HYDERABAD: It’s been a year since the pandemic changed everything including the way industries and sectors function. This has pushed many performing arts organisations downhill especially theatre which had already been struggling for survival. On World Theatre Day (March 27), the theatre artistes and directors in Hyderabad share what changes have pushed them downhill during the pandemic and what measures they are going to take:
Sishir Challa, actor, director, Grim Pumpkin Productions
Small theatre groups like ours depend heavily on the audience turnout. Even before the pandemic, pulling an audience to shows was always challenging. With the added limitations of social distancing, the same becomes an increasingly daunting task. The pandemic has definitely pumped the brakes for any tentative plans we had for the future. Our crew, mostly students, are back home, staying safe, and coping with the situation. It is better to wait until things return to normal before we make any plans for future productions. The logistics of planning and rehearsing a production directly contradicts social distancing guidelines. Although measures can be taken, it does not rule out the risk to the crew or the audience. We have considered exploring online platforms, however, they obstruct that sense of seeing something come alive before your very eyes. We look forward to returning, but for now, we are biding our time.
Pulak Halder, actor, Shudrka Hyd
Small theatre groups like Shudrka Hyderabad which had more runs more than other mainstream/established companies, had to worry about how to ensure that their members survive the pandemic but also unequal structures that prevent such small groups and their personnel from having the same visibility and recognition as their more privileged peers. Since November, we have been practising in person that’s how we did a live performance of a Telugu play Rakshasudi Thota on Feb 29 at Rangabhoomi. However, we are hopeful that thefuture will lead to new forms of performance which will, in turn, create socially-diligent theatre practices from digital platforms.
Ali Ahmed, director, writer and actor, Darpan Theatre
Despite the fact that digital medium is quite helpful, it’s quite disappointing not to see audience sitting in front of you and clapping. That energy is missing. The other day when we staged Khatarnaak Khala, there was hardly anyone. The good part of the staying-at-home is that we get more time to think of better concepts and see the same thing from different perspectives. There are no quick fix solutions, but we are waiting for the opportune moment to perform in front of a live audience when the tumultuous times are over.
Mohammad Ali Baig, director, actor, Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation
Our plays got postponed due to the pandemic. However, the lockdown gave me time to introspect and to think how we could continue to reach people, and so we decided to reach out to performing artistes and their families across the country providing aid. We didn’t believe in breaking the sanctity of live theatre by going digital but made sure that we were a part of lives of hundreds of families of artistes and audiences in India.
Riyaz Usman, actor, director, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
The pandemic deprived theatre of the very source of its energy – the ability to connect with a live audience. Yet it did survive. In the last year, we’ve witnessed artistes finding creative ways. They adapted themselves to move online. It does pose challenges, yes. Apart from the usual challenges of physicality, blocking, improvisation and stage presence, now we have to crack the technology too. Yet we’ve seen performances, plays, readings, monologues, festivals, workshops, all adapted to a medium that we weren’t familiar with. There are challenges, yes – learning a new medium, to be engaging, figuring how to get people there, working on technological fallouts. But it also did break the geographical boundaries and open newer reach. It’s challenging and exciting at the same time. We are excited about returning to stage with real people in front of us. At the same time we’re exploring the new possibilities the pandemic had thrown at us. We will take both and survive, yet again.
Jayanand Rekhandar, actor, Surabhi Drama theatre
We perform our plays on Zoom. The advantage is that our work is being watched by NRI Telugu communities across different countries like the US, the UK, Australia, and Qatar among others. At the same time it’s difficult to perform when you know that you are appearing on a screen. Digital media has helped us survive, but in the long run we look forward to coming back to the old way of performance.
— Saima Afreen