Street plays sliding into oblivion

Street plays sliding into oblivion

Street plays, known to convey socially relevant messages in a lucid style, are now fading into oblivion.

The art form was known for its simple style and flexibility in reaching out to masses, spreading awareness on a wide range of public issues - communal harmony, literacy, health and education – and a host of social ills. However, street performances have become rare in Bangalore, a bustling City conducive to draw audience. The City has now moved into more ‘sophisticated’ and ‘high society’ adaptations of theatre.

According to artistes, theatre groups which used to look forward to street plays have just vanished. Almost 60 per cent of the theatre groups have either wound up or have shifted their focus to mainstream theatre.

“Earlier, there used to be three or four street performances in the City over a week.  But now they have become a rarity,” said Dr Sunith Kumar Shetty, a playwright and artiste involved in street plays. According to Shetty, the prime reason for the death of street plays is the advent of television. “Street plays have lost their flavour with people finding it easier to access knowledge on social issues, coupled with entertainment,” he said.

Avishkar Group began as a street theatre group professing the art form since the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1994, educating people on social problems. Eighteen years on, the group has diversified from performing on the streets to adapting stories and scripts for on-stage performance.

Loosely developed scripts

“In the earlier days, most groups used to highlight social problems on loosely developed scripts. We, on the other hand, decided to imbibe more of scripts to capture the audience. Previously, street theatre groups would not even have makeup or microphones. But we decided to introduce these elements for reaching out to the audience better,” said Dr S Kumar, a street play artiste associated with Avishkar Group.

A lecturer at BMS Engineering College, Kumar believed that more than the opportunities, it is the failure of the theatre groups to identifying with social issues that has sounded the death knell for street plays. He said many theatre groups have become relegated to spreading awareness on government-sponsored schemes. Mostly concentrating on girl child education and AIDS awareness, these street plays are guided by State schemes rather than independent thinking.

Kumar, however, said there was still a ray of hope with the emergence of a new generation of street play artistes. “Students from National College, Christ College and St Joseph’s College are showing keen interest in this field of art. Perhaps, they may take the mantle over and help revive this art form,” he hoped.   

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