1

Looking at Alternate Spaces for Performance in Delhi – NCR

Putting up any production can be most daunting for most theatre practitioners in India. It is customary for most Indian directors who many times, run small amateur theatre groups to not only foot all bills but also look after the needs of the artists involved. The most challenging of this cost is that of the auditoriums. Most proscenium auditoriums in Delhi and Gurgaon can cost anywhere between 15,000 ( around $220) to 1,00,000 ( around $950) depending on its size and capacity. Furthermore, there is a long waiting list to get the required dates, most weekends getting booked almost a year ahead! Hence, the supply versus the demand is either beyond one’s means or it requires tremendous patience for the group to perform.

The need for finding alternate spaces for performances hence is rapidly growing which is being met to some extent by a few in India. There are several around Mumbai but here the article will focus on two spaces created. The first one in that of the group, Rang Parivartan, in the growing rich cosmopolitan Gurgaon created by Mahesh Vasistha and the second one , the Teesri Manjil, of Ruchika Theatre group, created by Feisal Alkazi in South Delhi. It is important to focus on these two spaces, as the city of Delhi besides being the capital of India, is the Mecca of theatre training, while Mumbai largely focuses on film production and the thriving industry of Bollywood.

Delhi, has been timelessly known for its intense theatre training that is both affordable and also provides the correct knowledge to the aspiring actors. The prestigious National School of Drama is situated here, along with Sri Ram Centre, the school of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University that offers not only the masters course in performance studies but also a Ph.D in theatre and also the newly formed Ambedkar University that offers bachelors and masters in Performance studies are also located here. Besides this we also have an a diploma course offered in theatre by Indira Gandhi Open University, that is lesser than $25 for six months, as an distance program.

As training in theatre is of high value in Delhi, there is a need for students to experience the stage as much as possible. It becomes impossible for students to do theatre without the experience of a stage,lights or sets. Both Mahesh Vashistha and Feisal Alkazi have found the answers and that too within their own homes! Both these thespians have created beautiful auditoriums within the upper floors of their homes. Both these spaces are intimate and are not open for the public, which in other words means is not for commercial gains but rather for training and also for holding small intimate shows for a discerning audience.

Feisal is of the opinion that one must allow theatre to enter homes and allow the audience to become a part of his large family. He says, ‘ Most actors have been with me for as much as 25 years and above and they have been an integral part of my life, hence I see new audiences as the same. I am just extending the Teesri Manjil,or my third floor to my family who should not be taken as some disconnected people.’ Radhika Alkazi echoes much the same as she receives each one of her guests with warmth and enthusiasm and both she and her son Arman take immense joy in serving each guests fresh home made kebab rolls, biryani and wine.

Mahesh Vashistha whose students have painstakingly made the auditorium with him extends his performance space free of charge to theatre practitioners not only across Delhi and Gurgaon but anyone who wishes to perform there. Both these auditoriums might seem like one as small steps but careful attention has been given both by Feisal and Mahesh regarding the technicals of an auditorium. Feisal has painstakingly thought of the lighting ( having over 20 set lights including pars and LEDS and a dimmer) and the correct sound proofing of the stage. Mahesh has not only kept the lights and stage setting in mind but has also kept the make up rooms in mind of the actors, and also has carefully insulated the place.

It is heartening to see such magic being created and to be lucky even to have open access to these performance spaces. Such free flowing needs based training venues are going to bring more thespians to do the same with their homes. This will make as Feisal wishes and does, a family of theatre and not mere disconnected spectators who come and do not feel the intimacy of theatre due to the daunting presence of the mighty auditoriums.

The informal performance spaces have come up because theater is becoming un-affordable because of lack of revenue and astronomical cost of auditorium spaces in Delhi. Leaving you images of some of these spaces which offer hope for survival of Amateur theatre in Delhi. More about it in the next piece by Gouri Nilakantan




Playwriting for Children

Children Performing

Its 2017, a time to retrospect in the new year and yet bask in the old. I was rummaging through my old files on the internet and came across a few plays I had written for children. It was both enlightening and amazing to see the play across the screen, I re read them renewed interest…yes they spoke…I could see the language across the stage, the actors and the magical sets with the green yellow hues across the stage and the twinkling lights. Each one of the childrens’ plays that had been written by me made sense to me and the actors. It made me wonder if they were worth publishing and whether it would be liked by others. I was just not sure, since such few plays are actually published and find their way into the market.

So essentially what makes a good play script for children? What makes it “tick”? What will create an market for the scripts to be published. This reminds me an incident that made me realize what “ not to do “ in a children’s play.

