Nine months on, theatre-goers can finally experience the joy of a performance on stage. Covid-19 sent everyone packing, but by and by everything is getting back to normal. New normal it is, nonetheless artistes are back on stage and audiences in theatres.
Tagore Theatre broke the dry spell with a play Hayvadan in the mini-auditorium in the beginning of December; the very first theatre festival post lockdown, Gursharan Singh Naat Utsav-2020, took place from December 11-13 at Punjab Kala Bhawan. A music show and performances for small gatherings, city’s cultural scape is finally moving out of the virtual zones to where it belongs — amongst people. This comes along with temperature guns, sanitisation and masks!
Artiste Anita Shabdeesh stepped on the stage after nine months and it was exhilarating. “It was so exciting to face the audience once all over again. Theatre artistes are nothing without the love of their audience. The standing ovation for all three days is something truly precious, something that can never have a price to it,” says Anita Shabdeesh, who did a solo Man Mitti Da Boleya recently.
The festival was themed around farmers’ protest. “Gursharan Singh Naat Utsav is a tribute to Gursharan ji. When we decided to hold the festival, lots of people cautioned us but we were steadfast in our resolve to make ourselves heard,” adds Anita.
Girish Karnad’s Hayvadan, directed by Ranjit Roy, was the first play to be staged at the mini auditorium at Tagore Theatre. “To be honest, I am very scared of the pandemic; it can put one’s entire family at risk. But when the administration decided to open Tagore Theatre, I dared to start rehearsals with full precautions and the performance brought back the lost belief. We belong amongst the audience.”
Roy, director, Chandigarh Art Theatre (CAT), admits that he did not expect any audience for the first show. “Just like me, people are concerned about their safety too. But I was overwhelmed that people showed up.” Abiding by the 50 per cent occupancy rules, only 60 people were allowed inside. “We felt bad that we had to send people back due to lack of space, but we stuck to the guidelines. We were so encouraged that Manoj Parida, Adviser to the Administrator, sat through the entire two-and-a-half hour duration, bolstering the spirit of the team.”
A musical programme, Rang Sangeet, by Satvik Arts Rang Sangeet was also organised at Tagore Theatre mini auditorium. “It was a musical treat and that the auditorium was full to its (50 per cent) capacity was very encouraging,” says Amit Sanouria from Satvik Arts.
Other theatre groups have also been active in the city. Sankarman, a Covid-19 journey, put together by Alankar Theatre, held three shows at Landran on December 6. “Covid-19 has really made it difficult for theatre folks. We have started with performances for small groups. Sankarman, which depicts the effect of the pandemic on relationships, people and politics, resonated with the audience,” says Chakresh Kumar. Ask him on plans to perform at theatres and he adds, “The pandemic has led to severe financial issues. We are at the moment going ahead with ticketed shows for a small audience; unless the government revisits its cultural policy, we cannot afford theatres.”
While there would be more shows of Sankarman lined-up at Panchkula and Zirakpur for a small audience, Suchetak Rangmanch is taking its Je Hun Vi Na Bole to farmers’ protest at Delhi borders. Chandigarh Art Theatre plans to showcase Munshi Premchand’s Parvat Yatra on December 26 at the Tagore Theatre.
While the theatre scene gears up, safety precautions are being taken seriously. At Tagore, the auditorium is sanitised once before the show and also once after that. Temperature is checked, sanitisation provided and masks are a must with only 50 per cent of the seats to be occupied. “Now that everything is open, can theatre be far behind?” asks Ranjit Roy.