The audience-centric approach of Aadyam’s season four is aimed at expanding the theatre-going community.
Shernaz Patel knew exactly what she needed to do. Made artistic director of the fourth season of Aadyam Theatre (a stage initiative by the Aditya Birla Group) earlier this year, Patel had a plan. And it mainly focused on the audience. After all, the veteran actor-producer had been staring into the front and back rows of theatres in the past three decades. “The first thing was that the audience is not going to be judged only as a spectator,” says Patel, explaining the philosophy of her artistic intervention in Aadyam (which burst into the scene in 2015, promising a platform for freedom of creative expression). After creating Sherlock Holmes-era phone booths and Merchant of Venice-styled poker tables in the past, Aadyam is enriching the theatre experience through straight talk this time, by taking the audience backstage.
Talking about theatre
The audience-centric approach of Aadyam’s season four (June-November 2018) is aimed at expanding the theatre-going community. But first, Patel wants to dispel what she thinks are the ‘misconceptions about theatre’. “Many believe theatre is too intellectual or expensive,” she says. What best way to banish such thoughts than inviting the audience to see how theatre works. Therefore, Patel has launched a workshop on the day of the performance, where people are given a glimpse of the backstage. Before the first play of the fourth season in Delhi last Sunday—director Atul Kumar’s Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah, a stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 movie, The 39 Steps—a group of people spent half a day listening to a National School of Drama graduate and Patel herself talking about theatre and asking them questions. There was also a tour of the backstage area to see the set and lighting, and how all the theatre elements come together.
“It was exciting to be a part of theatre for one day,” says Nikita Jain, a management consultant, who attended the workshop. “The next time I see a play, I will be able to understand what is going on in the minds of the actors,” says Jain, who was attending such a workshop for the first time. Patel, who founded the Mumbai theatre company Rage with actor Rajit Kapur and director Rahul daCunha, also wants to “give the audience a little more” by giving them a participating role. “The idea is to make people realise that the impact of live entertainment is different than looking at the laptop,” says Patel, who was part of Aadyam’s first season with her play, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu, which was about urban angst in times of consumerism and economic meltdown.
Finding new audience
Patel’s selection of productions for the fourth season also reflects her intention to give more power to the audience. Hello Farmaaish, the second play to be performed in August-September in Mumbai and Delhi, is directed by Yuki Ellias, the winner of the best actor in a female role award at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards last year for her play Elephant in the Room. Ellias, who is known for her work in taking theatre to the poor neighbourhoods of Mumbai, went to villages in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh to research for Hello Farmaaish, the story of a group of village girls hijacking a radio station and beginning a broadcast about the space journey of Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla.
Five months ago, Ellias fulfiled a promise made to her maid Geeta that she would one day write a play and perform in her neighbourhood in Shatabdi Nagar, Dharavi, Mumbai. “We were only three actors and our entire set came in one bucket,” recalls Ellias. The play, Basti Mein Masti, by her theatre company Dur Se Brothers, told the story of two out-of-luck thieves carrying out a final heist who find halwa instead of the gold they were looking for. “We enjoyed theatre in a different way, performing for a new audience,” says Ellias. The play was preceded by a workshop with members of the audience, who also organised lights, speakers and microphones. “We did make-up in their homes and chatted after the play,” beams Ellias, who also took the play later to a juvenile home in Mumbai.
In choosing plays like Hello Farmaaish, Patel was looking for stories rooted in India. “It is an absolutely beautiful Indian story,” she talks of the next play in Aadyam’s fourth season. “We have selected distinct stories that spoke to a larger audience.”
Besides Hello Farmaaish and Detective Nau-Do-Gyarah, there are two more plays—with as yet unrevealed titles—by actor-director Saurabh Shukla, and Rahul daCunha and Nadir Khan to look forward to in the coming months.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer