The Company Theatre was formed by Sheeba Chadha, Atul Kumar, Manish Chawdhary and Sanjeev Sharma in 1993 in New Delhi. It is over two decades old now but the dreams it dares to chase keep getting younger, bolder, more fearless. Just like Atul Kumar who once summed up his 20 years in theatre with this line, “The path is the dream.” He has been an actor, a director, the fuel that keeps The Company Theatre moving but there is still a hunger for more. To reach more people, to reinvent the old, to dedicate a space, both literal and cultural to those who love theatre and create it. To find funding for theatre residencies, workshops and retreats against all odds. He had once laughed, “Theatre has survived every threat over time in history or arts. So there.”
Atul frequents Bangalore with his plays and on a recent visit, he shared with us details of the Kamshet project, his bravest attempt to give theatre a fighting chance in a country where cinematic entertainment and television generate the most interest. On a piece of land in Kamshet ( Pune district), Atul has conjured a theatre work space like no other and shared his struggle to see the dream through.
How did the idea of The Company Theatre Work Space ome about?
It started as a laughing matter between a French friend of mine and I. We were talking of how Ariane Mnouchkine and Peter Brook shifted base to form exciting theatre practices and how we should move away from big cities and find a place to work that is calm, and beautiful and gives us time to think again...
How did things come together?
We looked for land all over Maharashtra and it took us one year to find something close to a water body.
Finally this one worked out. Then the money got exhausted in just buying the land and I had to wait for my play The Blue Mug to do an all India tour to be able to collect some money to build a structure which could house rehearsals as well as up to 25 artists in a dorm. Building took another year. After three plays, and hundreds of rehearsal days at Kamshet we finally inaugurated the place this March.
Why do you think such a space is needed?
Why? Just for those mad artists who want to move to a much calmer and quieter place, to a sort of laboratory where they can work professionally for hours exploring their art, questioning their thinking and their skills, finding new languages of expression.
Without worrying about reaching a rehearsal space, the next meal, noise, pollution and the high-strung rhythms of a big city.
What are you hoping to achieve through the space?
Long rehearsal periods, collaborating with artists in residence from around the world and from across disciplines (not just arts), providing residential facilities to theatre groups who struggle for space to work in and for facilities to play with.
Give us details..
It is 5 acres, surrounded by hills and a lake on three sides. We designed the master plan. But there have been many influences- friends like Himanshu Burte and our architects Sagar and Shantanu Joshi from Pune. As for funding, after it was ready our plays like Piya Behrupiya have been funding the place, the staff and the maintenance.
Big fights over small things like light bulbs! Fights over the dosa and sambhar I wanted served at the opening night and then us running out of both with many guests going hungry!
The most memorable moment was when the morning ragas brought in the first rays of sun that fell on the open-air stage and revealed the lake slowly to the entire audience- such a high!