The audience queues up outside the venue as the first bell rings. The crowd is excited to watch their favourite actors on stage. Some, who have watched the play before, remind others to pay attention during a particular scene for some specific dialogue. A couple of bells later, the show begins. After the spectacle is unveiled, people can’t stop gushing about the performances during the curtain call. Amidst all of this, there are a few unnoticed individuals who are going frantic backstage. They make sure the props are in place, the costumes are ready, the make-up is not running, the sound check is complete, the lights and shadows are perfect, and so on. As the curtain falls on another year, we speak to some of these behindthe-scenes individuals who are as crucial to theatre as the actors, if not more.
Arghya Lahiri, Light Designer
Director, actor and light-designer Arghya Lahiri started designing lights in 1998 as a college student. After working for almost two decades, Lahiri looks back at the years, and charts the major changes, saying, “People today are not happy with only general lights. In fact, St Andrew’s Auditorium (in Bandra West) now has LED profiles. Technology has advanced to such an extent that laptops are also being employed as control elements.”
About the discipline of light designing, Lahiri, however, believes in not going overboard with creating a spectacle on stage. “It’s essential to not get caught up with lighting up the stage, as you would an installation. Lighting should not take away from the play,” he says.
With the rise in the number of smaller, unconventional spaces, how do light designers adapt? “In smaller spaces like Blue Frog and The Hive, you don’t have the resources. The spaces are quite restrictive. But come to think of it, you may not need the resources. It’s actually good for designers. It pushes us to be more inventive. It’s an opportunity as well as a challenge,” he says.
Hemant Ghadigaonkar, Make-Up Artist
He started work in the early ’90s, and has worked with almost every theatre company in the business. As a make-up artist for over two decades, he says actors today are more aware than ever. “They know more about the quality of products. They want more than just powder puff,” he says. However, the biggest change is the usage of prosthetics in theatre. “When I started out, the companies didn’t have a lot of funds. Today, the scenario has changed, and people are also more open to experimentation. We made prosthetics for The Merchant Of Venice. Even for a couple of Akvarious plays, we have tried that,” he says.
Yael Crishna, Light And Sound Designer
She started designing light and sound in 2004, while she was juggling theatre and her day job. Two years back, she decided to pursue theatre full time. “It is beautiful chaos. I feel if nothing has gone wrong, something definitely will. People, in general, are more aware of the changes in technology now,” she says. Since a lot of drama companies are venturing into smaller spaces, it proves to be a challenge for the technical team to adjust to a restrictive backstage. Crishna says, “Some venues don’t even allow us to move their existing lights. Adjustment is the key. It’s essential to be open to change.” Crishna is currently busy with the upcoming theatre festival, Draame Bawaas.
Avafrin Mistry, Production Controller
Handling backstage, sourcing props and managing last-minute crisis are all part of her job. Avafrin Mistry, a full-time production controller, laughs, as she explains her job, saying, “I now believe everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Over the past couple of years, she has worked with some of the biggest names in theatre — Vickram Kapadia, Ramu Ramanathan, Saif Hyder Hasan, Mahesh Dattani, and so on. Looking back at the experience, the 34-year-old says, “We have travelled all over. Our trains have got delayed. We have slept in warehouses. We have forgotten to carry our props. There’s a different kind of excitement with every single play. For instance, during Gauhar, which was a period drama, we had to do a lot of research to get our props right.”
Shawn Lewis, Light And Set Designer
A self- taught artist, Shawn Lewis started designing sets, sculpting props and painting posters for plays in 2008. In 2009, he graduated to light designing, and since then, has been intrinsically involved in various backstage work. “Since I come from an arts background, I used to design a lot of headgear, props and masks for plays. If you look at the posters at Prithvi Theatre, you will find a lot of my works there. In fact, this year, all the 16 posters for Centrestage plays were my concepts,” he says.
This year, Lewis also started his pet project, Bombay Film Factory, through which he photo documents (on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook) the backstage madness of almost every play and theatre festival in the city. Talking about the initiative, he says, “I was designing the lights for a play in 2014, and had my camera with me. I shot some images, and realised that the audience rarely sees the backstage. That was the first step. We believe that what goes on behind the scenes of a performance in itself is a performance.”