When corporate houses closed their doors on Thespo, a festival promoting youth theatre, the organizing team wondered if the twelfth edition of the festival would be held this year.
But as the word spread for the group's need for funds, individuals from the theatre community and beyond stood up to give their support. "A wave of contributions, big and small came from such a variety of people, that it made us realize the need for a platform like ours," said an overwhelmed Quasar Padamsee, founder of Thespo. "I received one anonymous cheque with a generous donation and a note that read 'Viva theatre' (long live theatre)."
A similar ethos led to Sarkash, Jana Natya Manch's theatre festival that aimed to raise funds for a theatre space in Delhi. When members of Mumbai's theatre fraternity heard about Jan Natya Manch's dream to build a dedicated space for theatre, they offered not only money but also their talent to help raise funds.
"All those who have stood up to support us have a larger commitment to theatre and the social responsibility of the art," said Sudhanva Deshpande, member of the Jana Natya Manch team.
Sarkash ran to full houses for most of the plays staged at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, during the festival, including some of the best works of artistes such as Shabhana Azmi and Nasseruddin Shah.
"Theatre is a community art and can't happen in isolation unlike cinema, which needs a team to make the film and consumers to watch it," said Deshpande. Theatre forces people to come together and engage with the performance, which provides platforms for interactions and conversations about the society.
While community support for theatre groups is not new, in recent years, corporates took over sponsorships for these activities.
"Theatre needs patrons, not sponsors," said Shaili Sathyu, Mumbai coordinator for Indian People's Theatre Association. "Companies often have unreasonable demands for their marketing agenda which interfere with theatre."
Small independent theatre groups, which are nurseries for new ideas, are often side tracked for the lack of funds or external support. Increasingly, members of the theatre fraternity want to be self-sufficient so that they incubate experimental theatre and give it room to grow.
"When individuals, support theatre, the audience starts having ownership towards the play, which can have interesting effects on the dynamics of theatre," added Sathyu.
For Padamsee, this is a part of a larger movement.
"Cultural activities are supposed to be funded by the government of the people, but recently that was taken over by corporations. Now the people are taking matters in their own hands to make sure these activities happen," he said.