Nowadays, theatre actor Raghvika Kohli, often finds herself in front of the mirror recording monologues, reviewing the performance and giving online auditions. “I literally grew up on stage. I miss it, but then I remind myself of renowned English director Peter Brook’s words of how actors can take any empty stage and use it for a performance.” Kohli has chosen the Internet space owing to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Delhi where an auditorium performance is not possible. “The thrill of performing before an audience is far greater than home, but right now I have to be within the boundaries of my home.”
The Little Theatre Group (LTG), a 50-year-old collective in Delhi, had plans to conduct its rehearsals on a new terrace space. “Given the extended winter in Delhi, the terrace at our centre at Mandi House, would have been perfect to resume our training. But for now, it’s the online window through which we interact with the world,” says Aneesha Dass, Trustee Manager, LTG, who has curated online listening and reading groups in the lockdown.
Like LTG, for many theatre groups, the virtual is now their stage. Oddbird Theatre and Foundation started a Quarantine Video Project series for artists to showcase their talents. Asmita Theatre uploaded its 78 recorded plays for its online Quarantine Theatre Festival. Like many artists collaborating with BookMyShow to stay connected to their audience, Rahul Bhuchar, Producer of Felicity Theatre, did the same by showcasing Felicity’s recorded plays. Bhuchar says, “Now, my audience is anyone with an Internet connection.” Bhuchar also held online acting classes with celebrities for film and theatre enthusiasts. Early on in the lockdown, Akshara Theatre Group has been sharing excerpts from previous shows on their social media. This includes dialogues, poetry, music, interviews with theatre practitioners, informs co-founder Anasuya Vaidya.
But virtual mediums have their limitations. For instance, the actors are being trained through video calls. “But practical exercises involving breath regulation, voice modulation among others, should be put on hold for the time being,” says Suresh Sharma, Director of National School of Drama.
“The voice of a theatre actor holds great importance, and any mistake by either a teacher or student may lead to long-term injury. At the most, one can teach theory lessons,” he reasons.
Theatre has been hit by economic crunch too. Take the case of Deepant Kandoi. Some years ago, this Delhi actor had quit his MNC job to perform on stage full-time and took theatre classes at a Noida school. Now, in the pandemic, he was given a pay cut by the school.
Hoping for a solution where live plays will resume, Shilpi Marwah of Sukhmanch Theatre in Delhi, has already prepared a play to give voice to migrants’ issues. She says, “When the audience and actors will meet on stage (again), the phenomenon will be worth watching. Sure, there are OTT platforms, but due to the physical distancing, the homely feeling of being welcomed by a theatre group has gone missing. I feel we will now value theatre more.”