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Atelier theatre’s Kuljeet Singh on taking plays to small towns

The idea to travel and take their work to smaller towns in the touring format came to Singh in 2017.

art and culture Updated: Feb 03, 2018 10:24 IST
Manik Sharma
Manik Sharma
Hindustan Times
Atelier,comedy,theatre
A scene from Atelier repertory company’s comedy play Short Circuit.(Atelier)

In September last year when the Atelier Repertory Company performed in Bareilly, there was little doubt within the team that they had undertaken a unique task – to take theatre to smaller towns. “I think the form is incomplete if you do not expand and take it beyond the city. I think we might be the first ones to try something like this over the course of a year,” says Kuljeet Singh, founder of the company. Singh, who taught English at Delhi University’s Khalsa College until the demands of his project forced him to quit in November last year, firmly believes that there is an audience for theatre even in smaller towns. This weekend, however, Singh presents the comedy “Short Circuit” in Delhi, where he has championed the cause of both the street and the stage.

Singh founded the Atelier Theatre in 2004. “I’ve always held the belief that for theatre to flourish, it’s the young ones, the people from colleges and campuses who need to be given space and opportunities,” he says. Considering how politically charged Delhi’s campuses have been over the last few years, Singh finds the existence of an active scene for theatre all the more important. “For any good art, it is crucial to speak and engage with the political and moral questions of the time. There are probably 35 active natak groups across the Delhi university campus, and regardless of the quality of their work, I’m glad that they at least speak according to their time. Ask questions and engage with ideas and people.”

The idea to travel and take their work to smaller towns in the touring format came to Singh last year. But given the limited financial margins, the team had to re-invent itself in order to pull it off. “It was an experiment really. I asked my actors if they could do three different roles in a week. They took the plunge. It somehow worked. We basically switched roles. Someone would act two roles in a row and then do lights in the next, and then take care of production in the one after that. That reduced the size of our team. I can’t tour with 50 actors if I want to do four plays. We simply don’t have that kind of money. But improvise and a 15-strong team can sit in a small bus and go around,” says Singh.

That said, the goodwill of those hosting Singh and his group of actors play as big a part as any in ensuring they neither break the bank or their backs resolving logistics. “We’ve made friends over the years. Whenever we do a play in, say Jaipur or Lucknow or Dehradun, we build new relationships. To undertake a tour like we have, we depend on these people a lot. Whether it is travel, living arrangements or getting venues to play at, not much would be possible without the investment of those who believe in the art itself,” Singh says.

Contrary to urban belief, Singh vouches for the universal, borderless appeal of theatre. “We shouldn’t underestimate the audience. I have seen a wonderful response from people in places that aren’t usually as associated with culture as Delhi is. In fact, that is a problem in itself that theatre companies want to remain in the safe zone of city so they can sell out. Sure, there is formula to it. Comedies work more often than serious experiments, but I am certain people will come and watch,” he says. But surely playing in Bareilly is different from Delhi? “Oh absolutely! People show much more love, more gratitude as compared to Delhi where theatre has sort of surrendered to consumerism.”

WHAT: Short Circuit, a comedy play by Atelier Repertory Company

WHEN: Feb 3 at 7 pm, Feb 4 at 4pm and 7 pm

WHERE: Akshara Theatre, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Near RML hospital.

NEAREST METRO STATION: Rajeev Chowk

TICKETS: Rs 300-400 at the venue

CALL: 9891092386

First Published: Feb 02, 2018 11:46 IST