. The fact is that life is dark and cruel; it’s just that you don’t care for the truth. You don’t want to see it because it might make you uncomfortable. If escapism is your way of living then you will fail to see the truth. I have not written about hypothetical pain or created an imaginary world of sorrow. I am from a middle class family and I have seen the brutal ways of life by keeping my eyes open. My work has come from within me, as an outcome of my observation of the world in which I live. If they want to entertain and make merry, fine go ahead, but I can’t do it, I have to speak the truth.”
He was so active and responding about social and political situations and concerned with environmental problems and the like but did not want to make a sound out of it and just to attract the media. He did not make a noise where he was not intended to. He told his immediate friends that he wanted his death is to be mourned and made a big function.
"I don't want my death to be mourned," Vijay Tendulkar told his friend Ashok Kulkarni a few days ago from his hospital bed.
"He said he wished a quiet passage," Kulkarni recalled his conversation with an ailing Tendulkar in a Pune hospital. "He didn't want the last rites to be performed. And he said 'No' to condolence meetings." "My innings is over," Tendulkar told Kulkarni and his friends. He didn't even want the Press to know about his death. "He insisted that we inform the Press about his death only after the funeral," Kulkarni said. He made sure his last days were normal.
Salutations to the maestro playwright, for the dark and realistic expression about the unpleasant truths and brutality of the middleclass, the snobbery, inherent violence and manipulation of power, that runs through various strata of the social structure.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kalivesham – Overt and Loud

This is a response to the play Kalivesham written by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, directed by Narippatta Raju and performed by Natyasastra kadampazhipuram, Palakkadu.
The text by Kavalam is about a Kadhakali performer who is to perform the evil character of Kali in Nalacharitham Kadhakali performance. The play focuses on the influence of the character on the performer and how the character slowly diffuses into the habits and nature of the actor and merges into his self. This transition causes immense trauma in the family life of the actor, his relationship to his wife and is evilish and painful at the same time.
This story uses Kadhakali as a performance form, where the actor is usually destined or popular in performing a specific character type regularly. It transcends from Kadhakali to the universal and identity problems faced by any performer and the possible temptations that surrounds him- a play based on the transcending to of the actor to the character. The playwright uses Kadhakali as a base tool to take off to the general characteristic and dynamics of actor-character relationship.
The performance should naturally take off from the text, open it and reinterpret to arrive at a form appropriate for the basic communication of the objective of the director and the ensemble. But viewing the play gave a feel that instead of taking further from Kadhakali; the production has taken it back to the score and milieu of Kadhakali itself. Overt use of the form in costume, movement pattern, music and acting pattern takes the performance nearer to Kadhakali than the written play. It seems to be witnessing a postmodern version of Nalacharitham Kadhakali than a new play derived from it.
The performance was well rehearsed and the details are worked to the minute niceties. The care and subtlety taken in the design of the costumes and other aspects are missing in the acting design which is much loud and lacks subtitlity. Overt and loud use of Kadhakali makes the visible outer format hide the inner dimensions of the narrative.
All the actors have done justice to the role assigned to them by the director; they seemed to have got some training in the acting system of Kadhakali. Special mention is to be made about Sudevan who acted as the ‘actor’, and Rajitha who was the best of the lot who charged the role of the wife of the actor with emotion, clarity and with powerful and glaring eyes.

Monday, May 19, 2008


G. Sankara Pillai was one of the most versatile and towering personalities of Indian literature and theatre scene. Belonging to a generation of eminent Malayalam writers he ascended great heights and imbibed the cultures of other regions. A pathfinder and leader of great stature, he was committed to creating bridges between the theatre of the Earth and contemporary sensibility through his writings, theatre direction and teaching. He initiated a new movement in Kerala.
Abhayarthikal (Refugees) is a play written by him 1965, much before the new theatre movement started in Kerala. We are planning to stage this play with the students of Lokadharmi as part of the theatre training. I thought that it will be nice to keep a sort of account about the process of the production. I hope you can expect a series of postings about this process.

