Let’s be honest: with uncertainty now considered synonymous with the pandemic, it is unlikely that any form of performing art will take to stage this year.
As disheartening as it sounds, the fear associated with gathering in a closed auditorium teeming with people is likely to linger. At the same, the experience of seeing the art physically take form on stage, drawing energy from a cheering audience, remains unparalleled. Theatre is an intimate artform that is conceived entirely on the stage.
While many Indian theatre companies are digitising their productions and streaming their plays live on social media, Mumbai-based Coconut Theatre considers this as a time for reflection. They believe that conversations around the genre should never be stalled. Which is why, right from March, the production house has been conducting live sessions almost every day, under the head ‘Chai-Wai & Rangmanch — 2020’. They are close to 90 sessions down at the time of writing this, and hope to conclude with 108 conversations.
Currently on the third edition, the series recently featured conversations by Bollywood actors with a notable background in theatre like Rajat Kapoor, Sharman Joshi and Sonali Kulkarni as well. They have also brought in the folk musical theatre, comprising musicians from Rajasthan’s Managaniar community.
Theatre is the only genre in which all artistes and technicians live in the performance. So, with no possibility of getting back to the stage for now, Coconut Media Box (the parent company of Coconut Theatre) ideated to connect Indian theatre on one platform: this includes regional and English theatre.
The line-up boasted of some very big names: Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner Rita Ganguly, writer Ananth Mahadevan, veteran theatre designer and director and National Award winner MSSathyu, Neelam Mansingh, Satish Alekar, Dadi Pudumjee and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner Dolly Ahluwalia. The series also saw 14 sessions in between, led by writers and directors from the international theatre fraternity like writer-director David Woods from Australia and South African playwright Megan Furniss.
The series began with a session by screenwriter (of Marathi and Hindi cinema), actor and theatre practitioner Ananth Mahadevan, which had to be discontinued owing to technical difficulties. However, Mahadevan will be the one among others to culminate the series as well, with his session on the correlation between theatre and life. “Why didn’t we think of these sessions earlier? Pandemic or no pandemic. What they currently have is a library of thoughts, opinions, observations and experiences from veterans,” says Mahadevan, adding that this kind of documentation will help theatre students, practitioners and enthusiasts alike, even for references in the future.
“All put together, the series gives us a comprehensive idea into theatre.” Through his talk, Mahadevan hopes to draw parallels between life and theatre, in an attempt to relate to those from different walks of life. Focus, communication, concentration, getting a team together and similar concepts will be touched upon. “I also want to get into the theatre of life; about how theatre exercises can perhaps enrich one’s performance in life,” concludes Mahadevan.
Check Coconut Theatre’s Facebook group to see the Live sessions and the upcoming schedule. Ananth Mahadevan’s session will be on July 24 at 6 pm.