As part of Rage Productions, Shernaz Patel has been spearheading Writers’ Bloc for the past 15 years. With the support of the British Council and the Royal Court Theatre, she along with Rajit Kapoor, has been investing a great deal of time and money in the writers that get chosen for the programme. Last year, there were 250 entries from all corners of India; playwrights writing in a variety of languages and styles. The process of mentoring the playwrights stretches over 18 months. The two talk about the showcase and the work they have done to promote new writing. Excerpts:
It’s not very often that theatregoers get a chance to be part of staged readings of original plays. Tell us about the concept of staged readings and the response of the audience.
Shernaz: The concept of the Writers’ Bloc Showcase is to present the work that we have done in the past 15 years in the field of new writing. Since we are presenting some old plays in the mix, those are being done as readings. The newer plays are being done as full performances. So there is a mix of both. The most important thing for the director and the actors is to tell the story, to focus on communicating this story to the audience. If the story is engaging and told well then the audience forgets that this is a reading and get sucked into the world of the play.
Rajit: Dramatised readings are rare in our country but plays that don’t get a chance to be staged or performed for various reasons should be presented as dramatised readings. Four such presentations were done at the Royal Court Theatre in London using plays that came out of the Writers’ Bloc workshops and were successfully performed to a paying audience. This year during Writers’ Bloc, four two-play readings were dramatised at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and they worked wonderfully and were highly appreciated. We need to have many more of these to expose people to new writing.
Play and poetry readings get playwrights\poets closer to the audience, giving them a chance to share many aspects of the writing.
Shernaz: Absolutely. In fact it upsets me that playwrights are not properly represented at many literary festivals in the country. Modern Indian playwriting has grown so much since Karnad (Girish) and Tendulkar (Vijay) and yet we do not give these new writers the same platform as, say for example, new novelists get. Having staged readings with the playwrights, who are present to share their work and process with the audience, is significant. It also exposes young writers to the possibility of writing for theatre.
Rajit, tell us a little about directing Mahua. Was Akash Mohimen, the playwright, a part of the process?
I have been witnessing the growth of Mahua from its inception during the workshop process. I got attracted to the simplicity of the play’s language and its unique structure, where each scene follows the next after a considerable passage of time, that is they do not follow each other immediately in terms of time.
Akash was very much a part of the process, particularly during its translation into Hindi. I wanted to direct it in an Indian language, as that’s what the texture of the play demanded. Also he was part of the initial readings in order to ensure that every aspect of his words was coming through.
Tell us about original Indian plays and how they connect with the audience almost immediately.
Rajit: Original writing in India has a direct connect with all concerned, those involved creatively as well as the audience. The text lends itself to automatic identification. As we are familiar with the background, it makes it easier to delve deeper into the text and explore further interpretations and options.