I. The Initial Discussion after the first Reading.
The play is set in a village railway station. There is the presence of some north Indian refugees settled nearby and their presence reaches the stage through mostly sounds and songs. The time is night.
The major characters
1. Janaki, a lady in her 30s, the wife of Raghavan and is from a good family. Raghavan had wed a new girl on the insistence of Janaki since she is not able to give birth to a child. She says she is waiting in the darkness of the station waiting for the train.
2. Prabhakaran, a young man who is searching for her ladylove, he feels that she is somewhere near and runs around for her. This man was in lobe with the daughter of the Porter with his silent blessing. But when a better proposal came porter married her daughter off and Prabhakaran lost the balance of his mind.
3. The Old Man who come to the railway station expecting his son who is employed in the army returning. Actually the boy is dead and the old man does not know this. He is waiting and waiting….
These three characters are the sort of refugees as Janaki says; someone can be a refugee even if he had a home or family.
The play knits these three stories into a single entity. These stories are different but are connected to one another through the feel of helplessness and the silent expectation of a train that may change the course of events.
There are other characters also who waits for the train that includes,
1. The bridegroom, soon after his marriage, who has to travel with his wife and party in the train to a new life, and he too needs the train to come.
2. The Leader waits for the train with flowers so that he can garland his leader who travels by that train. It is his duty to pay respect and regard when his leader and mentor pass through his village.
3. Arishtam Kittan, the illicit liquor peddler, with country liquor filled in a cycle tube and is take little rest at one of the station benches.
It seems that equally important is the refugees who actually do not appear on stage and the inner relationship with the characters on stage, is intended in the play.
The three plots interwoven can give rise to three different plays with a lot of melodrama and sentiments filled in. the characters are the usual and expected ones in a play written in 1960.s in Malayalam. We may encounter the same characters and similar situations in many plays. But the play depicts the social situation and concerns of the Kerala society of that period. We can observe the elements of a modernist perspective in the whole arrangement and structure of the play even if it looks so realistic in nature and the characters are at times caricatures.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Theyyatheyyam—a play about performances

This play is significant in the oeuvre of Kavalam since, it has a very intriguing narrative and a storyline with many levels of meanings and different layers of connotations.
It narrates the story of Ramayana, the epic. It uses not the Valmiki Ramayana the most widely accepted form, but is narrating a very regional version of Ramayana, where Rama is named Daivathar, Seetha is Poonkanni, and Hanuman is Bappooran while Ravana is named Paranki chamundi. This local and folk version of Ramayana deviates from the grand text in many ways. This is more fluid, straightforward, and is the illustration of the indigenous creativity of the masses. (Here Ravana is devitalized by hanuman by removing his Urukku – a magical waste band- while Ravana dozes during his Tapasu. It reflects the immediate social concerns and milieu of the folk and their life. Accepting and acknowledging such local versions in the present context where there is a conscious attempt to establish a monolithic Ramayana, is a significant position.
This play suggests strong comments about colonialism and the history of protest against the colonizer. The Paranki is clearly the foreign invader who is to loot the resources of the land and molest Poonkanni, the local girl. The colonizer manipulates and wins over the protests spurting against him. This play has a strong comment on the power politics of colonialism and the cultural implications of it.
This play also speaks about the villainy of the local feudal landlord and his handling of the working class. Mekkanthala the local landlord has an eye over Poonkanni and tries to molest her. His brut less and cunning passion for the working class girl is clear and overt. When she do not yield to his whims and fancies, the landlord declares that none of the laborers will be given work in his field; the right to reap the harvest was denied by this landlord which follows a suggestion of possible protest and confluence of the working class. The sickle that is to reap the paddy is transformed into a weapon to eliminate the feudal landlord and becomes the symbol of the working class upsurge. Ravunni after killing the landlord has to go in hiding since police and power-centers hunts for him. Such a clear parable on the peasant revolt suggested in the play is strongly translated into the visual imagery in the whole narrative.

