From musicals and Broadway adaptations to original scripts and off-beat formats, we look at Bangalore’s burgeoning theatre scene By Susanna Chandy
With two full-fledged musicals, two theatrical festivals and a slew of original productions, Bangalore’s theatre lovers have plenty to look forward to in the coming months. With small groups like Dramanon, Yours Truly Theatre and Indian Ensemble paving the way for the edgy, urban-related dramas and no-fuss performances by more recent groups, drama enthusiasts have managed to keep the city’s culture buffs engaged between the occasional visiting troupes from overseas and large-scale musicals like Leila Alvares’ upcoming Fiddler on the Roof and Wendy Dickson’s Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat. We meet up with some of the newcomers.
Working exclusively with original scripts, Abhishek Iyengar and Rangaraj Bhatracharya started WeMove Theatre as an off-shoot of WeMove Foundation for Performing Arts “to connect with audiences through contemporary topics and engaging performances.” Iyengar scripts the plays in Kannada and English, drawing inspiration from their pool of in-house actors. “We never audition for one particular play. We always audition for people who wish to join WeMove as a theatre company. Once they are members, they also work in various departments like production and backstage before they actually debut on stage,” explains Iyengar, adding that the IT sector has changed the character of theatre goers in the city. “They are young and are very receptive to new ideas and concepts,” he shares.
Iyengar goes on to explain that their productions are entirely content-driven with “any play that doesn’t connect with the audience not considered at all”. And adapting to the fast-food generation, Iyengar says, takes a bit of planning. “We have to fight with the likes of IPL, award shows, films, etc., to woo the audience,” says Iyengar, who doubles up as director and actor at WeMove. Their productions use simple costumes and no prop shifts, concentrating attention on the script and the acting. “This keeps the audience attention riveted and the production to the point and crisp,” he says believing that Bangalore is fast-becoming a theatre hub for the rest of the country. “Rangashankara alone hosts almost 250 plays a year. Now add to that other auditoriums like Jagriti, the Alliance Francaise, etc, and we might be looking at almost 500 plays or stage shows in a year, which is just amazing,” he predicts.
WeMove also conducts workshops in the city under the Big Step banner that offer one-day theatre boot camps and week-long internship programmes, as well as non-stage workshops on lighting and make-up. They are currently working on a devised performance that eliminates a script.
Other Members: Nagashree, Sushanth Shandilya, Ranjan S, Anirudh Mahesh, Divya Dev, Gowtham Shravan Kumar.
TAHATTO (named after a chanting exercise) was started by five city-based theatre enthusiasts who met at a workshop six years ago. “We set off initially to learn the craft, but quickly realised that urban English theatre either leans to Western or translated Indian language texts,” says Prashanth Nair, founder and award winning playwright. “In urban India, we don’t operate with the same limitations that the rest of country does. So our plays are original, the script is written by us and speaks with our voice,” he tells us, explaining that their plays also reflect the kind of theatre they themselves would like to see — “entertaining (not to be confused with comedy only) and a facilitator of dialogue between the audience and the performer”.
Like many other small-scale theatre groups in the city, Tahatto manages most of its creative, logistical and marketing operations in-house. “Our productions are largely self-funded. We started off with a specific aim to be self-reliant and worked hard towards it. Today, we break even with all our plays, and also create enough capital to put into our next production, quite comfortably,” shares Nair who believes that a disorganised support structure and the perception of theatre as a form of activism are some of the biggest challenges facing the field today. “On the flip side, Bangalore has a vibrant theatre culture, and the recent past has seen multiple alternate theatre spaces open up,” Nair says, but still feels that while the city has the talent and logistics in place, “it is the breakthrough work that seems missing. We need engaging content that is able to keep up with the plethora of entertainment avenues and options.”
This group of working professionals have previously put up varied productions like A Funny Thing Called War, Romeo & Juliet – No Strings Attached, The Sun of Your Experiences, and The Amateur Playwright, with a cast ranging from three to 10 members because Nair has seen that although the audience is more keen on light-hearted comedy that helps them tune out from a stressful day, “the city is also seeing a resurgence of experimental, quirky theatre that is both endearing and makes a strong point.”
