In a digital world, theatre still remains an important form of self-expression and an integral part of the cultural scene in the city. However, the challenges that practitioners of this art face are numerous and varied.
Metrolife spoke to a few Bengaluru-based theatres groups to know the problems they encounter and the state of the theatre scene in the city now.
Musical theatre is expensive, finds less takers
“We have been into musical theatre since 2012. Musical theatre is an expensive affair due to the elaborate sets, costumes and huge teams. Since this genre is not popular in Bengaluru, finding sponsors, scheduling plays and overall logistics is a challenge. Also, the huge number of events happening across the city means theatre fundings takes a backseat,” says Divyesh Bhandari, director, Imbroglio Productions.
However, there is an increased interest among people wanting to be a part of musical theatre. “Initially, we used to get about 200 people during auditions but now that has increased to 850; this is huge progress,” he says.
Technology has been a help for Imbroglio Productions in terms of enhancing the visual experience for their audience. However, he feels that to market a show, word of mouth is still the best strategy.
Milestones: “Imbroglio Productions showcased India’s first licensed Disney show in 2012. That was the same year we started off, which was a huge milestone for us. Our licensed Michael Jackson show, in November last year, was a huge success.”
Summer show: Children’s workshop ‘Broadway Bangalore’ will be held on April 6 and 7 in Koramangala Club. The Michael Jackson show, a show-choir-show featuring songs by MJ, will be held from May 1 to 5 at Phoenix MarketCity.
Finding performance spaces a challenge
Abhishek Iyengar, co-founder, WeMove Theatre says that infrastructure is one of the biggest problems theatre groups face in the city. “There is no government performance space available for us. The private ones don’t have a rate control, so it becomes financially unviable. There are also no rehearsal spaces; we can’t hire or rent a commercial space as it might disturb residents or would be too small for us.”
With the advent of the digital era, Abhishek says it’s a challenge to get the audience to come out to watch a play. “Also, it’s difficult to find actors who are committed and have a high level of interest. Most of them want to become stars overnight.”
He is of the opinion that theatre should become mandatory in schools. “Our campaign ‘Theatre For All’ helps make theatre accessible and relatable to all. We target schools, companies and even residential layouts.”
Milestones: “It was a personal achievement when I was asked to be the World Theatre Ambassador for India by Boston University in 2017. And as a group, we have branched out to California and performed twice already.”
Summer shows: 15-day summer camps for children in HSR Layout, Rajajinagar and Jakkur. These will run over a period of two months with a final play on the last day.
Finding an audience for staged performances not easy
Kathpuliyaan Theatre Group was founded in 1988 by Zafer Mohiuddin. Their first play was ‘Darvazha Kholdo’. In 2016, they came up with one of their most successful plays ‘Zikr-e-Ghalib’.
“The challenges lie with staging plays. it’s hard to find sponsors for Hindi and Urdu plays, which is our forte. We had more audience when these were unticketed shows, which is not the case today,” says Kay S, author of ‘Unfinished-A Woman’s Tryst with Destiny’ and a representative of the group.
Getting people to watch a play remains another hurdle. “We need to market ourselves more. Apart from social media, we need digital and print media to support us.”
Calling theatre a way of self-expression and counselling, she says it should be introduced in colleges and schools. She also recommends theatre groups reinvent themselves by trying out multiple genres and languages that can appeal to both young and older audience.
Milestones: Houseful shows of Zikr-e-Ghalib (2016) and Tipu Sultan-ke-Khwaab (2017). “During the Tipu Sultan show, there were about 600 people standing outside the auditorium,” Kay says.
Summer shows: Their play ‘Shaadi-ki-kirkiri’ will be staged on April 5 at Chowdiah Memorial Hall and on April 13 and 14 at Alliance Française de Bangalore.
Mega plays can’t be performed because of space constraints
N Mangala, founder of ‘Sanchari Theatre’, rues the lack of theatres and rehearsal halls to perform in.
“Kalagrama was burnt down a few months ago and the theatre right above that is also no longer fit for performance or practice sessions. Prabhath KH Kalasouda charges around Rs 8,500 which is difficult for small theatre groups. So all of us have to wait to get a slot at Rangashankara. There’s Ravindra Kalaskhetra as well, but if a government function comes up, then we will have to give away our already-booked slot,” she says.
Talking about how mega or full-fledged plays can’t be performed because of space constraints, she says, “Sometimes, we will have to choose the play keeping in mind the availability of space.”
However, theatre is still thriving. Despite the arrival of stand up comedy and other forms of art, she feels the audience has only increased in number.
Talking about the recent magnum opus ‘Malegalalli Madumagalu’ play, that was staged overnight at Kalagrama, she says that though overnight plays are not a new phenomenon, the fact that modern theatre artists did so deserved to be appreciated.
Upcoming playrights in Kannada: Belur Raghunandan, Usha Kattemane, Sandhya Rani, Bharati.
Theatre not a victim of commercialisation
Mandya Ramesh, founder of Natana School of Theatre, says that although the art form has made changes to remain contemporary, it is still not a victim of commercialization. He compares theatre artistes to farmers, saying that just as farmers wait for the rain, the artistes wait for the audience to watch them perform.
However, he remains optimistic and says theatre can never lose its importance. “I run a theatre school and I see a lot of youngsters flooding in every day,” he says.