It’s an old story. For classical dancers, musicians and theatre artists, the hunt for the performing space is a tough one. To find an auditorium that is intimate enough for live performance, yet well appointed in terms of technical requirements of light, sound, etc., with a stage to dance on with bare feet, conveniently enough located to draw audiences, and finally, affordable for the average aspiring artist or theatre group is, well, a tall order. Some of the most convenient ones belong to institutions where, even when non-members can book them, the schedule is full a year in advance. Some otherwise artist-friendly spaces have either a hard tiled floor, or wall-to-wall carpeting that impedes classical dance performances, or no greenroom facility, or panelled walls that intrude into the performance’s visual design. Others, owned by private organisations or temple trusts, impose hostel-like rules, such as not allowing any food into the greenroom (when no other place is available on the premises), or strictly limiting the number of invitations that can be sent out to the number of seats — never mind that experienced organisers will tell you the number of actual spectators usually turns out to be half the number of invitations dispatched. Then there are some known for ‘allowing’ music and dance concerts but not theatre, solo performances but not group…the list of dos and don’ts can become tedious. Finally, some of the best equipped halls of the city are beyond the reach of most artists, the cost of an evening’s rental soaring well beyond a middle level official’s monthly salary.
So what do artists do? Thankfully, there are other, non-commercial spaces across the NCR where arts activities are thriving. Among these is Akshara Theatre on Baba Kharak Singh Marg. Run by theatre veterans Gopal Sharman and Jalabala Vaidya, it is one of the most aesthetically and efficiently designed performance spaces in the Capital. Though originally built (almost literally by the multi-talented Sharman) in the ’70s and renovated to its present condition in 1998, the theatre has been opened out to young artists over the last two years, says Jalabala. The Akshara complex also includes an open-air theatre that seats 300 and a poetry performance space that seats 60, she adds. “We spoke to several young people and said, will you be partners with us,” relates Jalabala.
The result has been an increasing number of groups booking their space, so much so that they wonder how to fit in their own productions. “Gopal has made a great effort to make the theatre beautiful,” remarks Jalabala, pointing out that if live performance is ephemeral, it should be in beautiful circumstances to enhance the experience. Thus the entire premises is meant to offer inspiration. While the indoor theatre seats 96, with a possible of four extra seats, she says, “We put it to people that it’s smaller, but you can play for more days.” This approach allows artists to polish their performance and also for the word to spread. Artists pay minimal amounts to cover maintenance costs, and if they can, “a bit more.” Sometimes they offer more later, having earned some extra money. “It’s very heartwarming,” says Jalabala. “This is an artists’ theatre and totally different from any other.”
Bhoomika’s Narenjayan Studio on Vikas Marg offers its facilities on similar conditions. Earlier, says Tripura Kashyap, Bhoomika’s Projects Coordinator, a regular series of intimate performances was organised. “The problem was how to pay the artists,” she notes. Attempts to collect funds didn’t fructify, but “Right now the space is available if people want to use it as a first draft of their new production.”
The other well kept secret of the city is the home baithaks organised by individuals, or by cultural bodies like The Yoga And Art Group. One couple ran into trouble as the housing society rules termed their monthly baithaks “commercial activity.”
The battle for mind space continues.