Having the Prime Minister as the minister holding the Culture portfolio has come as a blessing for small theatre groups across India.
On Friday he announced that his ministry would start giving grants, to let small theatre groups could build little practice-cum-performance studios for themselves with the government picking up 80 per cent of the tab. “Serious theatre, like serious cinema, thrives on the support of smaller but more appreciative audiences. Small, non-proscenium rehearsal-cum-performance spaces, which can accommodate 100 to 200 viewers, is what the contemporary theatre most requires,” a ministry spokesman told Hindustan Times.
“Resurrection of theatre activity urgently requires functional spaces that can develop as both rehearsal and performing spaces. A year ago, I had spoken about the need for ‘Studio Theatre’ or small and more intimate performing spaces as a long felt need of the theatre community,” Singh said while announcing that he was setting up the ‘Studio Theatre Scheme’. The idea is to help performing arts groups build their own “creative spaces” with a grant that could go as high as Rs 50 lakh in metro cities and half that in other places, as long as the group foots 40 per cent of the bill.
The concept of smaller, experimental rehearsal spaces that will double up as performing spaces, being promoted and supported under this new Studio Theatre scheme, will facilitate theatre and other performing groups concentrate their energies on creative issues rather than on finding sponsors.
This new scheme will incidentally replace an earlier scheme called the “Scheme of Building Grants to Cultural Organizations”. That scheme had an upper limit of Rs 15 lakh grant from the government and primarily provided for construction of conventional auditoria and concert halls.
The new scheme will also allow groups in larger cities to purchase existing buildings or spaces rather than just construct their own spaces, as the ministry recognised the constraints of plot availability in larger cities.
Interestingly, the ministry has also cut through the red tape by telling theatre groups that no approval of the Public Works Department will now be required. Cost estimates and building plans approved by any Registered Architect would be accepted.
While earlier schemes had set a limit of Rs 2.5 lakh as the expenditure on technical aspects like electrical fittings, lights, sound equipment, and interiors, the new scheme shifts the focus from civil structure to these aspects. Theatre groups will now be at liberty to determine internally what the money needs to be spent on, the ministry spokesman said.