Want to perform at the NCPA Experimental Theatre? Think Again...

October 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM IST
MTG editorial

The National Centre of the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai has revised the rates of its five theatres. This is perhaps the biggest blow in recent times to hit a beleaguered theatre community in Mumbai. The commercial theatre groups may be able to absorb this and re-juggle their balance sheets, but what about the others?

The NCPA Experimental theatre with its 300 seats, and home to many theatre classics and talent will now charge Rs 35,000 on weekdays and Rs 40,000 on weekends. To date, theatre groups paid Rs 6,500 plus a surcharge of Rs 2,700 or 50% of the box-office sales (whichever was higher). The standard rental, even if one factors an inflationary cost of 15% is unreasonably high. Theatre groups by and large, especially the younger groups and the poor theatrewallahs, plus those linked to the alternative theatre space in Mumbai will not be able to have access to this space.

Some may argue that the NCPA has annual costs that are incurred. But then, as a theatre veteran argues, "the business of theatre means someone has to subsidise the plays. The NCPA cannot simply get into programming." This makes sense when one considers that the NCPA is a public charitable trust. The centre's historical legacy and its mission statement, so proudly touted on its website, run contradictory to such moves.

The other thing that is striking is, none of the costs, are borne by the Government. And so, in a way, the NCPA has to pay to maintain for providing technical services and prime real-estate that can enable theatre groups to make their plays available to audiences. When the programming includes: fashion shows, AGMs, high-profile book launches, why then, should theatre be the odd one out?

The point is, it's the NCPA, that is a centre of the "performing arts" and therefore this is a cost that theatrewallahs believe they should not pay. Rather, theatrewallhas believe that the NCPA should provide them with a subsidy, wherein the bill is footed ultimately by NCPA. This is not altruistic as it sounds. Since there was a time during the reign of Pu La Deshpande (and his team of Ashok Ranade, Arun Naik, Waman Kendre, Vridnavan Dandvate, Chetan Datar, and others) it is precisely this that transpired. And so with all the rhetoric of overhead costs and paying for electricity, theatre facilities and even advertisements, the NCPA supported and sustained the theatre movement in the city.

No one expects the present management to be as pro-active as the Pu La and co, but one hopes they have the prudence to see that theatre can simply not pay the same rate as everyone else; and that it cannot survive without a subsidy. Of course, it's understandable that the price hike means that the NCPA is seeking to save money where it can. But can it be fair that, in the process, theatre and plays should be singled out and asked to pay? We think not.

That theatre has to beg, borrow, steal for survival, is not a new story. Yet, it is necessary and imperative that it gets the desired support and reprieve in other forms. Rentals make up for a large part of the expenses that theatre groups incur, and prohibitive rentals can result in cutting short the life of a production.

For the time being however, the message from Mumbai's premier performing arts institution is clear: the play is no longer the thing.

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