Stories that inspire
Tribune News Service
Jalandhar, September 21
Before Covid came, shows of YUVAA theatre group ran packed to capacity. The group earned as audience paid for tickets to watch shows, which was a huge feat for a theatre outfit in a city like Jalandhar.
But six months into the lockdown and the interest in video and web platforms is already veering off.
Amid existential dread setting in with continuous increase in cases and no let-up in the Covid crisis, theatre artistes hold on to shreds of inspirations available around them in hope that they will finally get an opportunity to vent dialogues they have been rehearsing once the restrictions are eased.
Prof Ankur Sharma, founder of YUVAA theatre group, and an actor, director and artiste says he had plays lined up for World Theatre Day, Punjab Rang Utsav in April and the upcoming Rang Mahotsav in October — all of which had to be cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic.
Having exhausted web resources, the theatrist is spending the pandemic holding Zoom rehersals with his team to keep brushing up their craft, reading new scripts, staying with family and working on his new play “Chidiya Ghar”, which he plans to stage once the pandemic is over. He believes theatre will have a bustling audience post Covid.
In the day he attends to his duties as a lecturer at a local college, but spends his leisure time reading books to his son, playing casio, flute and drums with him. He has also taken online courses in screenwriting.
“Life has changed for theatre artistes as the only places they used to frequent before the pandemic are now out of bounds. All our rehearsal spaces are public areas. The Sehgal Memorial Hall and the auditorium where we performed, are all closed due to Covid. We can’t gather at a house because of fear of infecting our family members,” said Prof Sharma.
“There are times when we say to each other, Will we ever recite a dialogue again?” Prof Sharma added.
“Theatre is all about action. You can’t theorise it. During Covid we tried shifting to the digital medium. But we are missing telling our stories. We miss the connect with hundreds of audience and emoting for them, who are intently watching us,” said Prof Sharma.
“We tried reading plays online, but its not the same. Digital platforms are extremely competitive. In the beginning of the lockdown we were all upbeat and happy and did several screenings on web platforms. Two of our plays ‘Ishq Remix’ and ‘Bicchoo’ featured on the Book My Show web theatre slot. We also did live rehearsals, readings, plays etc. on Zoom and posted videos on Youtube and Facebook. I have also participated in webinars. But theatre doesn’t manifest aptly on web. We’ve realised web portals aren’t the best idea,” Prof Sharma added.
Are mental health issues a concern among actors too?
Yes an existential crisis has set in. Everyday a friend from Mumbai says they are quitting the city of dreams. Theatre like the film industry is among the worst affected industries. While we were upbeat in the beginning there are moments now when I wonder whether the actor in me will die. We dread if we will begin forgetting our lines, lose our craft and get out of touch. Many actors are already leaving theatre. Intriguingly some are also contacting us that they want to work in theatre. We keep mouthing dialogues, saying our lines, reading and engaging with plays and scripts to keep the fire burning...
What’s the silver lining?
...We continue practicing even in adverse circumstances because I believe we will have a better audience once Covid is over. One of the advantages of the pandemic is that people are already getting sick of binge watching OTT platforms. Their eyes and minds are tired. So, I think believe people will be all the more interested in threatre after Covid.
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