Joy Michael, recipient of this year's Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for theatre, on a journey of love.

There would have been no Yatrik if there was no Joy. The 47-year-old bilingual theatre repertory — one of the oldest theatre groups in the Capital — owes its existence to the unflagging spirit of Joy Michael, which kept it going until the going became good. Joy headed the repertory for 40 long years before passing on the baton to Sabina Mehta Jaitley.

As of now, Prakash Bhatia is leading Yatrik which has to its credit productions like Badal Sircar's “Evam Inderjit”, Ibsen's “Hedda Gabler”, Gorky 's “Lower Depths”, “Azar-ka-Khwab”, Begum Qudsia Zaidi's Urdu translation of G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion. Acknowledging her commitment and contribution to theatre, the Sangeet Natak Akademi bestowed on her the prestigious SNA award 2009 for her work in the field. Excerpts from an interview:

On how it all began

I was heavily involved in theatre right from my college days. I was the first woman secretary of the Shakespeare Society at St. Stephen's and continue to be involved in theatre activities there. Rati Bartholomew, Kusum Haider, Sneih Dass, Sushma Seth, Nigam Prakash and Roshan Seth were among the first members. We were travelling with our first production “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”, which was written by American playwright Robert Sherwood and directed by Tom Noonan. So, in the train, I suggested that since we have already gained so much experience, we shouldn't let this opportunity go waste. Prakash Nigam came up with the name ‘Yatrik'. It was the first theatre group to pay a monthly salary to full-time actor. The famous film and TV actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda was its first paid employee who was given a remuneration of Rs.250 per month.

The hiccups

For quite some time, I was in the U.S. lecturing on Indian drama in various universities there. I returned in 1973 to find the theatre group had collapsed. Marcus Murch, Barry John and Kulbhushan had been asked to leave. The ensemble was the resident company of the Indian National Theatre which is now known as The Shri Ram Centre. I slowly revived Yatrik. There were times when we didn't have space to do rehearsals. Max Mueller Bhawan lent us their premises. We used to have our workshops there and called ourselves “The Rooftop Theatre”.

On theatre in education at its core

I remember doing a play with school students on drugs. The students wrote the play, penned their own dialogues and staged it for their parents. My drama taught them to learn to express themselves, to be inquisitive and to be imaginative. It is theatre that can make people lose themselves and learn to be in a team. I had organised a number of workshops in creative drama and speech for teachers and students of reputed schools like Welham Girls' School in Dehra Dun. As a group, we have always tried to promote theatre in education by holding workshops in schools and colleges and staging performances in educational institutions. Even during my tenure as the Principal of Delhi's St. Thomas School, I directed and produced several plays for the students.