In my early years of my career as a theatre person I was teaching drama for children between the kids of 8-14 in a prestigious school in Gurgaon. The principal, a very uptight and proper person requested me to write a script on Mother’s day. I was excited since I really had not written much before it would be challenging to write something that was interesting enough to watch. I decided to write a script set in contemporary Urban India, a place like Gurgaon and then use an ancient time period as the main episode in a flashback. So I decided to show the changes in time by changes in the way we speak English. After much deliberation I decided to use slang and words like “ cool” “ dude” “ yaar” etc in my script. I thought I had created a masterpiece. Actually I was quite delighted.

I was surprised that the principal called me to her room, I was confident that she had liked the script so much she wanted to congratulate me in person. As soon as I walked in, she seemed a trifle upset and set the script before me. I was shocked to see my entire script covered in huge red circles. Cuts and cross marks all across the page. It looked like my the results of class tenth maths exam paper. Each of my contemporary words had been circled and crossed out. I was indignant..all I could say was “ why…”. She sternly told me how improper my English was and how I could no use such words. She insistent that I choose not to use any colloquial language in my script since “ it would spoil the vocabulary of the children.” I tried to reason out with her that since the play was set in urban Gurgaon the actors had to use such words. But my protests was put down by her adamant refusal to see reason.

That incident made me realize that something was wrong in the way people understood children’s scripts. They read it through the spectacles of an adult and forget that they are first and foremost plays meant for young actors. Hence plays written for children need not follow rules of grammar and conventional usage of speech. Neither they need to make sense, for example, in the musical Wizard of Oz, the girl is thrown a tornado and her whole house is lifted in it. Charlie and the Chocolate factory we see Agustus Gloop being thrown into the rubbish bin by squirrels. All they need to be is appealing to the child and the adult viewer. They need to interesting! In all my plays that I have written for kids, I have only kept the child in mind and shall continue doing so

I would like to end this by only giving the 10 golden pointers to be kept in mind while writing children’s plays.

1) Do not be afraid of using contemporary language and one can even throw in few phrases in Hindi, if the need be. Make it Hinglish if you want.

2) Children love comedy. They might not have the same taste as adults and might find things like “ farting” “ throwing up” comic. Add them to the script, they just add to the flavour. Please do not become prudish.

3) Another thing that fascinates children is the idea of mystery and surprise, you can use them too.

4) One should avoid, small sentences. We sometimes like to say a lot when we try and explain things. For eg. If a child has to say, “ ma I will back soon.” He can say, “ ma I will be back soon…please don’t die worrying don’t go out me and ringing up all the neighbours and searching for me all over the block. I will be back by 7 and that’s a promise!”

5) Do not worry about repeating yourself. For eg. Son says, “fine”. It can be; son says, “ fine ma…ma fine…are you listening FINE!”

6) Do keep it in mind that adults will also watch your show, so you can throw punches at them which might make them laugh. For eg. Son: Ma, why do all mothers have to say that you must eat dal, roti chawal…why can’t they say we will make healthy home made pizzas for dinner tonite! OK I DONT MIND EATING A DOUBLE CHEESE PIZZA WITH BROCOLLI TOPPING!!!

7) Don’t be eager to finish the script in 3 pages, any good script should be at least 10 pages long, 12 font roman single spaced.

8) Dont forget minor characters…please don’t make children into trees and make them wave their hands in the air doing nothing, make it interesting like a “ old white haired talking tree” or a “ saucy sarcastic cactus”.

9) Do add a song or a jungle or some silly rhymes they make the script more readable and watchable.

10) Last but not the least, enjoy the task…and forget daunting principals…goodluck!!!




The Universe within the Womb / Gouri Nilakantan

Does the cold womb speak to the warm vagina,  are we meant to be bound  and knit into the body, so much so we do not seem to belong, not to have any identity ever?  The guess is not in the mystification nor in the pontification of the  “female” in the eyes of society. Nor it it amongst the peering eyes of manhood and by keeping them as some elusive or exclusive superior race.  It  lies in the individuality and the recognition of the self amongst all.  For once let us not see ourselves only through the wombs , the vaginas, or paling breasts but only as having separate yet same voices.  This through which we can declare strongly enough to be defined as all belonging to each other.

The time to be in categories of gender has long gone, it needs to be attacked and discarded as worthless.  These binaries and super binaries that do not see women as individuals first but use the safety net of phrases of gender are to be  shot down as  fallacies. We have been honoured enough by given powerful names by our ancestors.  We have been given recognition for sounding phrases strong.  Enough of gendering, enough and more than enough, it’s time to think ahead, as “you and me”, and “we all”, “as all of us” that belong entirely to each other.

