The Literary Society organised an interactive panel discussion on the future of theatre in India on the 19th of November, 2009. The panel included Mr. Arvind Gaur, Founder, ASMITA; Ms. Misha Singh, Director, Black Cow Company and Ms. Kaustubhi Shukla, Member, Lakshya, Kamla Nehru College.
The discussion began with Ms. Shukla, who shared the motif of theatre in the university. She expressed her concern over the stereotypical approach towards theatre; theatre motivated by clichéd social causes like child labour and dowry. Theatre working with these issues is best suited to the form of street theatre – which, she believed, has become too monotonous. At the same time, she did not downplay these issues at all but stressed on the need to present them in a more entertaining manner. Being a final year student, she also shared her fears and doubts regarding working outside the support system of college life as a theatre professional.
Ms. Singh carried the discussion forward by delving into the problems faced by new-age theatre houses. She gave examples from her own experience, of how it was difficult to first get sponsors and then audiences for a production as hilarious as the Black Cow Company’s ‘Complete Works of William Shakespeare’. Lack of adequate sponsorship forces many a theatre house to transfer the burden on entry tickets, which then discourages people from buying them. A way out of this, she suggested, would be for people themselves to come forward and proactively demand their school/college/municipal authority to provide better infrastructure for theatres on a local level.
Finally, Mr. Gaur changed the flow of the discussion by making a passionate case for not just the survival but the growth of theatre in the twenty-first century. Critiquing the repressive cultural policies of the State, he argued that it was because of the confinement of theatre within elitist academic institutions that theatre is perceived as a dying art form. He drew attention to long-standing theatre groups like his own, ASMITA, which function completely outside the ambit of government or corporate sponsorship. Mass appeal and support, he said, should be the focus of any theatre group for it is through these alone that theatre can bring about changes in society. In this context, he opined, campus theatre has an important role in nurturing holistic individuals better equipped to engage with society.
The seminar concluded with a question-answer session after which each of the panelists summed up their opinions on the topic. The unanimous verdict: in spite of setbacks, theatre is still very much alive and full of transformative potential.