With no prior experience in the art world but sheer determination to help him power through, Akhil Wable partnered up with Shambhavi Singh to present Delhi with the OddBird Theatre & Foundation. A Computer Science graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, he had an out-and-out tech background, having worked at Microsoft and Facebook. Sharing a morning cuppa joe with us, he tells us that “the kind of work environments I worked in were very really cool spaces that helped you to collaborate & build which went on to become the bedrock of OddBird”. The performing arts theatre strives to create a space where collaborative acts among the artists and audiences can thrive in an informal & intimate setting.
His business partner and friend, Shambhavi, is a Theatre & Psychology graduate who’s worked in the marketing world prior to giving wings to the OddBird. “She was learning how to dance and was always interested in finding different ways to get involved with performing arts; for me it was moving beyond creating virtual spaces to creating physical ones, where people can integrate.” Jaded with the “regular Delhi scene of hanging out at a friend’s place or going out dancing”, it was an evening at a London pub which prompted them to introduce the concept of a general mingling, going out and having a nice time and sharing an interesting experience together to our city.
Coming from such diverse backgrounds, he says the duo had zero experience in running a theatre space. “It was just one of those crazy things where we thought ‘okay, this is a good time to do it’”- and that is how the OddBird beaked through Delhi’s existing art space eggshell.
They had a clear vision for this project from the beginning, “No pillars”, he says, “a lot of these kind of experiences that exist in Delhi today happen in bars and restaurants that aren’t really made for performing arts. These performances are then reduced to a sideshow for bringing people in to drink and eat.” Even so, they realised this vision had its own bumps, specially when it came to finding the perfect location; “We were initially concerned about this space, but looking back on it, we realised that we aren’t relying on footfall – we want people to come because they want this experience- and as it turns out, it’s actually quite easily accessible!”
Sharing his experience with the Delhi audience, Akhil dispels the notion that the city isn’t ready to appreciate art without the peripherals of an evening out, “It’s not that such a stage doesn’t attract Delhi audiences, I don’t think anybody’s tried to do something like this till now”, with bars and restaurants cropping up every other day, the pair “realised that it was a risk but were pretty sure that anyone in Delhi who’s weary of the same old outings will seek out what OddBird has to offer.” “Surprised, happy, and proud” is what he feels about the audience’s demeanour. Take a bow, Delhi!
Just over a month old, they’ve already hosted five smashing events, telling us how they’re carving a niche among the theatre bigwigs, he says, “OBT allows a less formal and more collaborative platform for experiencing the arts. We don’t want a huge separation between stage and audience and treat the entire area as one big stage; encouraging them to engage with each other- making it a new experience not just for the patrons, but for the artists too.”
Balancing the creatives of artists and the demands of spectators is as easy as walking on a tightrope, “If we really like something, we hope that others will like it too. Even when we don’t love something yet the artists’ ideas & passion convince us, we like to go ahead with it”, he says about challenging the city’s art culture. The two happily welcomed their friend Virkein Dhar, a contemporary danseuse, into their nest, who helps them with the creative programming.
In their endeavour to create a true community space, OddBird remains a non-profit foundation, with all the proceeds going to the artists and the theatre. Steering clear of Delhi’s VIP passes custom, they’re spurring the viewers to evolve from “the freebie culture and come for a great experience by watching the artists do something amazing, and then be able talk about it.” They’ve recently started with workshops and classes during the day, and in the coming years look at increasing their flock of patrons by 10 to 50 times of what it is right now, “from weekends-only we’re working on having a performance almost every day, making it a space that different groups of people like for different reasons-some can love it for the dance, some for the drama and yet others for the music.”
Partnerships are a fragile phenomenon, describing working with Shambhavi as “an amazing experience”, he reveals the secret behind their smooth sailing association, “we don’t split responsibilities too much and work on all aspects together. I cannot not think of a project holistically, so we partner on all facets, which has worked out really well for us.” Not ones to shy away from experimenting, their philosophy is to “try all ideas that either one of them feels strongly about, and if it doesn’t work out then they can always draw it to a close”.
Talking about DSSC’s favourite feature, he says that food is what “fuels engagement & conversation between people, and gets them to stick around before and after a performance” (we couldn’t agree more!). The theatre will soon have its own in-house cafe, a space not only for the artists but for anyone sharing the same values and ideas, to work out of. We’re self-inviting ourselves, thanks Akhil!
Reaching the bottom of our second Macchiato, we snuck in some tips for newbies looking to set up similar establishments – a base of patience topped with the ‘Yes, We Can!’ attitude is what you need. “Please do it, let’s collaborate – the city needs more similar places!” signs off the OddBird man.
Intrigued, Stevie stepped in to join the twitter that has Delhi abuzz, and it was love at first sight with the high ceilings blending in with clean & modern architecture at the OddBird Theatre. You can see the founders’ love for artists taking center stage in the way all of the theatre’s elements exist to support the performance. Their love for art and the aesthetic sense & creativity come together to end Delhi’s yearning for a space that appreciates art as it should be(appreciated)!
See the OddBird spread its wings this weekend with Best of Dharamshala International Film Festival series starting on September 1, with the screening of Kothanodi; and continuing the flight with a musical evening on September 2, with band Run It’s The Kid & Ditty. Later in October, they will also be hosting the 4th edition of IGNITE! Festival of Contemporary Dance.
You can view OddBird Theatre’s line-up for the coming weeks here. All pictures courtesy OddBird Theatre
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace of base industry disrupters.