Other Members: Vikram Sridhar, Lakshmi Menon, Badarivishal Kinhal, Piyush Agarwal.
Chaitanya Varad, one of Underdog Entertainment’s founders, confesses that he had no experience in theatre when he started the company – which happened as “a complete accident”. “I have been writing since school and then a rough, emotional breakup inspired a dramatic script and we decided to give production a go. It was meant to be a one-off thing, but the play itself way exceeded our expectations and Underdog Entertainment was born,” he says, referring to Love, Sex and Mocha, a play produced by a bunch of friends who had never been on stage before — one that launched them into Bangalore’s theatre scene.
Today, with 77 shows and 15 original plays under their belt, Varad still insists they are the “underdogs in the theatre scene” who prefer to work with “theatre virgins” – a term they coined for first-time actors. The average age of the group sits at a comfortable 23 and so their plays target the 18-35 years demographic. “Before we came along, theatre was mostly perceived as boring, slow and too message-oriented by our demographic. So we decided to stage plays that would be original, relatable and entertaining,” says Varad of the group that takes comedy seriously and actually promises to reimburse the audience if they happen to leave unentertained.
Their scripts are youth-oriented with pun-intended titles and loads of double entrendre — 12 inches, Sex, Likes and Pokes, Cop Blocked, Finding Nemo’s Libido, etc. They also add a bit of slam poetry and ‘guitar humour’ to liven up the script. “I think originality is essential when developing local talent,” Varad enthuses.
Since they are limited by resources, the group makes their own props and costumes, handles lighting and music, with a little help from their social media network. “Bangalore has great infrastructure for theatre compared to the other cities we have performed in. But you need deep pockets to rent the good venues, a challenge for us younger groups,” Varad tells us, pointing out that sponsorship is hard to come by, although “that trend is slowly changing because the audience wants good content and freshness rather than big names.” But many larger theatre spaces are a bit choosy about content, he tells us. “Our genre is mainly adult comedy and some of the places don’t quite appreciate our particular risque style,” he laughs. Varad and groups like his gravitate towards more liberal settings like the Alliance Francaise and Jagriti that have a more open-minded policy.
Other Members: Shruthi Raju, Gautam Agnihotri, Abhishek Verma, Ishan Jotsi.
Costumes, make-up and set design
— While smaller groups go the DIY way, theatre buffs tell us that large-scale productions require a higher level of expertise. Some popular names around town include, Asha Fernandes of Elan, Vidya Masand, Sankeerthi Aipanjiguly and
— Applying make-up for the stage is entirely different from regular wear, industry insiders like Leila Alvares and Vivek Madan tell us. They suggest you opt for experienced professionals like Ralph Daniels, Maltesh Badigar and Ramakrishna Kannarpadi to get it just right.
— Props, backgrounds and lighting are basic to any theatrical performance with key elements conveyed through them. Veterans recommend Rus Peterson, Pradeep Belwadi, Preetam Kumar, Lakshmi Menon and Anish Victor.
Rehearsal and performance spaces
A daunting challenge for all groups, big or small, is finding a viable rehearsal space, especially one large enough to have a complete run through. City Nest, the Alliance Francaise, Atta Galatta, and school auditoriums like Good Shepherd and St Johns, are some spaces that can be hired.
Performance venues on the other hand, are plenty, though many follow a stringent content policy. Popular venues include Chowdaiah Memorial Hall, MLR Convention Centre, ADA Rangamandira and the above mentioned school auditoriums are suited to larger audiences, while more intimate spaces include RangaShankara, Jagriti Theatre, the Alliance Francaise, Rangoli Metro Art Centre, Rangasthala and Atta Galatta.
In the pipeline
Our pick of theatre activity to watch out for this year:
—Jagriti Season, September 19 to November 23
—Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, November 29 and 30
—Fiddler on the Roof, August 30
—RangaShankara Theatre Festival, October 27 to November 9
-Susanna Chandy, m email@example.com
-Inputs by Rashmi Rajagopal
-Pics: Jithendra M