In conversation with G20, Raveesh Jaiswal, founder of Bombay Theatre Company, spoke about providing a virtual stage to the artists and the impact of the pandemic on performing arts at large, and more. Excerpts:
Q. How did the idea of quick 10-minute live theatre productions on Instagram strike you?
A. We were quite ready with our first theatre production and were to stage it in Mumbai in April 2020. Dishearten with the theatre scenario amidst the pandemic, that play still awaits its debut. Soon after the lockdown, we spent a couple of months ruminating our way forward amidst the ambiguity. The thought of moving online was always an option but I was still not able to view the words ‘online’ and ‘theatre’ as a single phrase in conjunction. Soon we realised that to keep ourselves ‘green’ that’s the only way forward. Once we decided to go online, respecting people’s ‘attention spans’, we agreed to have a 10-minute play as our first online theatre production. The ‘Live’ feature of Instagram allowed us to leverage the very essence of theatre that is performing to a live audience. The play was well-received by audiences and they loved the snackable 10-minute format of entertainment. Since then there was no looking back. After the success of some of our live 10-minute theatre productions, we started receiving a lot of collaboration requests. Several artists and theatre enthusiasts wanted to work with us and we also wanted to engage with new people. That’s how a collaborative theatre initiative called The Theatre Project 2020 was conceptualised. We received audition clips from over 175 actors and play scripts from over 70 English playwrights. Finally, 20 actors and 10 plays were shortlisted. The 10 plays, which took place every weekend from 11 October to 13 December, were quite diverse and distinguished and are available on our Instagram page. Some of the themes were dependency on technology, murder mystery, dark humour, the relationship between a mother and daughter, the effect of human conditioning, exploring the life of an artist, and love for one’s belongings.
Q. Tell us about your vision behind launching The Theatre Project 2020?
A. Our primary aim was to provide a creative outlet to the artists amidst the pandemic. We resonated with them and understood well how disillusioned they must have felt at that time. We also wanted to train and mentor a diverse pool of artists who would forever be a part of Bombay Theatre Company’s repertory, so that we always have a team in place. Having the team members from various parts of the country as well as abroad helped us have a presence in other metro and non-metro cities of India besides Mumbai. We also wanted to be a relatively ‘known’ theatre company which will, in turn, help us in garnering our future audiences when we finally get onto the stage.
Q. What was the criterion behind shortlisting the 30 artists?
A. We were elated with the overwhelming response we received from across the country and had a proper methodology in place for shortlisting the artists. For actors, we judged the monologue audition entries on the following parameters; quality of content, voice projection, fluency in English language, diction, camera presence, emotional consistency, and suitability to the characters whereas for playwrights the theme of the play, language, and coherence were the deciding factors.
Q. How has the pandemic impacted theatres and performing arts?
A. As a member of the performing arts fraternity, I can easily vouch for my colleagues that it has rather been a very unusual time for all of us. Looking at the fact that theatre is not an art form that was created for a virtual audience, it will always be very challenging to gain acceptance virtually. I don’t deny that going virtual will increase the reach of the art form, but then it will also make it a competitor to the Netflixs and Amazon Primes of the world. I truly hope and pray that we get back onto the stage, our real home, very soon. Going forward, managing a physical stage production will involve a lot many new guidelines like the cinema shoots. I don’t deny that it will not be very convenient but the safety of the cast, crew, and the audiences will be always paramount.