HYDERABAD: For over 135 years, onstage live performances have been their forte. 'Live' was the operative word here. Yet, the pandemic changed all of it and shook up their very core – of performing live for their audience. Surabhi (also known as Sri Venkateswara Surabhi Theatre) is a family theatre group based in Hyderabad known for performing plays based on stories from Hindu mythology and the Puranas.
Now, the group has, although reluctantly, geared up for playing for their remote audiences via Zoom and WebEx. Rekhander Jayanand, actorcum- organiser of Surabhi Drama Theatre who supervises the activities of the group based at Seri Lingampally, Hyderabad, says that his troupe of 60-members are now on their new show on November 1 for Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta.
“We are going to perform a 75-minute play titled Mayabazar. Our team of 60 artistes will be performing on a local stage in an auditorium in Seri Lingampally. However, unlike other times, we will be shutting the door and airing it directly via Zoom to our patrons in Atlanta,” says Jayanand.
Surabhi theatre’s performances at Lalithakala Thoranam in Public Gardens in the city has always been a spectacle to behold. In recent years, the theatre group has also started performing for Ganesh Chaviti celebrations at Nizampet or State Formation Day programmes, during the night jagaram for Shiva Ratri, at jataras in the Telugu states.
"We have also started training school kids in acting workshops or help them put on makeup for mythological plays during annual day functions. We have been doing all that it takes to stand on our feet. But the COVID-19 lockdown and the social distancing norms have made it impossible for us to perform with a live audience. In fact, we are not even expecting to perform for another year or so," he bemoans about the current state of affairs.
However, being able to broadcast their shows live in high fidelity to NRIs who have been missing the Telangana folk culture via Wi-Fi has come as a blessing for them now. The theatre group had to literally stay idle for nearly six months during the full and partial lockdown.
"Although we got help from multiple NGOs in the city to sustain ourselves and families, we felt the need to adapt to the new normal and bounce back. This art has given us life and now it’s our turn to give the art a new lease of life," the team adds.
In the last few weeks, the group has performed for audiences in Chicago, Washington and Reading, Berkshire, in the UK. "We had the first taste of online performances when KL University invited us to perform a 45-minute rendition of Mayabazar for their virtual convocation," adds Jayanand who says that he is adept in handling the camera and other operations thanks to his short film titled Prema.
He has directed a play called Satyam Vadha Dharmam Chara and says that he has learned a lot on the job and can even think of acting assignments in other platforms. "We now plan to come up with a modern version for Mayabazar especially to appear to the kids. It is a short and slick form," he adds.
The troupe says they are ready to perform for corporates or organisations with a threeday notice. "We are more entertaining than your average show in OTT platforms. Try us once," they say in unison.
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