SEATED in the courtyard of Mumbai’s Prithvi House, the jury of Thespo — a festival of under-25 theatre enthusiasts — was in a deep discussion to pick their winners on Thursday evening. This, while Innocence, a short play, was being performed on Prithvi’s foyer, and the actors could be heard from across the road. Some theatre lovers were watching the fringe show at the foyer, while others had queued up for the festival’s last show, a Marathi play titled Andhar, and the rest had turned up to soak in the celebrations of its 20th edition.
Barring occasional curiosity over what’s going on, Quasar Thakore Padamsee, the festival’s co-founder, sounded relieved that “the burden of running Thespo” was no longer his. He promptly added that it was also no longer a responsibility of other Thespo veterans such as Toral Shah or Vivek Madan. At 20, Thespo has grown up and its under-25 participants are now running the show.
Thespo started with the intention of providing theatre enthusiasts below the age of 25 a platform to perform full-length plays and made its debut on December 10, 1999. Citing “naivety and youthful arrogance” as the driving force, Thakore Padamsee says, “We started it with the intention of doing a couple of festivals. In its fifth year, we became multilingual. However, after we hosted Thespo 10, we wondered if there was still the need to organise this annual festival. By then, many youth theatre groups had come up.”
That’s when they received the feedback that youngsters looked up to Thespo for the training it provided and the ecosystem it created to nurture talent. “We designed a year round theatre activities instead of restricting them to a four-day festival. We focussed on training and showcasing young theatre talent. We also designed collaborations to acquaint them to other theatre practices,” says Padamsee. For instance, they roped in Australian director Glenn Hayden this year for a workshop. The next major task for Thespo is to build a global community of theatre lovers and enthusiasts with more collaborations.
Over the years, Thespo has taken steps to address one aspect of theatre. Thespo 20 threw the spotlight on ‘writing’. This decision was inspired by the fact that Shanta Gokhale, Mumbai-based author, translator and performing art critic, was being honoured with Thespo’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Coinciding with it, the book Thespo Writes, a compilation of four original plays written for the festival, was released. “We have noticed that the participants prefer writing their own plays since it helps them articulate their ideas better. Out of the 53 plays performed during Thespo, Bhanvar, Naav, Butter and Mashed Banana and Kabadi Uncut were selected for the anthology,” says Padamsee.
All the four full-length plays staged during Thespo 20 are original plays. They were selected after screening 208 plays in 14 Indian cities. Gal Kufr Di by Mumbai’s Theatrewaalas is a tale of love and betrayal set against the backdrop of the 1984 Sikh massacre. Sometime Somewhere by Pune’s Vighnaharta Theatres is in gibberish and is a parable to remind us that what goes around comes around. Man Maana Square, a play in Hindi-English by Mumbai’s The Red Mark, is a bittersweet exploration of our primal instincts. The Marathi play Andhar, by the students of Pune’s Abhasaheb Garware Mahavidyalaya, follows a man’s fight to bring about a change in the land of darkness.
Being an annual fixture on the Indian theatre calendar and working with an enthusiastic bunch, means that the festival has created a community which calls itself “Thespians”. Actor Mithila Palkar, who features in the popular web show Little Things, calls Thespo her “alma mater”. Many other artists such as Chandan Roy Sanyal, Nimrat Kaur, Richa Chadda, Ali Fazal and Akarsh Khurana have also been associated with Thespo.
The funding, however, has remained a challenge. “From the ninth edition to its 19th, we have had no sponsors. Finding the support of Godrej Properties was a huge relief this year. We have been depending on crowdfunding,” says Padamsee and hopes that the corporate world sees value in a festival like this.