Keeping The Show Going

Pritesh Sodha

I am not bragging but I had a feeling from day one of the lockdown that it is going to be a long affair, it cannot get over in a month or two and if I had to keep myself relevant I would have to understand technology now.

I am of the opinion that since the time human beings have stopped their physical evolution it is only the mind that is shaping the new world, hence technology is here to stay. I need to evolve.

Lockdown happened and since I live all alone, I told myself I will have to engage in re-reading of the classics and maybe do something that reaches out to theatre lovers; in the process I would learn a few things about the new platforms that are available which I otherwise would not have explored since I am so busy with live physical shows and events.

So first thing I did is the 21 MONOLOGUE series, which were from famous plays in four different languages-from Shakespeare to Karnad to Gadkari to Ranglo I tired them all. (Still available on IGTV). Then, I started doing digital premieres of my pre-recorded plays- some free on YouTube and some paid shows on BookmyShow and Zoom. I explored all possible streaming platforms.

I did a digital premiere of MARA ASATYA NA PRAYOGO (only 30 days I kept it for free viewing), followed by a digital premiere of HAPPY DIWALI (still available on YouTube). Then, I did three digital shows of NANIMAA with BookmyShow (pre recorded), five digital shows of DASTANGOI GUJARATI with BookmyShow and also one show on Facebook, and two charity shows on Zoom. In between, I planned and judged more than 160 entries (monologues, duologues and skits in Gujarati) with Late Kamlesh Mota at ''Bhavans Lockdown 2020'' Competition. I also designed a Virtual Theatre Show for children with a famous event company.

The mantra during the first lockdown was to just be relevant and learn technology on various platforms. Keep theatre alive.

The response was moderate for paid shows on BookmyShow, but it was fun to do them and they were very helpful. My free shows and videos I posted were hits, as I got good number of followers on Instagram and likes, comments on my Facebook page as well. So that worked as a motivation, as it meant someone was watching and appreciating.

Frankly speaking, I am used moderate earning from theatre as I have done several experimental shows at alternate venues. So be it Zoom or BookmyShow or Facebook, it was just another alternate venue for me. So I was happy and satisfied that show was going on ''online''. However, commercial work was also important and that''s when I shifted gears and started getting in touch with people and got few OTT contacts who wanted plays to be shot for their platforms-three are waiting to be screened. I met a few producers who wanted some of my plays to be converted as films and also started designing virtual live as well as pre recorded events. So earning and learning happened at a reasonable speed.

The mantra remained the same- be relevant, be seen and keep theatre alive.

The unlock happened I started doing shows and events like before -in December 2020, I premiered MARE LOVE YOU LOVE YOU KEHVU CHHE, ''the first Gujarati play post Covid at Thackeray Auditorium, Borivali and in January 2021, I did two physical shows of DASTANGOI GUJARATI and MARA ASATYA NA PRAYOGO. Since the market was opened, I focussed on my events and was out touring all of February and March 2021 in Surat, Udaipur and Hubli And then the second wave hit us. I kept my mantra unchanged. In fact I started doing the angikam prayer everyday before my breathing exercise in the morning. I was happy, it made me feel closer to the stage and not miss it so much. My way to keep theatre alive inside me.

I designed a mime act to be shot for a Pharma MNC,which was commissioned by an event company. I designed TE DIWAS, a tribute to Vijay Tendulkar on his death anniversary on May 19 and released 10 small acts based on his writings on my company''s Facebook Page ''Utopia Comm''unique''ations. The acts are on YouTube and have already crossed 20 thousand combined views.

Oh yes, a live audience, applause, meeting the audience backstage, chai, the angikam prayer and hugs before the show with co-actors and techies are missed a lot, undoubtedly, but I guess these tough times will only make us theatre makers more hopeful, value theatre more, and make the bond with the stage stronger.

Now I am looking forward to staging my shows physically and also designing a solo act based on the Telugu Novella Vishnu Sharma Learns English by Viswanatha Satyanarayana.

A great learning in the last 15 months, for me, has been that theatre is invincible, as in the darkest possible times also theatre happened. Makers found a way. Just like nature, theatre always finds a way. Evolution of the mind, you see!

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