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The Show Must Go On: With Audience Behind Masks, Theatre Adapts To Strange Times

The Show Must Go On: With Audience Behind Masks, Theatre Adapts To Strange Times

The longing for his sick mother waiting at home in Guwahati tugged at Raju Roy's heart but the call of the stage, which was also the only way he could pay for her medicines, held him back. After seven long months away from stage, Roy had managed to grab the lead role in Pehla Satyagrahi, the National School of Drama's first theatrical production since the lockdown was announced in March and the actor just couldn't give it up.

New Delhi: The longing for his sick mother waiting at home in Guwahati tugged at Raju Roy’s heart but the call of the stage, which was also the only way he could pay for her medicines, held him back. After seven long months away from stage, Roy had managed to grab the lead role in Pehla Satyagrahi, the National School of Drama’s first theatrical production since the lockdown was announced in March and the actor just couldn’t give it up.

I was hungry for the stage. I was hungry to get a role in anything and then suddenly I got this opportunity, Roy told PTI. Being back on stage was the elixir he had been waiting for. Yes, it was a very different experience for the audience and the cast but then if this what the times called for he was up for it. Temperature checks to enter the campus, segregated seating for the strictly limited number of people allowed and mandatory face masks made for an unconventional theatre experience.

It was unusual, but theatre prepares us for the unusual, Roy said. Earlier this month, the Central government further eased restrictions under its unlock guidelines and allowed live performances at open theatre facilities with strict dos and don’ts. NSD made its debut’ in the COVID era with Pehla Satyagrahi being staged at the campus lawns for three days beginning October 2 to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 151st birth anniversary. It was also the among the first plays to be staged in the new normal.

Live theatre is considered a superior form of acting because the reaction of the audience is instantly delivered to the actors on stage and there are no repeats. Be it a collective sigh or a few smiling faces, the actors can read the audience and measure their response. Yes, it felt a bit strange to not get that reaction from the audience that we are used to, said Roy but he soon adapted. For theatre actors the number of people shouldn’t matter. I have once acted in front of two people, he added. Megha Kumari, one of those who watched Pehla Satyagrahi, found something lacking because she couldn’t sit next to her friends. Even though you are not supposed to talk during a show, a quick glance or a quiet nudge delivers the message to your friend. I think being able to communicate with your friend just adds to the entire experience of a play, even if it’s non-verbal, said the college student who sat six feet away from her friends. The National School of Drama, India’s premier theatre institute, has plans to stage plays every alternate weekend at its campus, director-in-charge Suresh Sharma. Adjusting to the changing times is the only way theatre can return to the people.

Offices have started, factories are running. But it’s not the way it was earlier. We are living in a new era and have to adjust according to that. And we artistes can’t stay away from the stage for so long. Yes, there are practical problems like sound and light in an open setting but we only aim to make the experience better, Sharma said.

In the end, ummid par duniya kaayam hai aur hum ummid karte hain ye daur jald khatm ho (the world rests on hope and we hope this time comes to an end soon), the veteran director added. Though theatre activity is still low, drama buffs in the NCR region have more opportunities to watch plays later this month at the Panchanan Pathak Smriti Saptahant Haasya Natya Samaroh.

The theatre festival was initially scheduled to be held at the Pearey Lal Bhawan but will now take place at the Ishaan Music College in Noida due to permission issues in Delhi. Dinesh Ahlawat, festival organiser and president of the Manch Aap Sab Ka said there were hurdles but they are excited about getting back on stage. Our last play was on March 10, it has been seven months and we can’t wait to go back, Ahlawat said.

The theatre festival, which will run from October 10-28, will be held indoor with limited seating and precautionary measures. Nine comedies will be staged.

Disclaimer: This post has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor


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