This will allow us to love unconditionally, to let go unconditionally and remain forever within the societal definitions of a “ wife” “mother” “ daughter” or “sister”.  It will thus also not negate the man as a “ husband” “ father” “ son” or “ brother” and bondages will only only grow stronger and stronger.  Such singular terms of unity therefore allows one to outgrow force and coercion that often come within societal  relationships.  The urge here I see to all of us  only as me and you and forget the male, female, alpha male, alpha female etc.  The society will then accept unconditionality in loving and wanting to be loved.

For once live only for you and me and forget all expectations from each other, not because god says so, or you have enlightened and seen Buddhahood, or emerged victorious from the caves of inner meditation, but only because you truly and truly believe in the selfhood of each person. Wombs will then create the universe with its totality and spirit of mind.  Enjoy and embark in this unconditionality of living and letting to live.      




Memories of the Recitative Past

Mind over Misery

All of us are born with memories that we wish to forget and discard like faded photographs having hazy blurry images or the thrown pennings of blue inland letters and creamy pages fading with endearing attachments. We would rather regurgitate the past than carry it within us. Are we in the real sense of failing to remember or do we wish not to hear the words of the recitative past and not get the truthful recollection of the echoing sights? To be called only as a witness is easier than to bear and pour out the visions we wish not to see. The ability to see things as they are, are so difficult to break, that to escape into the light hearted day seems much easier and much more uncomplicated.

No one wants to resound pain, express trauma or grieve for a loss. The identity of the self to happily live only within the confines of the day, going from hour to hour and knocking down the doors of the minutes that dissolves then into seconds, is true serenity and peace. However, many times we need to challenge the tranquillity we have falsely created and listen to the polyphonous sounds of the dead and buried. The graves of the bygone as much as you bury, as much as you decide the deepest depth the coffin should lay, needs the embalming, only and only to cleanse your soul.

To gain the convincing reincarnation of this lost spirit, is only possible if we allow ourselves to cry, lament and mourn for the forgotten memories. Just by dismissing the bygone and not evoking the emotions of sorrow, by not shedding the salty reservoir, we are creating only adulterated personifications of what we term as today. Its reason is enough to moisten the sodden earth of the buried past, so that the watering down can reach the submerged coffins. One has to sometimes open to see the enclosed skeletons and beat one’s breast to lament for the faded photographs or tethered inland letters or torn creamy papers that are screaming to be heard.

So, hear the cries within, grieve for the past, sob along with the beats of your heart and let your tears become the pulse. It will only allow the recitative past to become beautiful, melodious verses of songs of your life you will want to hear again and again.




The Exodus Needs a Companion / Gouri Nilakantan

A home is without any doubt a safe space, an extant that has the infinite capacities to being ourselves; where our clothes need not be washed or ironed and made to be presentable all the time; our unkempt unshaven looks draws no contempt from the gazing mirrors; cutlery can be limited to eating straight out of the pizza box  with greasy tissues thrown carelessly all over the floor; and leisure is our pass time and idyllic conversations the only competing games. The debate arises then, if  we choose to keep this space out of bounds for others, however familial or close.  It is the truth that only when we get this free entitlement to closing these doors of our room, shutting  out those as being totally  non transgerressable, barring these latitudes out of anyone’s reach, do we get a veracious sense of belonging.  The arguments arise loud and the cacophony grows louder  only when we keep these augmented heavens exclusive  for our winged flights, leaving others alone and far behind in what they see as their black earth.

Adoring such realities, one, is discerned to be “ unconventional” or can I say “ odd” to the normal public eye.  However, if we all sieve through the thoughts running in our minds, we  come to this realization, that all of us wish for an exclusive home, that only belongs to us and only to us.  This hearth does not see the privilege only of the “single status” fancy holding few, but to all, men, women or children.  All, I see as wanting to  create an expanse of an unparalleled area that echoes our only headrooms.  We  then come to conclude that we are faithfully heard.  Our tete-a tete might be  limited to the capacity of recording random intramural thoughts, however, inner, however wordless, or however out of tune for others,  it forever plays as a  beautiful melody for our ears.

