Shakespeare’s play comes to Indian villages - in tents

November 6th, 2010 - 1:37 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Nov 6 (IANS) William Shakespeare will soon travel to the villages of India when a leading French repertory company in collaboration with the Mumbai-based Prithvi Theatre stages his masterpiece “The Tempest” in a mobile tent.

The 35-year-old Paris-based Footsbarn Company is a travelling tent theatre troupe. It has announced a two-year theatre exchange project between India and France, “Dream Project”, which will see the troupe tour India with Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in a customised tent in 2012.

The troupe is already in Delhi with another production. However, it will begin rehearsing for “The Tempest” in Portugal, the cultural capital of Europe, where it has been offered a six-month residency project.

“We have started designing the tent for the play. It will be equipped with an open-on-all- sides circular central stage and surrounding seats that can accommodate 600 people. The portable tent, made of cloth, can be carried to far-flung venues,” Paddy Hayter, artistic director of the Footsbarn Company, told IANS in the capital.

The troupe is likey to travel to southern India, Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

“After the end of the tent tour, the tent will be gifted to India for future productions,” he added.

Tent theatre takes plays out of the proscenium format and closed theatre houses to the common people in small cities, circus venues, streets and villages. It is a form of traditional nomadic theatrical genre prevalent in India as well as Europe.

The genre combines elements of circus, Shakespearean stage performances, acrobatics and conventional theatre. A dress parade on the streets, in the style of medieval English and French roots theatre, announces the arrival of the production company to the venue.

The company uses mask, puppetry and live music in its productions. While performing, the company camps in gypsy trailers around the tent in remote locations for days. The company, which has been visiting India since the mid-1990s, has performed at the Globe Theatre in London.

Hayter, who is leading the 15-member repertory company in India with his wife Fredericka, will stage Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs” Nov 16 at the Baha’i House of Worship, Lotus Temple, Delhi.

The play, set in the England of 1690, will be presented by Alliance Francaise.

Sanjana Kapoor of Prithvi Theatre is helping the Footsbarn Company design the tent along with designer Fredericka and her son, a designer at the Globe theatre from London.

The theatre company has also moved to the National School of Drama (NSD) to liaise with regional and local theatre companies for collaboration.

“With four extensive national tours, workshops and two productions, including local artists from Kerala behind us, the time has come to tour India in a tent,” Hayter said.

In 1994, the company had collaborated with local artists of four Kerala drama companies for “Odyssey”.

“We had improvised on the play for 12 days in Thiruvananthapuram with members from four troupes after which we staged the play to an overwhelming response. In March 1995, five artists were chosen from Kerala to tour Europe with the company,” Hayter recalled.

The same year, Footsbarn toured Mumbai, Goa, Kolkata and New Delhi with “Romeo and Juliet” in collaboration with Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai.

“At a time when theatre is becoming contemporary with special effects around the world, we prefer to cling to the roots and people, to make it a live art,” Hayter said.

Tent drama is common in northeastern India, specially Assam where troupes like the Kohinoor mobile theatre carry their productions across the state in tents. A play like “The Titanic” has achieved cult status.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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