Surviving the pandemic: Theatres innovate to keep their art alive 

Theatre troops chose to use the Black Box a recent innovation that allows rehearsals and performances without the need for a large auditorium or audience amidst the pandemic PHOTO Samarth Theatre

With theatres in the city struggling amidst the pandemic, Black box theatre proves to be the saviour 

Last year, Covid induced lockdown along with all other negative impacts put a halt on theatres. As people weren’t allowed to gather, artists of performing arts were forced to stay home. Performing and practicing went online.

It was a tough time for performing art, and theatre was finding ways to survive. Sandeep Rawat, founder director of Samarth theatre told us how theatre went in Black box — a recent innovation where theatre performance doesn’t require a big auditorium, a simple space can be converted as a flexible stage for rehearsing and performing. 

“In March when lockdown was announced we were doing nothing but finding ways to go online. By May we started operation. Since everything was happening online. We decided to make small plays of around 10 – 15 minutes. By August first week we started performing in the studio. We made it black box.” He said.

“We started doing online premium on Facebook live. While also maintaining the decorum of time — like if you joined on time then only you can watch it full. And By October, we started inviting audiences to our studios. Now we are back in theatres — after a year.”

On February 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs allowed theatres and cinema halls to function in full capacity. But Cinema theatres are yet to witness an increase in footfall as audiences are choosing to stay away due to Covid scare. Theatres have started to get a decent number of people.

Theatre among all art forms has a special place in Delhi. From Akshara theatre, Shri Ram Centre of Performing Art to bigger auditorium like Siri Fort Auditorium which can accommodate upto 2,500 people — having a number of good theatres allows theatre lovers to enjoy this performing art.

Akshara theatre, is one such well known theatre where people have started coming, although not all plays are going housefull. The Patriot recently visited the theatre to find out more,“In theatres we don’t expect many people to come. Even if 70 % seats are occupied, we feel happy. Because theatre is no longer commercial,” said Kamya, a theatre actor.

Rehearsing in black box theatre has changed the meaning of a lot of things like audience engagement . For instance, during a play called Singrauli files based on a book by environmental activist Avinash Chanchal which Samarth theatre recently performed in Akshara theatre. Artists preferred more engagement with the audience assuming that not many people would come to watch the play. Although contrary to that assumption, the play went housefull, and audience engagement kept them hooked.

Although, lack of engagement with people due to a long period of lockdown was reflected in language, texture and in terms grasping the socio- cultural profile of a character. Not just this play, almost all plays, which are new are facing this problem. But one good thing about it is that directors are not afraid of innovating, despite dealing with a crisis situation.

If we talk about the positives of this pandemic. It gave time to directors and writers to reflect better on what they were doing. “One of the sad things about theatre in our time, is that all directors are doing the same plays again and again. For instance plays of Agatha Christie, Mohan Rakesh, Premchand, Shakespeare, Chekhov. Very few come up with ideas. Maybe this period would help theatre artists to self reflect.” Said Abhishek, a theatre lover.


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