We, unfortunately, are created as social byproducts and often have to assume suggestive capacity giving roles, inundated with responsibility and risk.  The risk that we can carve out then, for our own employment seems much easier and much more responsible. If created exclusively  for us,  they are results of accurate victories as  being free of failure in the eyes of others. As the endeavours seeked  are for our own purview; and we are un-mockingly forgiving towards ourselves, we sense a literal liberty.  Thus  being unrestrained from scorn, and disdain, we seek everlasting joy in solitude, and  despite being born into a home,  I see the human mind seeking and wandering eternally in the search of this unerring habitat. If our birth homes can define and allow such unconfined liberties, uncontested un-contemptuous ways,  will only then, this never ending sojourns of seeking of ours to belong, cease and stop to identify the true borders of a hinterland.  Let’s become companions to the exodus of the few and return thus to our realistic homes.




The Prosaic Names the Profound

The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else. Umberto Eco

 While we envision ourselves as heroes, we wish not to be called cowards.  We are living constantly in fantasies where we can rescue our own fears, our steps on our trepidations to us are totally daring.  While we wish, therefore, to be proudly displayed as shiny, victorious, golden, medals, however, they are nothing but self-created fallacies.  Are we really glories of validations or are we just self “constructed monomyths”?  We are only “heroes by mistake”.  While we have carefully constructed these high titled “notions” of being brave hearted warriors, these, unfortunately, are lying on the grounds of fiction; many times, they are only much “larger visions” of our invented individualistic personas. 

I do not wish here to destroy the embarking of the soul, in the tireless pursuit of life, or undermine human effort, but by creating ourselves as champions we are only becoming Don Quixote, wishing to somehow windmill away the troubled clouds soaring above us.  It sounds cynically true, but many times, we run behind the falsities of the moments but save our energy in doing mundane tasks and giving validity to the common.  I see the monotony having power, the vitality and momentum, that we fail to recognise, lies many times in the never ending, repetitive tasks of life.  This gives us only the much-needed vivacity to be a champion, a true victorious one.

Vibrancy comes not from creating something new and novel all the time, but in the unchanging ways we have adapted ourselves into.   The ordinary is the one that creates the true promise of the monomyth. We can find that much needed mentor in our everyday practices, who will help us thus discover the elixir of life and make us reach victory.  The observation of these humdrums will deliver the individual from the “cowardice of performing the ordinary” into the awakening of the hero. The paladin should be recognised in repetitive ticking; the recognition of the monomyth accordingly awakens the apostle, because of performing these monotonous instances.  

The honesty in recognising ourselves as cowards, to release the conventional within us to flow freely, creates an instant of true heroism to emerge.  This approach to “the innermost cave” as Christopher Vogler rightly determines, helps us to cross over to the thresholds of the uneventful one to being the victorious one.   While we all seek victory upon our daily returns and celebrate, much like the monomythical heroes that we have heard in the tales of our toothless and wrinkled grandmother; we are, therefore, trained not to give the due respect needed rightfully to the insignificant.  The honour we bestow on sometimes the dry, dull, and commonplace will turn the tables around and noteworthy ones will emerge. So, permit the unvarying and unvaried to herald the significant, entitle the dull to be bright, and… the prosaic will name the profound.                      




The Dance of the Hyperbole

Students showcase the penultimate piece, “Hyperbole,” in the Washington University Dance Theatre​*​

Living for the last two years masked behind a sanitized cloth; with a social distancing even from our loved ones, yet in the same home; sleeping alone in our rooms with our soft pillows as our only bedside companions; not being able to share our tea with our gossiping greying cacophonous neighbour; or even not being able to lend our inner stories to our restless dreams; we are constantly today, creating an artificial world.  In this excessive superficiality will we forget we are alive? Do we have voices? Do we have real living pain and words that can be penned?  My answer is NO.  We as humans are never created with a loss of memory and total negligence to ourselves.  We are created instead of choosing to forget, choosing to see our lives as three eased dots…

I see these moments of the easing gentle pauses, the “life moments of truth”.  For we as artists, as creators, those little dots are seconds of life, where we can shape and spawn, grow words into lines, lines into paragraphs – of stories, love songs, and poetry of yearnings and being alive in protests. 

These small breaths, to many, are simply just hyperboles of grammar, however, to the artist, these are intensely alive, strong, emphatic forceful portions of feelings, of coming to belong to what he only knows is the only truth…his art form.

Let us not even once, then, discount these as mere undecorated flecks, but as gigantic astronomical atoms, that pinpoint to the immense creativity and churning in the human mind.  If just one of these little mites gets charged, we create a gigantic reaction in our minds.  That chemical reaction is sure to explode, not to destroy but to give birth to a new vision. Despite, us being confined sometimes only to our bed, our Dunlop spring jail does not cause us fatigue or despondency, but becomes a renewed vigour to explore maybe a new set of chord structures; a grand opening line of a play; a brilliant myriad vision of the landscape; or the shy yellow golden sun waiting to be captured in your mobile phone. 

