Theatre festival “Drama-log” brought to the fore the growing enthusiasm for newer genres in theatre. But then, concerns on the lack of growth in the segment linger
Chennai has long been criticised for its failure to provide contemporary forms of entertainment to its people. While classical forms of music and dance have maintained their grasp on the city, the support for theatre, film and “newer” genres of music has undeniably waxed and waned over the years.
In fact, the Chennai Global Music Festival proved that support for such genres of entertainment, while somewhat meagre, does exist — a theory that was more than backed at last weekend's college theatre festival “Drama-log”, organised and coordinated by Masquerade Youth Theatre and the Goethe-Institut/Max-Mueller Bhavan Chennai.
The curator of the festival Dushyanth Gunashekhar explains there has been a “sharp rise in interest in theatre in Chennai over the past one and a half years”, as an increasing number of younger people has started to seek a level of exposure to theatre on a par with cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore. “Drama-log”, one of a series of cultural events run by the Goethe-Institut in commemoration of 60 years of diplomacy between Germany and India, was aimed at cultivating this interest by providing up-and-coming actors and directors with a platform for participation and experience.
A list of 16 accomplished South Indian college theatre groups was culled to nine, and given the opportunity to create 20-minute performances centred on the commemorative theme “Human space, cultural space”.
In some aspects, the festival was not quite what the participants were accustomed to. Most of the participants I spoke to mentioned that its competitive and highly-structured format had forced them to break from their usual pattern of production.
Strict deadlines were set for each aspect of every performance — from cast lists to the final script and lighting cues, forcing the teams to practise creating professional performances that were a far cry from what Gunashekhar calls “patchwork productions”, done at the last second before performance.
The plays themselves were a mixed bag — ranging from the comfortably familiar to the bizarrely experimental. The winning team from MOP Vaishnav performed an original contemporary adaptation of “The Pied Piper”, representing the confusion and vulnerability of people, to Capitalism and Consumerism of the 21st Century, which both impressed and bewildered the audiences.
Many teams also pointed towards their home institutions as backbones of their success — MOP Vaishnav's Mrithula Arjun and Mansa Vasudevan believed they had their college to thank for prioritising their requirements by allowing them time off class to practise.
The members of Anna University's Theatron, however, stressed it was difficult to be taken seriously and succeed as a theatrical group at a university primarily known for its academics — but still managed to reap four awards, including Best Director and Best Lead Actor, at the competition.
At the awards ceremony, participants were given the chance to observe a panel discussion among P.C. Ramakrishna of The Madras Players, Krishna Kumar of Masquerade, Hans Kaushik, Nikhila Kesavan and T.M. Karthik on the evolution of theatre in Chennai.
Barriers to success
The panel members and the audience seemed to believe that the competition itself was testament to the growing enthusiasm for theatre in the city, which, as everyone was reminded, had waned after reaching a high in the 1960s and 1970s. The discussion eventually turned to the participants themselves who named lack of performance venues, sponsors and audiences genuinely interested in theatre as the biggest barriers to their potential success.
Regarding their future careers, most participants were not sure they would ever enter theatre professionally, reiterating the difficulty of succeeding in theatre in the city in its current climate. Many hoped they would continue to engage with theatre in an amateur capacity, but were only ultimately sure of one thing: that their theatrical experience would somehow influence them in whichever career they eventually chose — from creative writing and filmmaking to architecture and yes, even engineering.