A unique CSR initiative to promote theatre

  • Arnab Banerjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 07, 2015 19:10 IST

In the pursuit of creative efforts, no matter how many of us offer support - both financial and physical- the world of fine arts remains inadequately funded. From among the numerous performing art forms, theatre possibly gets the smallest space. And it isn’t surprising that the scenario remains the same not just across India, but is universally cash-strapped. Thus, many of actors in the theatre groups in the country have either stopped performing or have moved to television.

But all is not lost. Hope thrives in the form of Aadyam, a corporate initiative of that promises a commitment to the institution of creative expression. The same group also promotes music in all its genres round the year. And now focusing on theatre this year, under their corporate social responsibility, Aadyam has planned 45 shows in Mumbai and Delhi across 5 premiering productions across 8 months. Aiming to create a brand new theatre experience for the audience; with a curated pre-show event, off-stage activities coupled & experiential night outs after the performance, Aadyam kickstarted its Delhi presentations on the 4th of July at the Kamani Auditorium.

Its Artistic Director Divya Bhatia, a well-known name in the field of music, theatre, arts, literature is at the helm and is committed to producing performances of quality,

“The vehicle is Aadyam, says Bhatia.”Aadyam is the entity. But this is with a difference,” he says categorically. “Aadyam is working towards becoming India’s gateway to artistic expression for meaningful experiences and capacity audiences, but there will not be any logo of the flagship company on display anywhere.”

There is no sponsorship of any kind. “Therefore there is no commercial gain,” emphasizes Bhatia. Aadyam is making its foray first with theatre and intends to extend its interests to other forms of the performing arts.

In a country where films and television are major sources of entertainment, is there scope for theatre to flourish?

“In the history of theatre in India, one has often seen that it’s the space or the venue that fuels creative expression, and many a times it’s an individual building or space that takes the onus that contributes to making theatre really professional. How many such spaces other than the NCPA and the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, the Kamani Auditorium in Delhi, or the Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru, are coming up in the country," asks Bhatia.

“We don’t have something like the Arts Council of the UK,which puts in money to contemporary arts. We do have Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan or Rabindra Bhawan but they don’t necessarily promote theatre.”

Real theatre lovers never quite depended solely on performing on stage. They would always have a full-time job elsewhere but devote their other waking hours to fulfilling their dream.

“And that hasn’t changed much,” rues Bhatia. In fact, television and cinema offer much better paychecks, so many have switched from theatre for greener pastures.

"Plays that are performed everywhere these days have niche audiences who look for glossy productions,” explains Bhatia.

“But the scale is not very high, due to lack of funding.” Thus with the patron taking keen interest in being a mentor with a creative mind, Aadyam will serve as a catalyst to streamline stage management, encourage marketing ideas as well as groom administrative structure in the world of the arts that would in turn optimise the results at the box office.

Helping convert the creative ideas into reality is Bhatia, of course, whose wide repertoire as Theatre Actor-Director, Musician and with an academic background in Popular Culture, is an ideal mentor.

”Most people lack proper vision to perform to a large crowd since even in Mumbai, they have been catering to a maximum of 300-odd audience and not more. But the moment they know that the audience is going to be much larger, they feel inadequate to meet the challenges.”

Hence Aadyam has decided to raise the bar with a high-end scale, look for venues that are bigger and chosen subjects that have a greater appeal. “All this will definitely pull in more audiences,” beams Bhatia.

What about theatre in smaller towns where there may be audiences hungry for good theatre?

"We do hope to reach out to such theatre loving audiences too. But please understand, in places where there was great theatre, television and other considerations have sounded a death-knell for artists. Our job is to revive theatre in such places first.”

Is that the reason why dramas are not staged in such places at all?

“ The culture of going to a theatre performance doesn’t exist and thus, smaller towns don’t have the requisite technological paraphernalia in the stage or the show business,” elucidates Bhatia.

Aadyam’s attempt at reviving and presenting theatre is a baby step towards what may snowball into a full-time corporate activity by other mega industrial houses.

It’s not merely about the corporate house backing good theatre. It is also about an actor having a sense of commitment for a wider audience. Some actors and production houses have to think professionally and be thoroughly organized with their productions. Theatre personalities like Makarand Deshpande and Manav Kaul are extremely talented but they have a captive audience.

Bhatia makes it clear that ‘They have to give me a commitment that ten months from now, they will be available with a world-class production, with suitable replacements, if any, for an actor, now.”

For actors, this platform is a great blessing they have been waiting for. But like all great gifts, this too comes with a rider, albeit a minor one. Even actors need to gear up and expand their vision. “When we are ready to take the risk and scale up, even actors have to be ready for the scale up,” believes Bhatia.

The nine-month-long festival will bring together acclaimed groups like Arpana, Akvarious, Masque, Q Theatre Productions and Rage Theatre for five new productions, staged over 45 shows in Mumbai and Delhi. Hopefully, the initiative will help reach out wider audience who should embrace theatre whole heartedly.

Bhatia, who has helped curate folk music and theatre festivals in the past, has been working alongside the team, to convert creative ideas into reality. These teams comprise of acclaimed production houses like Rage Theatre, Q Theatre Productions, Masque Theatre, AKVarious and Arpana Theatre who will present five new plays. They will be staging The Siddhus of Upper Juhu, The God of Carnage, The Merchant of Venice, The Hound of the Baskervilles and Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon respectively.

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