By its very nature, theatre is live. But as coronavirus turned the world upside down, the rules changed for everything under the sun. In theatre, the interaction between actors and audience is irreplaceable, but social distancing forbade that and theatre too has been forced to don a digital avatar.
Other plays in Aadyam’s digital lineup this year include AK Various Productions’ ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, directed by Akash Khurana, and Aarambh Mumbai’s ‘Bandish 20-20,000 Hz’, directed by Purva Naresh.
Actor, writer, screenwriter and director Rajat Kapoor staged his play ‘I Don’t Like It, As You Like It’ as part of this year’s digital edition of the Aditya Birla Group’s theatre initiative, Aadyam. Performed by clowns, the laughter of the audience during Kapoor’s play is what usually drives its actors to another plane. “Having performed more than 40 live shows over the past four years, the actors know the joke has landed,” says Kapoor. But this time, there was no applause after the punch line, a strange experience for the cast.
Kapoor says the aim was to keep it a theatrical experience, ensuring that what one watches does not pretend to be anything other than what it is — ‘rendition of a play’. His particular challenge was trying to find a way through the camera. While during a play the audience chooses which part of the stage it wants to watch, in the digital format, the crew had to decide that for the audience.
Needless to say, the community has faced massive losses due to the pandemic. “Even now, with some theatres opening up, it is very difficult for a producer to break even at a 50 per cent capacity, and that too with no guarantee that people will congregate in enclosed spaces,” says Aadyam’s artistic director Shernaz Patel. For those whose only livelihood is the stage, times have been particularly hard, with numerous stories of professional makeup men being compelled to wash cars and light suppliers working as electricians.
Something good that digital performances have done, however, is breaking geographical borders. “It is now possible to watch plays from so many different countries, which we would never have been able to do before,” says Patel. She feels that, in future, auditoriums will equip themselves with cameras and offer theatre companies the option of shooting plays. “The pandemic made collaborations possible with companies from other countries too,” adds Patel, who is involved with two projects with companies based in San Francisco and Ireland.