Back stage

Five enthusiastic architects (all from the School of Planning and Architecture) decided to do something crazy one muggy afternoon—start a theatre group that would one day be up there,the biggest.

Written by Dipanita Nath | Published:March 29, 2009 2:03 am

Five enthusiastic architects (all from the School of Planning and Architecture) decided to do something crazy one muggy afternoon—start a theatre group that would one day be up there,the biggest. Their mind was fired up so,of course,they were sure nothing would ever go wrong with the plan: office deadlines wouldn’t come in the way,life’s other demands wouldn’t mess with rehearsals. That was May 2000. Today,Second Foundation Theatre can afford a smug strut and it isn’t because they had got the equations right from the beginning. It is because they had got it very wrong but still manage to be around,and their survival tools could be a lesson to other foundering theatre groups.

“We performed a play every year for the next few years and then,slowly,things began to change. Members left the country,people drifted away,our own jobs became 24×7 obsessions. Where was the time for theatre? Our last play was two years ago,” says Uttiya Bhattacharya,one of the founders. “Second Foundation Theatre almost went the way of other theatre groups that fizzle out midway.” Almost. Because they will be back in April with their new production. “The itch for theatre has won,” says Bhattacharya.

The comeback production is called Dahl for the Stage and comprises three short stories and three poems by the writer. “The choice of Dahl followed from the theatre group’s most fundamental thumb-rule—the play has to be exciting enough to drag the members out of office to attend rehearsals,” says Vaibhav Dimri,an actor who has acted in a children’s film called Foto in 2007,alongside Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah.

For the group,short plays work better than ensemble productions. “Keeping the cast to two or three is logistically convenient,” says Nimeran Singh. They’ve cut down the production to bite-sized pieces in other ways too—each of the six sub-plays is being directed by a different member. Previously,the group has had guest directors like Arvind Gaur,Piyush Mishra,Abhijit Lahiri,Roysten Abel,but now every aspect is handled in-house.

“As architects,we understand the importance of parts to create a holistic structure,” says Amritha Ballal. “It’s an open house,actors walk in from all walks of life,students,friends. Our first production,Waiting for Godot had a lot of support from Spandan,the theatre group of the School of Planning and Architecture. Even for Dahl,we have a final-year student.”

And when a play is by a group of architects,many of whom have picked up international awards,the sets can’t but anything but classy. The group frequently changes its sets with every production and sometimes,the actions unfolds on scaffolds (Woyzeck-Fragment) or on black cubes (Shakespeare our Contemporary). And then,there are intricate sets,like in Bade Bhai Sahab,configured like jigsaw pieces that were pulled out and realigned to create a totally different design during interval. “Redesigning the set during the interval was a performance in itself,” says Uttiya Bhattacharya.

“But,theatre also helps our experience as architects. I’m a more sensitive architect because of my theatre experience. Getting under the skin of a design is often like getting under the skin of a character. And while architecture is one matrix of a civilisation,theatre is the other,” says Dimri. Maybe,that’s why they came back for another encore. And will keep coming back.

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