To stage-manage or not
Corporate houses are finding a new way of self-promotion: customised plays by theatre groups, especially created to suit specific publicity requirements. The long-gasping-for-funding world of theatre seems to be the beneficiary. Or is it? Some theatre personalities regard customisation as a means of survival for the medium; others see it as a step towards committing suicide.
A customised corporate play could be anything from Healthy, Wealthy & Vice
(theatre personality Sita Raina’s subtle portrayal of the power of money) to a playlet promoting olive oil.
Says Raina, who has done customised plays for corporate clients like J&K Tourism and ABN AMRO: “Customisation seems to be the only way to keep theatre alive today. It’s the perfect union between creativity and commercialisation.”
Devraj Ankur, director, NSD, disagrees completely with Raina. “I feel theatre groups shouldn’t fall into such traps. It boils down to promotion of corporate houses and not the medium.”
Raina, however, insists “if you have faith in your product, you’ll find many takers.” She says that after getting “great feedback” for the play she staged for a corporate client, she’s now restaging it for a second client in the same industry. “I couldn’t let the play die.”
Mahesh Dattani, playwright and director, agrees that working for corporate clients “is a great exercise for new playwrights”, but insists he would never do it himself. “The only time I did a customised play was for an NGO. I wouldn’t be comfortable working on terms set by others. ”
Global theatre guru Barry John admits “theatre is virtually dying, with the government not doing much” and that “advertising is omnipresent”. But like Dattani, he says: “Personally, I would not sacrifice my principles.” He would instead, look at a “partnership” where “theatre is looked up to as something worth supporting and being watched.”
With government’s grants being “a pittance literally” as John puts it, and interest in the medium dying, options and opportunities for the theatre fraternity are indeed few and far between.