Varied layers of different plots are interwoven to get a seemingly simple text. Besides this the narrative structure and its composition is also important. The play becomes an essay on the performer and the performance itself. It is trying to understand the inner dynamics and chore of the performance.
Performance of myths, performance of the daily routines of the common man who is helpless and wrapped in the daily cores, and also on the performance of this particular play itself becomes the concern of the narrative. It is interesting that the performer is to perform different roles inside the performance itself. He has to narrate the story, explain and interpret it, and at the same time is the character of the play. Performance itself turns out to be the theme. While performing the Paranki Chamundi, Ramunni has to be the representative of the social attribute of the working peasant, and has to lead a protest against the feudal landlord. At the same time he has to elope with Poonkanni also return as the performer of the Theyyam. His mundane existence and his character merge into one. His social responsibility to rebel the landlord and his responsibility perform the Theyyam are having the same importance and consequence. Added together is the social human he depicts.
The singer-narrator has another significant veracity. He has to narrate, create the characters, invite and evoke them on to the stage, interpret and explain the different junctures of the plot, but also is a victim of the events on stage. At times he has to run away from the scene since the very characters he invoked beset him. He is to shift between the performer and the character and at times caught in between the two states. The position and space of him as an actor in the physical as well as the performance realm is always in transformation and is the continuation of one to the other. He is bound within the physical space of the fiction and its dynamics, under the coercion of the other characters, and has to emote, feel and suffer according to the demands of the situation. He is under the endorsement of the director, other actors, and the plot itself. The physical spacing of the actor in the performance context and his functions in an oriental performance is essayed in this creation and its enactment.
This note is the response of seeing the performance of Theyyatheyyam, a play written and directed by Kavalam Narayana Panikker and performed by Sopanam at Fine arts Hall Ernakulam and also the personal chat with Kavalam before the play.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kochi Needs a Real Performance Space—a Theatre

