No affordable Theatre Space to perform in
One of the most important factors in a performance is the space where you perform - the auditorium. At one time Sri Ram Centre was the hub of theatre activity. Just as Prithvi Theatre Canteen in Bombay is a meeting point for theatre people, so also was the pivotal role of Sri Ram Centre Canteen during the days of yore. Here actors looked for roles in plays and directors looked for actors to cast them in appropriate roles. All people who hung around used to see the plays being staged in the two auditoriums of SRC. They used to discuss the supposed good points and bad points in each other’s productions. This was also a forum for polemical discussions. Any cultural activity needs a vibrant environment to flourish. The SRC of the hey days provided such an environment. There was a puppet repertory, a theatre repertory, a book shop for theatre books, a canteen, an affordable basement theatre and so forth. Now only the canteen and the bookshop remain. People who have performed recently at SRC say it is very depressing to perform there now because the place is so deserted.

But why talk only of SRC, why should it be expected to always provide an ambience for amateur artists to survive if not thrive. The role of most auditoriums in general is hostile to theatre, and this, despite the fact that prime land was given to some of them at ridiculously low prices. They were supposed to promote cultural activity, but now they have priced themselves so high that it becomes unaffordable for performers. Without going into specific details the auditoriums charge over Rs. 10,000 for three hours, and on the day before your show, you need to get the auditorium earlier for putting up your set and for your full dress rehearsals; for that you pay extra. Compound this with a new cess - if your show runs into the next day you pay additional standing charges of the set. The hire charges for Kamani auditorium and Subroto auditorium are even steeper. We need not even discuss Triveni because they have stopped letting out their open air theatre and the studio theatre is reserved for dance performances. On the face of it India Habitat Centre was cheaper. In fact, initially it was very friendly to theatre. They even conducted special seminars to discuss the problems faced by theatre people. But look at their price structure. The auditorium is less, but there is a catch, at the low price it is available only from 6 to 10 pm. And if you need it for the whole day, they charge you in 3 hour slabs. A seminar can be conducted in three hours, but no play can be conducted without a rehearsal on site. And you need to put up the set as well. There are some auditoriums like LTG and BC Pal which are more reasonable but they are unable to attract audiences

Now, the auditorium hire is just one item in a list of expenses. Factor in the cost of special lights, music, sets, costumes, payment to performers and technicians, publicity and printing and you have economics of doing a play shooting out of the ceiling. “In a city where people don’t like to buy tickets to see a play, and expect invitations as a status symbol, where do theatre groups recover their costs,” asks a theatre director. Even the corporate sponsorships are drying up.

If theater has to be saved then one of the solutions lies in state sponsorship. NSD has come forward and it is subsidising theatre through an annual Bharat Rang Mahotsav and through Weekend Theatre. But more needs to be done. A subsidised auditorium and rehearsal space would be ideal. An auditorium like Sapru House may fit into this role. It has been taken over by the Government and renovated. It has a history of Theatre activity behind it. The Children’s Film Society used to exhibit its films here. It has a Library, a Canteen and a lawn for theatre lovers to hang around in. Besides theatre friendly policies of the arms of the government, we need a number of people’s auditoriums to shore up the chances of amateur theatre to weather the storm and not wither away. Think about it.

 

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