New content, support set stage for theatre’s resurgence (March 27 is World Theatre Day)

March 26th, 2011 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 26 (IANS) Indian theatre is reaching out to a wider cross-section of people. With more funds, greater corporate interest, use of the internet and content that touches upon contemporary sensibilities, practitioners of the art are trying to seduce younger audiences.

“Non-dramatic texts are being turned into drama. Theatre is becoming more and more hybrid with different kinds of influences,” National School of Drama (NSD) director Anuradha Kapur told IANS.

The trend on the eve of World Theatre Day March 27 reflects a broad global phenomenon wherein theatre is becoming a creative tool of mass communication and entertainment on a par with cinema and television.

The most interesting trend in India at the moment is the variety of texts that are translating themselves into theatre.

The border between theatre and the allied arts is getting erased, Kapur said.

“Theatre will soon become a multi-media platform and work with conventional art, architecture and several other cross-disciplinary energy,” Kapur said.

Theatre took a beating during the late 1980s and 90s when television crashed into drawing rooms with a slew of soaps and reality capsules. It also witnessed a massive drain of talent, with several leading actors moving to Mumbai in search of greener pastures in mainstream cinema.

However, since 2000, theatre witnessed a revival as television fatigue set in and a new crop of directors began to use special effects, vigorous body language, traditional art and music on stage.

Buoyed by the resurgent stage, the government has stepped in to help the performing art with five new NSDs across the country.

Mumbai-based director Manav Kaul said: “There are two kinds of theatre - entertainment theatre and experimental plays.”

Kaul, whose experimental play “Red Sparrow” has been staged to critical acclaim, says “young people are more interested in plays that are entertaining”.

“Only Marathi playwrights are doing the original thing and Mumbai is seeing experimental theatre. It involves too much of finance - which is a constraint,” Kaul said.

At the Mahindra Theatre Festival during March 2-7, the spotlight was on young theatre that spoke of contemporary issues and everyday realities with a stylish twist. One of the plays that made a mark was an 80-minute English play, “Interview”.

It narrated an often-heard story of a bright young man facing one of the most challenging and unusual interviews of his life. The play stood out for its innovative script penned in the style of business school classroom skits.

The theatre audience has grown exponentially in the last decade, NSD Delhi chairperson Amal Allana said.

“Theatre has seen a total turnaround. The young audience has grown tired of television and are rushing to watch theatre,” said Allana, the driving force behind Bharat Rangmahotsav (BRM), NSD’s annual theatre festival that showcases the best on the country’s contemporary stage.

Allana had worked hard on the BRM 2011 festival website to provide quick and updated information to theatre lovers during the Jan 7-22 event.

She attributes the resurgence to “more media projections, new culture hubs that promotes theatre and world performances”. “People want to study theatre and the trends,” she said.

Allana is currently in Bangalore where the government has set up the second NSD to connect theatre to its regional roots in southern India.

She has “spent the last seven years trying to build the BRM. It is one of the biggest theatre festivals in Asia - featuring 80 plays this year”.

Allana is “committed to creating a future generation of theatre professionals and persuading the ministry of culture to increase theatre grants to least Rs.500,000″. The amount granted by the government usually varies between Rs.25,000 and Rs.100,000.

According to Allana, Indian theatre is now much more visible on the international front.

Her production, “Nati Binodini”, a stylised adaptation of a 19th century Indian classic about a Bengali female stage icon, was acclaimed at the Festival of India in Washington March 2-3.

“The play is about women’s struggle. The American audience identified with the heroine and her fight,” Allana said.

Her husband and noted theatre personality Nissar Allana, who has brought Henrik Ibsen within the matrix of contemporary Indian stage and traditional Indian folk theatre through an annual Ibsen festival, observed that the “economics and perspective of theatre have changed dramatically”.

“There is much bigger mobility in terms of funds available to theatre through corporate sponsorships and number of festivals. Young directors are also looking at theatre in a more holistic and globalised way,” Nissar Allana said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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