Creating human bonds

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Atul Kumar, artistic director of The Company Theatre, talks about making friends and family through the pursuit of drama and how passion and hard work can open up thousands of possibilities in theatre

Atul Kumar, artistic director of The Company Theatre, talks about making friends and family through the pursuit of drama and how passion and hard work can open up thousands of possibilities in theatre

The Company Theatre (TCT) completes two decades and a half this year. Theatre practitioners and observers will tell you this is no mean feat. But TCT’s artistic director is quite nonchalant about it. He admits the past was tough, but the team kept creating more and more work and performing regularly in front of an audience that ranged from 3 people to 3,000. Kumar tells us more about the journey so far and what lies ahead.

Would you share your thoughts on setting up TCT and arriving at this milestone, while gloom stories about ‘theatre’s survival’ resurface time and again?
What gloom stories? Can it be gloomier than how it was in 1970s when there were not even half as many theatre groups as now? When youngsters didn’t even know about theatre arts or arts in general as a possibility? When arts and theatre arts was not there in any academic realm at all? When internet and travel did not bring together so many artists? TCT was established then.
These are happier times and the only thing I can say to those gloomy people is that theatre does not require anything more than passion and hard work, and slowly it can open out into thousands of possibilities... that is exactly what we did —  in good times and bad, we simply kept doing what we deeply believed in and were passionate about — that of creating more and more work and performing regularly in front of an audience that ranged from 3 people to 3,000.

How did you put together a team? Is it difficult to retain actors, who after a stint in plays, go on to pursue a career in other acting mediums?
​We made friends and family with people who we found on the journey and who were ready to take the plunge with us​ into the unknown. We still look for people who unhesitatingly join hands and set out on unknown journeys with us — often that has no security of success or monetary stability. I think more than the arts itself we believe in creating human bonds that last long.
That said, we do not have a fixed company. In fact, not a single actor in our company works only with us. We believe in free flow of artists and all of them to work and learn from many others so they can come back and make us richer as well. Livelihood is always an issue, so we all do other stuff like conducting workshops, teaching, corporate theatre work and an occasional film or TV work to keep the stoves running. Sometimes, of course, some of us fall in love with films which is also a great artistic endeavour, and that is fine too.

Do you agree that theatre groups and its practitioners need to understand what a business plan is and apply it to their groups — something which Sanjna Kapoor is trying to put forth through Junoon’s SMART programmes?
I certainly do. Sanjna’s programme comes from a deep and a long-term understanding of how theatre groups work in India, in various rural and urban settings. Her relationship with theatre makers has been that of an insider and thus it provides tools and tricks which will be beneficial to all theatre groups, young and old. In fact, I am sure if I attend her course, I will come back enriched myself and realise so many mistakes I am making in the running of The Company Theatre. Also, I think her course is not limited to the business of theatre but also comes from deeper connect with human and artistic values of this country’s art and artists. Thereby I would recommend all to attend it​.

You did three plays on Shakespeare. Do you find something new in his plays every time you read them or come up with a production?
​He was a great artist and yes, when I read his plays again and again, each time something new reveals itself and astounds me about human reality. His works also provide me with fodder to create new languages and devise new forms of theatre.

Any other writer/ dramatist inspires you as much?
​Jean Genet — an absolutely amazing playwright and artist.

Can you tell us about your theatre residency at Kamshet? Is it where you are based now?
Yes, that’s where we are mainly based and work out of, although we do have an office in Mumbai as well. The residency was created in 2012 and Piya Behrupiya was the first play we created. Since then we have come up with many more shows, organised arts festivals, workshops in film, theatre, writing, fine arts, children’s work, contemporary dance, physical and mental fitness, and many more.
We have also given the space to artists from other groups, cities and countries to create their own work. We also work with the local community at the level of farming and village school theatre activities.

Do we see any new production coming up this year?
​Our next big production is a devised piece directed by an English director, John Britton — he has based this on George Orwell’s 1984. I want to concentrate on acting this year.​

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