Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Busy, busy bee

My appalling neglect of my blog recently has, you will be happy to know, actually quite a decent excuse behind it: I have been busy developing a social life. Of course, me being me, I don't do this the easy way (find a friend of a friend, meet up for a coffee) - I do it the way that effectively involves taking on a second, pretty demanding, job for two weeks. I've just finished being stage manager for most of Delhi's Short & Sweet festival, a celebration of short theatre (10 minute plays) that had a week's run at the Epicentre in Gurgaon and a week at the India Habitat Centre.

Theatre types are much the same everywhere: expansive, fun, creative, at times highly exasperating, but always stimulating and never forgettable. I've been involved in theatre one way or another since university, but particularly since 2005 when I moved to Holland having already manged to land myself a plum role as "Villager Number One" in the local panto. Since then I've been to (and dropped out of) drama school, appeared in any number of plays of varying intellectual pedigree, and when not on stage have made myself variously useful as director, props manager, front of house manager and general dogsbody (basically, anything that doesn't require me to know how to make any machinery do clever things, which is not my bag).

So it was a bit disappointing on moving to Delhi to learn that this is not a theatrical city. Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai - all are known  for their thriving performing arts scenes. But Delhi, I was told, was a city of bureaucrats and shopkeepers: a city where audiences chat on their mobile phones during performances and a curtain call is a decision you make when redecorating the living room. After my failed attempt to find a theatrical performance shortly after moving here I had almost given up on getting the chance to indulge my thespian side. So it was very exciting for me to spot a poster for the festival, asking for scripts, actors and directors to step forward. I may have got a little carried away, because next thing I knew I was volunteering not only to direct the script I entered, but to manage things backstage too.

Stage managing is exhausting. Particularly when you are coordinating not just one cast, but eleven in a single evening. With eleven different sets to be organised, and changeovers between the shows to be achieved in 30 seconds or less (which, apart from the first night, I think we pretty much hit). The stage management team was at every tech, faithfully marking the stage to ensure we placed all the sets correctly on performance night, and only moaning a little bit when we got to the theatre the following night to find the cleaners had helpfully removed all the little bits of tape. And while the actors only had ten minutes of performance to worry about, we were on for the entire night, shuffling furniture around and occasionally hissing at an over-excited actor in the wings to shut up.

Not that I'm complaining. As is generally the case when doing theatre, I met some really amazing people and got a huge buzz from being part of a collective creative endeavour. It's so good to be back doing something I love and to have met people who want to follow up with more projects (though I'm hoping the next one is a bit less all-consuming of my spare time).

And I got to direct too, which I have to admit was probably biting off, if not more than I could chew, then at least more than was easily digestible. But working with talented actors on my own script was just immensely rewarding (though the script itself may have been a little off-the-wall for Indian tastes - which I've noted for next year's effort).

Here are two of my brilliant cast, Vidushi and Akshay, mid-performance. I'm particularly proud that I managed to put two very attractive people on stage in utterly revolting clothes (integral, you understand, to the plot). Friends from uni may possibly recognise Akshay's tank top, which I have kept hold of since the 70s party in freshers' week in the firm conviction that one day I would be able to use it in a play. Vindicated!

So how does theatre in Delhi compare to London? Well, I have to admit I quickly realised how spoiled I have been by London's sheer variety of venues, technical capacity, and diverse theatrical scene. Our venues were conference centres rather than "proper" theatres, and while India has a wealth of performing arts to offer, Delhi theatre lacks the richness and variety of a multicultural place like London (though the festival itself was extremely diverse, ranging from minimalistic, dialogue-driven dramas to expressive pieces making more use of music and movement than words). But in terms of the dedication and the passion for theatre shown by those who worked to put on the show, Delhi is right up there. And there's something special about putting on theatre in a city where it's still something of a rarity. It was a privilege to be involved. Here's to the next one.

1 comment:

Sonya said...

Nice work dear! So when do I get to see/hear a recording of your play...? Reading this has reminded us of our aborted effort to stage The Government Inspector in sixth form (Rachel and I were Bobsky and Dobsky, I believe). xx