A lot of lament is there on the sad stage of theatre in Kochi and Kerala in general. It is a fact that theatre scene is not much inspiring as compared to other parts of the country. We need a better and more vibrant theatre and we have the potentials to be so.
At the same time we have to look into the basic conditions where our theatre works in. What are the essentials and pre-requisites for good theatre?
Of course, the artists are the first - Actors, technicians and directors. Those who are closer to the performance scene of the city of Kochi cannot say that there is a big dearth of artists. There are many trained directors and very enthusiastic actors, both men and woman and skillful technicians too. My theatre group Lokadharmi itself has produced a lot of artists who are keen to perform and produce plays. And there are visiting directors and actors who would liker to perform their plays in the city.
Then of course is the audience. I feel we have that too in the city. For example when a play is premiered we have almost a houseful audience. Even in fine arts hall - which is the usual performance venue - we have the hall full.
But what brings the audience in? It is the quality of plays and the quality of the show itself. Sometimes the hall defeats the show with bad acoustics poor air circulation, and heat, even if the quality of the play is good and the audience may fall short to sit through.
Producing of a new play has turned out to be very costly and laborious activity in the city. The cost of renting lights, sound along with the hall rent, put together will be at least 15,000 rupees, which the group has to find from its own pocket. Overall the cost of production for a Lokadharmi production is around 50,000 rupees. (We minimize our production expenses since the artists of the group do almost all the work, - creative and physical – and are not paid for that. Other groups spend around one lakh or more for a play. The group has to spend this much money mostly for just one show. This is besides the long rehearsal schedule that may run for an average of 3 months. And what we get back? Of course the artistic pleasure in creating and performing. We feel that we have done our part of the work.
The basic question is that whether this passion can sustain the theatre momentum and be able to cater the demand the whole populace of the city. If the group is not in a position to have a second or third show how can the theater get better? It is a fact that a play falls into its rails after 5 or 6 performances. Only then the artists and technicians are ‘inside’ the play; in tune with the inner dynamics and energy flow of the performance.
The most important and tough thing to do in our city theatre is the technical. It is a fact that for most of the plays there is no technical rehearsals. No group has a real rehearsal space to do the technical rehearsals. Also they are not in a position to afford the cost of the sound and light hiring. And no theater in the city including the Fine arts Hall has proper provisions to fix the lights. This hall which is considered to be the ‘best’ in the city, do not have even an FOH lighting provision or lights bars. It will take a minimum of 6 hours of intense physical labor, to erect light and focus them for a play. And that involves the risky job of climbing over the non-existent supports on the roof. Nowhere in India outside Kerala, is not more than 3 hours needed to erect, focus and patch lights.
And what we have left other than this, are the non performance spaces like the open space in Changampuzha park Edapalli, which is a lovely place to put up a play. But theer too the technicals are mostly impossible. We have to convert a non perfromace pace to a performance space. The quality of the audience we get there makes the performances a success. There also we have to work with poles and bars of bamboo to fix lights and have temporary curtains of tarpaulin to be fixed and protect the performance area from the traffic lights and the street lights.
I feel that it is such a bad atmosphere that makes the theatre almost impossible in the city. Even so, groups produce and perform come out with good enterprises. We are really proud that we were able to produce a play that can get the covetable Mahindra award where the aesthetics of the performance is equally important with the technical exposition and mastery over the form and that we made this possible working in such a crude situation.
And audience is there enough. I have never felt a shortage of audience. Parallel theatre has its own audience here. Our Karnnabharam was able to drag at least 200 audiences when we performed it again Changampuzha Park on last 12th, even if we had done the same play more than 20 times in the city over the last 15 years.
And our Pattabakki when performed in Changampuzha Park, fetched an audience of 1,500 over three days. Each show could accommodate only 500 people and on the last day we were forced to open the enclosure and let people stand and watch.
It is a fact that people will come to watch the shows if they are convinced that the play is good. And people should have a habit of coming to the theater again and again, for the theatre culture to flourish further. For people to develop that habit they must be able to come back to watch shows they liked or recommend to friends about the good plays that are being staged in the city. And in the present situation theatre groups cannot afford to hold many repeat shows. It is this lack of infrastructure in the city to sustain the movement that hinders the growth of theatre.
And it is a pity that this great city which is flourishing to a metro does not have a performance space. What is needed is a small theatre that can hold a capacity of 300 audiences with good acoustics, and facilities to mount lighting and should be made available for an affordable rent. The theatre groups can try out repeat shows with selling tickets and try to survive. It is the duty of a culturally healthy society to provide this amenity. I have been astonished by the performance spaces all around India. Even Bihar which we think to be a backward state in terms of education, culture, development etc, have a good and endearing performance space in Patna- the Kalidas Rangalaya. It is a highly indigenous performing space, built with minimum paraphernalia and decorum, but is a very luminous space to perform.
It is only intimate performance spaces that will promote theater innovations - the changing trends and new ideas in theatre. For example, stages in the city are tailored for a large audience and for a time, years ago, when theatre was dialogue driven. And many are not made for theatre but for holding meetings and are now getting converted into marriage halls!
The present day theatre is more an intimate experience and is meant for a smaller audience. My plays have been optimal for audiences of say 200 or 300. So I have to stage them five times if I have to show to 1,000 people. If not, the impact of the play will be diluted, if not lost.
I have no doubt to say that Kochi should follow the example of others like Bangalore and Kolkota. There they offer the sound, lights and the stage and a hall for a rent Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 a day. The rent for Rangasankara the prestigious theatre space in Bangalore is 2500 per day that includes sound, lights, and the air conditioned hall. And you can sell tickets too! It is not just a joke that if the theatre group from Kochi travels to Bangalore to put up their new show there and travel back, it will be much cheaper than putting it up in Kochi!
I know fairly well that there are enough spaces left in the city limits suitable for constructing a theatre. There is enough money too. But somehow we don’t think about it today; we postpone it for tomorrow, since we have other priorities for today...
And we lament for theatre…!!!