By Alex Mathew and Aayush Ailawadi
Theatre, one of the oldest art forms in the world, is either dying, or adapting to cater to a demanding millennial audience or is getting grander in India. The view depends on who you ask.
There is perhaps no one single truth. While it’s true that small troupes have to perform multiple shows a month to earn enough to survive, it is also true that the backing of a government or a company can make all the difference. Small theatre performances have sometimes been catapulted to great renown, and large ones have barely made a mark.
“25 years ago, the kind of theatre we had was a direct lift from America or the U.K. But I think our own theatre, whether it is in Indian English or regional (language), is also blossoming and developing and flourishing,” said Rajit Kapur, actor, director, and producer, said. “More and more youngsters are getting involved, which is a positive sign.”
Agreed Quasar Padamsee, director-QTP and co-founder, Thespo, citing two examples of changing theatre: ‘White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’ where an actor is given a script just before he or she goes on stage, a perfect recipe for what Padamsee defines as the quintessential liveness of theatre. And ‘Blank’ where a member of the audience joins an actor on stage, and the two discover the script live.
The Broadway-style plays is a relatively new phenomenon. Disney India first tested the waters with runaway success Beauty and the Beast. It is now returning with Aladdin, which will be performed at the National Centre for The Performing Arts starting April 20.
The tickets, however, don’t come cheap. And that’s understandable, considering the sheer size of the production. The economics of theatre boils down to the cost.
Smaller theatre troupes that don’t have a backing of a company through sponsorship have no choice but to keep ticket prices low, which in turn results in a significantly smaller scale performance.
“If you do a public show, we try working around the number of 40-45 percent of the total value of the house as the cost,” said Ashvin Gidwani, MD & Producer, AGP World. “So, if you if you operate on 60 percent, you’re still making money. The way you can do that is if you’re backed up by sponsors. Only then you’re at 40 percent. Otherwise, your costs go as high as 60-65 percent and it is a risk at that point of time.”
The other alternative, according to Padamsee, is for the government to step in and subsidise theatre. “Theatre since ancient Greece or since Sanskrit theatre, has always relied on some kind of subsidy.”
In Germany, the government funds theatre companies, which can’t charge more than a certain amount for tickets, Padamsee said. So public access is available, but the German government is underwriting that loss.
With the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other such services that allow users access to an entire world of entertainment and information, there are those who believe that the end of theatre is, finally, nigh.
Yet, theatre still has its ardent supporters. It is the only “live” medium where an audience can interact with the actors on stage, said Waman Kendre, director at the National School of Drama.
One thing is certain though: Theatre is evolving to match an evolving audience. Perhaps the best is yet to come?
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