So, the point here is to urge one to carefully mark these seconds of the speckles in your life, and turn it around to something beyond our sight, even more, farfetched than we can imagine.  I see this applying to all, not only to the artsy right-sided brainers but also to the privileged, analytical, left-sided companions.  For we all, need those little moments where we can break into a song, rush and jump to paint, stroking colours green hues or act out each intense dialogue we only wish to hear again and again.  Come let’s join in the dainty dance of the hyperbolic few!     


  1. ​*​
    Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./WUSTL



Myth of Social Media / Gouri Nilakantan

The world is nothing but staged, we are living each day rehearsed in our make believe world of happiness and tears and enjoying the facades of living the “real- unreal”. I see this anomaly of the world depicted every minute in the social construct of a demonic, hedonistic, ‘practiced everyday journal keeping’ of facebook and twitter.

This self indulging practice that we are consumed with, becomes thus our daily practice show, our daily practice rehearsal, and our daily practice “for viewership and arduous, colossal, consumerism”.

We are therefore living in our own moments of suspended disbelief, where we see ourselves as the ‘heroes of change’, ranging writing words of protests; enjoying the moments of glory in well taken pictures of the rising sun; or the intense moments of rising passion through well documented pictures of the white marbled Taj in pale white moonlight.

Yet, despite all these “high moments”, why do we feel alone?Why do we cry ourselves to sleep? Why do we constantly check the messages of that unknown stranger on facebook through the night? My answer might seem simplistic, the answer is nothing but the “untruth of reality”.

When we realize that we are creating our own make believe script, that is false, and that strangers on facebook might cease to be the “ideal” guy or girl we so desperately need; our myths are broken. When we see that these myths are broken we are only foolish to create more; we reuse our old photos for more such destroying social interactions.

Let us for one moment only, see this as stages of representations – as we are only actors doing functionary parts of the unwritten and anonymous text of facebook and twitter. We might cease not to laugh along with that ‘unknown stranger’ who we take to bed with us, without the feelings of being in an adulterous relationship, or even without a sense of a single minute of pride of feeling an intimate part of being a part of a stranger’s life. We are not strangers to others but to ourselves.

This terrible system of social media that we have created is only for our own downfall and decay. It’s time now to become real, to remove masks, to meet and greet the living and mourn for the living dead. Let us not get wasted by looking at the keyboard, and creating our downfall and realize the folly before we become strangers to ourselves. One never knows, one day we might not even see our own eyes and not even know for whom we are laughing or for whom we should cry. Let us, my dear friend, ourselves, only cry for ourselves today.




The significance of props on stage

Loosely described as, “objects used by the actor and those that are placed on stage” props are considered important as long as they serve on the stage.  After the show is over very little attention is given over them and they are loosely packed and kept until further usage.  How many of us have wondered about its deeper significance?  Do we even for one look closely at “ the skull held by Hamlet” or the “ crystal glass unicorn held by Laura” in Glass Menagerie?  Even once does the director care to explain to the actor for him/her to closely touch and feel the object as not only a part of the text but also beyond the whole text.  It should provide a moment of heightened emotion not only for the actor themselves but also for the audience.  Every object is to be placed by the set designer and the director with great fortitude and understanding.

The Natyasastra states that Natya was created to meet the demand of a plaything, it’s a “ Krida” (a source of pleasure and diversion to boredoms, wants the miseries of daily existence).   Therefore an art form can induce a temporary state of diversion of one’s immediate sorrow and an escape into a world of pleasure and happiness. Nataka or drama can do this more efficiently than other art form, because unlike other arts, it is both drisya and sravya, it has visual and aural appeal. It can satisfy us by graceful or spetacular senses presented on the stage, can gratify our ear or heart.  This is efficient only through props that makes the experience of the audience go beyond his reality.

Andrew Sofer, in his book, “ The Stage life of Props” says that, “ the object must be seen as having a sign.” The stage props hence has a strong presence, sometimes as strong as the actor themselves.  As Felix Bossonnet sees the props they are much more than the physical presence they hold.  Props have to be read between the complex relationship between the actor the text and the audience.  It provides a complete whole experience of transmission of the audience into the world of the “ play or krida”.  As Sofer sees the distinctions between the props and the characters should become more and more blurred, it should be amalgamated as one whole.  The responsibility of this hence is not just within the text but by the directors as well as the actors.




Schedule: 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav Feb 2020

If you are at wits end on which play to see, just check out the preview in this E-Mag itself (www.stagebuzz.in), under the Category: Theatre