A year of Resilience in theatre

Parul Rana

It has been a year since the Covid 19 pandemic has hit the world, and theatre halls have long stood still. The performing arts have been significantly impacted due to the closure of venues and the need for meeting physical distance requirements. It's been a year without theatre so we speak to different theatre artistes about their experience of not being able to perform live on stage for such a long period of time, how they coped with the situation and how they adopted new norms.

One thing was for sure-- that no matter what, the artistes did not stop. They worked regularly, created and executed performances online. Atul Kumar, director, and an actor, shared 'We didn't stop. Theatre never stops. We made theatre online regularly with actors and artistes from across the world, planned for future shows, and performed in open safe spaces. We are like ants we will resurface anyhow somehow'

Amitesh Grover, an interdisciplinary artist, said, 'In response to the pandemic, I created an entirely new work of theatre for online audiences. It was titled THE LAST POET. It is a work of cyber-theatre that premiered at the Serendipity Arts Festival in December 2020.' THE LAST POET is a multilayered art form with theatre, film, sound art, creative coding, digital scenography, and live performance. It attempts to capture a political moment - a poet disappears, a virus spreads within and amongst us, and our world becomes haunted. The audience is invited to immerse themselves in the constancy of this virtual event. In it, there are multi-logues, there are multiple possibilities in how you can experience it.

Hitesh Bhojraj, actor and voice-over artiste, said, 'The lockdown, for me had its phases, highs, and lows. The initial phase of the lockdown had me being immensely productive, I collaborated with my cast of Disney's Aladdin to make a cover of A whole new world; all of us actors sent the singing portions that we recorded in our respective homes to Disney and they edited and made a song out of it, similarly Asif Ali Beg also commissioned a song called The Drama Never Dies, the song spoke precisely about us theatre actors missing the stage and how the drama in us will never die despite the situation of a lockdown. My goal was to be busy and work on my craft. The lack of a live audience does hit you, the charm of live theatre is the presence of the audience reacting to everything that is being done on stage. As soon as the lockdown eased a little, Aadyam commissioned BANDISH 20- 20000 HZ directed by Purva Naresh to be recorded, cameras replaced the audience and it was finally telecast as a recorded show, it felt amazing to be back on stage but personally, I did miss having the audience. To sum it all up, Theatre as an art form has always had sustainability issues, be it on the production level or monetarily for actors and producers alike, for an art form that is purely driven by passion and the love of it to go through a lockdown and even now with only 50 percent capacity is extremely tough. But as we say, the show must go on and it will.'

Neha Singh, actor, shared her experience during the pandemic 'Fortunately, I have my home in Mumbai and I am also into writing so the lockdown was not so bad for me. I was working on my writing assignments, and I started teaching creative writing and theatre online. I utilized the time to do my riyaz each day. My friends and I would practice on Zoom and do our voice exercises. Recently I did a play via zoom called the LONG DISTANCE AFFAIR, which was a great experience for me as I could virtually meet and interact with people from all across the world. I feel the intimacy that an online platform provides is very interesting, it's a lot more engaging. It was almost like getting back on stage as there is a proper rehearsal process, you wake up early, you prepare your piece and practice, so it's almost the same except for the medium of course. Another thing I have realized from my recent visit to Prithvi theatre is that people have somehow come to value the live performance a lot more now than before. I could see people were overwhelmed and excited to be a part of and witness a live performance again.'

Saurabh Nayyar, actor, shared his experience from his recent live performance in the play PIYA BEHRUPIYA, 'I was performing after almost a year later, so it felt very refreshing. The thrill of performing in front of a live audience returned. When the lockdown started, I never thought that we would have to stay away from the stage for such a long time, I thought things would get better in a month or two but it continued for an entire year. I utilized the time working on myself, indulging in creative exercises. I started exploring new possibilities, I looked for different ways to adopt the digital medium and did some work online in collaboration with 'd for drama', the audience could watch us live. But for me personally, I was missing the fun and the thrill of performing in front of a live audience. Now, fortunately, I recently did two live shows with the audience in the theatre hall, so I am hoping things will get better and back to normal. All in all, I think an artiste never stops. In some way or the other, an artiste finds a way.'

The last year was definitely a tough year for theatre lovers but the zest and zeal of the artists made sure the year was turned productive. Theatre has acquired a new form through the digital medium which has been a major transformation and has only added to other aspects of it. While audiences hope things get back to normal with more and more live performances taking place in theatre halls, they can continue to enjoy the new form of theatre happening online.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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