Lights, curtains, theatre! We bring to you the comradely life behind the curtains, a spoiler soirée with behind the scenes of theatre. Doubling the power as curious cats and enthusiasts of the thespian art, we set out to discover the journey, the makings – writing, directing, producing, management, acting, and the evolution. The Delhi theatre scene has been slowly transforming and to gauge the depth of it, we got talking with key industry insiders.
A decade ago, theatre appealed only to a niche group, especially in Delhi. Right out of the college gates, young talent either lost the shine in their eyes or migrated to Mumbai, for it was never a viable career choice in the capital city. Now the theatrical boom includes multiple venues, keen enthusiasts flooding the amphitheatres, more talent on stage, and stellar performances every day. “Delhi theatre is transitioning, there is a rigour and energy that has come with young talent. They are pushing the envelope with curiosity, desire, and adventure,” shares Neel Chaudhuri, founder of Tadpole Repertory, a Delhi theatre group that has witnessed the encouraging evolution through the years. While the bigger picture is one of moving forward, there are missing pieces; genres like musicals still in latent phases, and shortened time spans to combat.
Nisa Shetty, actor and part of Governing Council for Akshara Theatre shares, “Nowadays, audiences prefer comedy, they enjoy a western style of acting, serious plays and mythologies have taken a back seat. However, enthusiasts enjoy these genres and still come.” The growing theatre culture has led to the birth of more aficionados and the increasing versatilely can only lead to a more nuanced audience. As Delhiites break through the brackets and preconceptions to find an increased level of sensitivity, the process will come to full circle with more creative investment. As Nisa shares, “There is a need for more original theatre, it’s time we pick up some Indian writers.” In a world where real life communication has taken a nosedive, theatre allows live connection between the audience and actors, making it an invaluable part of the society.
Add in a few more factors, like social cause in case of Ritu R. Chandra, director and producer, with feathers like Khushi – Ek Ehsaas and Mamma Mia Again! in her cap, and you can have a blockbuster. “Giving back is a good feeling, and combining that happiness with a musical connect gives you an infallible combination which has a universal appeal,” shares Ritu. However, producing a play where you are casting for both acting and dancing is no easy feat. Compared to earlier times, the city is bubbling with talent, the acting pool has expanded dramatically, and with social media in the mix, the queue is long for auditioning, but that also means a longer decision time and more so when there are varying skills to consider. Though Ritu is quick to add in, “My gut feeling is also a very important compass for me. At times you can relate an actor to a character and you know it’s a right fit.”
The community is expanding but the camaraderie is strong as ever which is represented by the humble rehearsal days. Orientation, warm ups, exercises, workshops, is what initial days of a play at Tadpole Reparatory look like, “We adopt various methods for actors to become familiar with each other and as the play progresses a strong chemistry is formed between the actors, director, and the crew,” shares Neel. On the other hand Ritu allows the group to come together with their creative similarities and differences during rehearsals but values it equally, “If one person isn’t feeling it, then the whole group dynamic gets thrown off.” Whereas, “At Akshara Theatre, we are all a big family and the team spends entire days together, eating meals, rehearsing, discussing, and switching roles from acting to lighting to prop handling,” adds Nisa.
Theatre is a form of expression and it encapsulates personal experiences, as Neel shares “I get inspiration from everywhere, the world is becoming stranger and stranger and you’d think with time you’d understand it better, but it’s the opposite. It’s this curiosity that I channel into my plays.” Nisa concurs, “The director has a vision in mind and provides a frame, but rest of the character is developed by actors, their experiences, and interpretation of those experiences.” The learning curve that develops through the preparation of the play is an integral part of the final performance, “You have to be continuously questioning and exploring the script, be ruthless with it” and that isn’t done till the end moment, even two minutes before the curtains rise and our three insiders agree with it.
Even in the most serious of plays, there is laughter and memories, “Once our main actor didn’t reach the stage and we got another actor ready, dressed, script in hand, and just as he was about to step on, the main actor reached (he was stuck in traffic)! But there’s another incident that takes the cake – an actor’s pants were about to fall off and he had to dance off stage and he handled it with utmost composure. You have to have a level of comfort with your work, to manage such situations,” shares Nisa. The curtains drape an entire world, and it’s filled with laughter, learning, esprit de corps, and one where egos are left on the door.
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