“Exciting, stimulating, and gratifying” — share co-founders Akhil Wable and Shambhavi Singh, when summarising their journey at OddBird Theatre & Foundation. OddBird flapped its wings exactly one year back (July 22, 2016) and has soared to new heights, showcasing ace performances, dos à dos. Celebrating their first birthday this month, Singh proclaims, “We’ve been lucky.” We beg to differ, for the cult following OddBird has established makes it crystal clear, Delhi is the fortunate one. Full of vim and vigour, their approach towards performing arts has brought a much needed vitality in the cultural fabric of #OurCity.
Catching up with the MVPs at the theatre over multiple cuppa joes, we get talking about the genesis of it all and the founders confess, “We thought we would host one event every 30 days and were prepared to receive only a small audience.” Charming the birds out of the tree with a smashing roster every month, OddBird has taken flight quicker than Singh anticipated, “In 2014 we had a basic thought, a space where people can share an experience and engage with artists.” Virkein Dhar, in-charge of Strategy & Programmes at OddBird, adds, “We want artists to spend time here, create conversation, share experiences, and not just focus on evening performances.”
It was only in 2015 that the seed began to slowly sprout, owing to the year long hunt replete with definitive needs like ‘high ceilings’ and ‘no pillars’. “It was quite tempting to say screw it, but it would have ruined the whole concept,” says Wable in this DSSC exclusive. Temporarily giving up the scout for a permanent location, the team decided to organise a one off event to gauge Delhi’s response and as fate would have it, a chance encounter brought them to Chattarpur, “As soon as we entered we knew this was it, this was OddBird,” adds Wable. Applying the first principle approach, the power-trio set out to create the space from scratch. “We had the basic structure in terms of physical space and we built from there; iterating, iterating, and reiterating. We continue doing it, evolving according to what works and what doesn’t. It’s quite similar to coding; you can write a code, change it, and if it doesn’t work you have to be willing to throw it out and start all over again. It’s important not to get complacent,” says Shambhavi, who is known in the circuit to gently invest herself in understanding the artist’s motivation and enabling them to voice their creativity.
Looking to formulate their vision into reality and enable a vibrant mise en scène during day, OBT will soon be adding food & coffee to their repertoire, “You can’t expect people to work here eight hours a day and not serve them coffee!” adds Dhar with alacrity, prompting us to reserve ourselves a table for perpetuity. Augmenting the programme with new introductions like workshops, film screenings, and talks, OddBird is growing the community facet. “You stop attending talks after college because they feel academic, we want people to get excited about it again, become a part of the process,” shares Singh, also known for her singing & dancing prowess. Breaking the stereotypes and rigidity of a typical theatre and stimulating artists to experiment sans reservation, OddBird is pushing the envelope like never before. “We have a really low threshold in terms of access to space, allowing artists the opportunity to truly delve into their ideas and voice their creativity,” says Singh.
While exploration is an important part of the OddBird experience, they don’t view themselves as an experimental theatre, “The experimentation we enable isn’t esoteric or weird, it’s about exploring new things and avoiding stagnation,” shares the gent, enchanted with the art of storytelling. Their innovation and encouragement for artistic freedom is carefully paired with a well articulated process, always flexing to create an engaging dialogue, “It’s a learning curve for both, artists and us. We want to provide them the outside eye and be part of their performances without intruding in the creative process. While, artists have to think about different aspects of their production, like entry fee, something they haven’t explored before. It’s important not to feel threatened in this situation and accept that we’re working with each other and not against,” shares Dhar. The curve has been steep and they agree, “some artists find it very different, but jostling against each other in the community until we get on the same page is just part of the process.”
Aspiring a milieu where OddBird is one of the many theatres adding infrastructure to the artistic stage and facilitating financial stability for the virtuosos, Wable shares, “Delhi boasts of a vibrant community of artists, but everything happens in silos. When these silos come together to collaborate and support, Delhi will witness a significant cultural growth.” Dhar concurs, “There is glaring amount of fresh content in India, specially compared to the West, which has now stagnated. However, it’s the lack of infrastructure and professionalism, and abundance of administrative instead of imaginative individuals that has Delhi chasing its own tail.” The trio see eye to eye when it comes to instilling a structured work ethic for the industry whilst maintaining the casual fluidity so evident at OddBird, “It’s not about making it into a business, the essence will always be of art and creation. It’s about maintaining a certain code of behaviour while building a healthy competition.” Moving away from the administrative and into the creative, OddBird is setting the tone right for theatres in the capital city. Arts & culture are multi-sensory and multi-dimensional and can’t be pigeon-holed into the institutionalised version that currently exists. Putting the liberal back into arts, places like Oddbird are not only breaking the rigidity of engagement between the performer and viewer, but also proving that a mindful and financially viable format exists.
As we wrap up discussions about the lack of cognisance for the broad umbrella that is the performing arts, we fire up the DSSC signature rapid fire over a round of heady espressos.
Best Theatre Experience At Oddbird till date?
Akhil: Bharat Mata Ki Jai: Manto, Parsai and Kamleshwar, the first performance at OddBird.
Shambhavi: The Un-Recital by Sahil Vasudeva.
Virkein: Spirit Of The Willow Tree by Anant Dayal.
Your go-to tipple?
Shambhavi: Old Monk coke soda.
Your favourite in the capital city?
Akhil: Perch definitely, and Cafe Lota when the weather is nice.
Virkein: Perch, and Mamagoto for basil chicken with sticky rice.
One thing you’d like to change about the industry?
Akhil: A tad bit more seriousness for the art.
Virkein: Professionalism, maintaining a code of conduct.
Shambhavi: More artists need to start thinking about their performance as a production.
One kind of performing art closest to your heart?
Virekin: Dance and installations.
Image Courtesy: OddBird Theatre & Foundation