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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

‘Fish bowl’ viewing: Theatre in the times of Covid pandemic

On the terrace of the building where Studio Tamaasha is located, space was created for the audience to wait before the show, actors to perform and the seating area.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai | December 29, 2020 4:01:15 am
Fish bowl’ viewing, Theatre in times of Covid, Coronavirus pandemic, Mumbai news, Maharashtra news, Indian express newsA scene from The Thing Is…

Eight months since live performance spaces were closed in Mumbai due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Studio Tamaasha opened a new play, The Thing Is…, on November 26 on its terrace after making necessary modifications. On the terrace of the building where Studio Tamaasha is located, space was created for the audience to wait before the show, actors to perform and the seating area.

The studio had been working on a new production much before the state government on November 3 allowed live performances to resume. “Around August, we thought of working towards a new production that we can open when we are allowed to perform. Artists need to work as much as anyone else. That is how we make sense of the world around us. We were all aching and itching to work,” said Sapan Saran, director of The Thing Is… Three writers – Milind Dhaimade, Imran Rasheed, and Saran – decided to look inwards and explored the idea of wishing through the worlds of three unusual characters. More shows of The Thing Is… are scheduled at the studio’s terrace in Lokhandwala on January 1, 2 and 3 at 7 pm.

“The artistic idea was to look at what was most immediate at a psychological level, and that was – introspection. During that time, we were all looking inwards, having existential conversations with ourselves about life and its purpose, and why we do what we do,” said Saran. In Sifar, which is part of this anthology, an innocent question from a child sends a director on a journey to discover what he really wishes to do with his theatre. In Lekhak Ki Begum, the cheerful housewife nurtures fiercely a desire to enter the intellectual world inhabited by her husband. In Wishful Life of Vishu, we see a loser, embittered against the deep injustice of a cynical class divide. Interweaving these three pieces is Bindu, a choreographed piece that explores primeval human longings that are resolute and hopeful.

To make the terrace ready for the performance, Studio Tamaasha roped in actor-designer Bhushan Vikas, who worked towards transforming it. “All theatre spaces have certain prerequisites – audience holding area, performers’ holding area, performance area, green rooms and so on. In these pandemic times, we also needed to ensure that each of these spaces are big and properly ventilated,” said Saran, who founded Studio Tamaasha with prominent theatre director Sunil Shanbag. They created a large holding area for the audience on one side of the terrace while the actors waited in their office.

Saran said, “The real design element that defines the space is the transparent plastic separation between the audience and the performer. The sheet doesn’t come in the way of your viewing the performance. But it acts as a filter that is a subconscious reminder of the times we are in.” The writer-director added that Shanbag calls this arrangement “fish bowl viewing”.

Even though the opening of theatre spaces has come as “a big relief”, Saran said the theatre community has “to work very hard as a collective to rebuild their audiences and reclaim” their space. Saran said: “What we did with The Thing Is… was more of a gesture than a formal opening. The financial model is simply unsustainable. We can only seat 20 people at a time. Doing a run was useful. More than 60 people saw the show in the opening run.”

Saran said this “hybrid model” is here to stay in theatre. “The online work of Studio Tamaasha reaches out to a wide audience base. Over 80 artists have actively been part of the various online programmes that we have been running since August 2020,” Saran said, adding that they have been showcasing new writing podcasts, Urdu readings, and recording of one live show every month online.

Studio Tamaasha was rehearsing for Ottam, a play that was slated to open in April 2020 at Prithvi Theatre, when lockdown was imposed. Ottam, which is about female track and field athletes from India, explores ideas of gender, caste, class, gender testing in sports, and the human body. Ottam, a fairly ambitious play with a 12-member cast, will be performed at a later stage, Saran said.

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