March 14, 2021 6:42:15 am
Pune-based theatre practitioners Rupali Bhave and Pradeep Vaiddya used to feel that there was a certain type of performing space missing in their city, such as the black box theatre. It seemed out of reach for them. A couple of years ago, Vaiddya saw an old, unused shed in an industrial estate near the busy road and wondered, “What if we could turn it into a black box theatre?” The owners were willing to rent it out and the duo knocked on many doors to support the endeavour. Today, The Box has a packed calendar and is showing a way for small venues to survive in the aftermath of the pandemic. Excerpts from a conversation with Bhave:
How did the lockdown affect the construction of The Box?
The industrial shed had old, broken down material and was unused for several years. There were certain structural changes we wanted to make to make the theatre look a certain way. The pandemic hit while the work was in progress. For a long time, we were sitting idle. Labourers couldn’t go in and, when the lockdown restrictions were lifted, there weren’t labourers as most of them had left for their homes. We struggled to pay rent. We were worried since we did not know how long the lockdown would be and whether the funding organisations and individuals would still want to continue with us. As soon as the lockdown restrictions were lifted, we completed The Box and it became the first black box theatre in Pune.
What kind of theatre do you see spaces such as The Box create?
I am hoping that this kind of space will inspire more immersive and intimate kind of performances. Content is going to change because of what we are coming out of. Perspectives and ways of operating and relationships have undergone really tiny changes to really big ones, such as loss of life and income. The insecurities one feels is increased by the unpredictability of things and the changing environment around us. All of these affect artistes and so the content is going to change. Thanks to the pandemic, there has been a shift in sensibilities. I am hoping for performances designed for these spaces, where we don’t need to confine ourselves to a traditional format and can experiment with form, structure and content.
There was apprehension, during the pandemic, that people were being weaned away from live shows by OTT platforms. Does the response to The Box reflect the time spent in lockdown?
After almost a year of nothing, people are eager for live shows. For a festival by the theatre group Theatron, we had a lot of young people. The classical music festival saw more enquiries from seniors and a few young ones. All through the pandemic, all of us have binged on OTT but this seems to have become repetitive and restrictive. Though there are multiple OTT platforms, you feel the urge to go to a cinema to watch a film or step out for a live performance. Before the pandemic, experimental theatre makers were struggling with audience numbers. Now, getting 70 people seems very reasonable. We would truly benefit from having a 100 in the audience for every show. However, it doesn’t happen every time.
Is there a formula to break even while running an arts venue?
There’s no formula, really. We are trying to create a balancing act in which we ask, ‘how many days do we need the theatre to be booked and what kind of performances?’ Essentially, we made the space for theatre but, we found that it’s a very versatile space that lends itself to a variety of performances and shooting. Also, we had suffered a financial setback during the pandemic. So, we allowed shooting for films and ad films. Now, the broad design is that we keep the weekends for theatre and shootings are to take place on weekdays. Of course, we are happy to have plays being performed on weekdays too.
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