All the world’s A (back)stage!

Vinaya Patil
Sunday, 25 March 2018

About World Theatre Day
Since 1962, World Theatre Day has been celebrated by International Theatre Institute (ITI) centres, members, professionals, organisations, theatre universities and theatre lovers across the world on March 27. 
This day is a celebration for those who can see the value and importance of the art form and acts as a wake-up-call for governments, politicians and institutions, which have not yet recognised the value of theatre to people and have not yet realised its potential for economic growth, reads the official website of the ITI.

We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine,” said Brett Bailey, stage director from South Africa, on the occasion of World Theatre Day, some years ago. 

Watching a play touches us in incredible ways. To many of us, it’s magic of performances by actors, costumes and properties. Putting all of these together in a fine balance are the off-stage artists. We speak to this invisible work force behind our amazing theatrical experiences. They tell us how it is to be behind-the-curtains artists, in a society, where the on-stage artists are always more recognised and appreciated. They share their views on where theatre is headed in the world of cinema, internet and web series.

‘It’s a team effort’
ISHAN KHANNA
Stage Management
A trained theatre practitioner from The Drama School, Mumbai, I have mostly worked for theatre in education. I use it as a medium of therapy to cure kids suffering from cancer in the form of Red Nose Clowning, which is a new concept in India.
I have been involved in theatre for almost seven years now and have done all sorts of work like stage managing, acting, performing, direction, sound, lights, theatre training, corporate theatre workshops etc.

Theatre is all about teamwork and enjoying the nterdependence. Of course, actors get more spotlight as they are the face of the play. But a strong team off stage to back them is crucial. I have always seen a different play simultaneously going on backstage, which is fun too.

Frankly, a lot of hard work has to be put in backstage to bring the stage alive — co-ordinating with actors, taking care of sets and designs, before and during the performance. The audience rarely gets to know of the hard work that has gone into off-stage management but when a play is praised, it acknowledges the effort of the entire team. I think theatre is one medium that will remain significant despite the mushrooming of other media. 

‘When the audience doesn’t notice us, it’s a job well done’
SAATVIKA KANTAMNENI
Independent production and stage manager
With an MA in Collaborative Theatre Production and Design from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, I have been involved in theatre production for eight years now. I was company stage manager for QTP Entertainment Pvt Ltd for three years, festival director of Thespo for two years and was recently involved in Disney Aladdin, Under the Gypsy Moon (Akvarious Productions), #supernova (Indian Ensemble), The Hungry Hearts Supper Club (Crow India).

I have worked largely with urban English theatre companies and that is what my understanding is based on. The theatre community in India is a wonderful family, so I’ve never felt unwelcome or under-appreciated. It is challenging to explain to people who don’t understand my role, but once they comprehend it, there is always appreciation for it. 
Like most theatre crew, I take on various roles in productions, depending on the need. While I like to focus on being a production manager or a stage manager, I have also done costuming, lights, sound etc. 

The best way to define my role is that the director has the vision for the show and instruction for the actors. Therefore making everything else work, is my job. So as a production manager, if I didn’t manage a budget or manpower, we wouldn’t even have a show in place. Without a stage manager, a show would probably not run on time and seamlessly. When the audience comes in and doesn’t notice any of us, we’ve done our job well.

I am surrounded by the world of cinema and the internet and as producers and managers, we tend to grapple with this. But theatre is a live experience, which becomes unique, for those in the audience. Nothing else can recreate that, so theatre will always hold its place in society. And now thanks to the efforts of producers to bring grander productions to audiences, there is a resurgence of theatre-going as an activity. Additionally, there is more work being generated for production people as well.

‘Must work backstage first’
Ankit Bhatt
Set Designing
I have been doing theatre for close to five years now, having started as a backstage artist. In my opinion, backstage people are the real artists helping on-stage artists with their properties. Also, I believe that to be a theatre artist, you need to first work backstage where you learn the most by simply observing.

‘Patrons are the reason behind theatre’s survival’
SAHASRANGSHU BHATTACHARJEE
Writing/Direction/Acting Workshops
I have been in the industry for close to 15 years now and I do not think that today in our society, only on-stage actors are more recognised and appreciated. From Stanislavsky to Badal Sarkar, they were and still are much recognised and appreciated as compared to many known 
on-stage actors.

I have done more than 45 plays and trained more than 500 kids and 200 adults in the field of performing arts. My experience behind the curtains is much appreciated, not only by the spectator, but also by the students whom I have trained/directed so far. From the selection of a play and finalising the cast, to staging the play and receiving audience response — my job is crucial.

There are two categories of people — the audience who love to watch plays and always appreciate them, and the ones who practise theatre passionately to keep it alive. Both are dependent on each other. A good play, good performance attracts the audience. They are the reason for its survival. 

‘There are no set guidelines’
ASHISH MEHTA
Manager, Aasakta Kalamanch
Having worked in production management and administration for more than 15 years now, I feel that this job is not taken too seriously in India. Production management is about managing shows. I do this and artist management, as well as audience management.

The apathy here is that everything is too organic, which means there are no set guidelines. Hence there is lack of order and sense of responsibility. But that is a good thing too because it brings out the raw talent in the artists. There is, however, no sense of regret about working backstage because it is an extremely, integral part of theatre. 

I feel that the medium is going strong. I am referring to the experiments in theatre that are taking place and the talent that has sprung from it. If you are only counting success in terms of numbers, you may not notice the progress. 

‘It has been a humbling experience’
VIKRAM SRIDHAR
Backstage Production/Ticketing
Working backstage for 15 long years has been an extremely humbling and beautiful journey for me. Though the front stage artists take the immediate credit, over time, being part of a production gives you the opportunity to travel more in the theatre world.

What the audience sees is the final product, like an ice cream. What goes inside the making of the ice cream won’t be known. Around 80 per cent of the process will always be hidden in the final product, in this case, the play itself.

Theatre and performance is like water. It takes different forms to reach us. Even in the world of new-age technology, we still long for human interactions and emotions. So though the forms might move to newer mediums, theatre will never die.

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