Bruce Guthrie Interview With Deepa Punjani
As the NCPA is set to stage a second run of Nick Payne’s play CONSTELLATIONS with actors Jim Sarbh and Mansi Multani, we speak to award-winning director Bruce Guthrie, who has recently taken over as the Head for Theatre & Film at the NCPA. Bruce talks about his time with the production, about how he foresees his new role at the NCPA, and how he started his own journey in the theatre leading him on to become a director who has worked in the UK and internationally. Bruce is also excited about the programme coming up at the “Add Art” Festival as part of the NCPA’s 50 years’ celebrations.

 By Deepa Punjani

Deepa Punjani (DP): CONSTELLATIONS is back at the NCPA. How has the journey been for you since you first began to work with Jim Sarbh and Mansi Multani?

Bruce Guthrie (BG): It has been a wonderful and unexpected year. Both actors went off and worked on a variety of different, successful projects. They have come back to revisit this play having had the time to think about it. We are approaching the halfway mark in the rehearsal process this time and there are a number of new ideas we are implementing this time around. It's exciting to rediscover the moments that worked from the first incarnation of the show and then invent other moments that we feel work better. We are all delighted to be working on this brilliant play again and to have the opportunity to have a second run of the show at the NCPA, considering we were sold out last year.

DP: As the new Head of Theatre & Film at the NCPA, how do you envisage the programming for theatre going ahead? Are you considering any specific interventions or new initiatives?

BG: This is my eighth week here in Mumbai. I've moved here, so adjusting to the pace of the city as well as getting to know the vast array of artists in the city, is going to take time. It's a place bristling with invention and ideas. I have spent my weekends watching shows and meeting practitioners and performers to get a sense of what they like and what their ambitions are. We are working on many things at the moment, but none are ready to share as of yet. It will be a process and we are looking in the short, medium and long terms at a variety of potential initiatives to help further the cultural ambitions of the city and to take theatre made at the NCPA across India and internationally too.

DP: You have been involved with theatre and particularly with direction. Where and how did it begin for you?

BG: School plays. I saw JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLORED DREAMCOAT at the Edinburgh Playhouse when I was nine years old. I loved everything about it. When the opportunity came up to be in the school production of OKLAHOMA! I auditioned and got a small leading role. From there I was a part of my local youth theatre group (Forefront) and then auditioned for the UK Conservatoire drama schools. I trained as an actor at the Guildford School of Acting (for whom I now sit on their advisory board) and directed and produced my first play just before graduating. We took that production to the Edinburgh Fringe and managed to sell out the 75-seat studio space. We used the money we made to put the production on in London as an agency showcase and I was offered representation by a well respected agent as a director. That set me off and running as a director.

DP: As a director having worked in the UK and elsewhere, how do you find yourself adapting to theatre here?

BG: The one thing that unites people who work in theatre all over the world is their passion and love of the art form. If the will to make a show happen in the best possible way is there, then there's no end to what a small group of dedicated people can achieve. Are there challenges? Of course. There are challenges in every walk of life. If we are not challenging ourselves then we stop growing. I'm loving my time in Mumbai thus far and the NCPA is a place full of people who are passionate about art and culture. There is a drive to be excellent that come from the Chairman and filters down into the organisation as a whole. This means we are all striving to improve all the time. This is a great trait and I look forward to the weeks and months ahead as ideas and dreams begin to come to life inside our theatres.

DP: Are you going to be directing more productions for the NCPA going ahead?

BG: Yes. I am a director by trade, so a rehearsal room with a great script and wonderful actors is where I feel most at home. We will be working to create opportunities for other directors and companies at the NCPA too. The rising tide must raise all boats. Creating our own productions is an exciting prospect. Following up on the theatre season in 2018/19 we are delighted to bring CONSTELLATIONS back from November 21st to 24th. Then we have a packed programme at the "Add Art" Festival here from the 29th November to the 1st December. I'm running Masterclasses in Acting and Musical Theatre as well as taking part in Creative Connections & Cocktails (a brilliant event where we do two-minute meetings between creatives from all walks of life). There is SEA WALL by Simon Stephens (starring Jim Sarbh). We also have the brilliant ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM with Yuki Ellias. KIMAYA will be performed by Atul Pethe and for children we have WHERE HAS MY NANI GONE? directed by Dadi Pudumjee. It's going to be a terrific celebration to make 50 years of the NCPA.

*Deepa Punjani is a professional consultant and editor-at-large at Mumbai Theatre Guide.

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