The air-conditioner was turned off, the performance halted, the audience booted out. Sunday night's celebration of World Theatre Day felt more like closing time at a city pub than a tribute to the stage. So much for supporting the Arts. At Museum Theatre it looked like the arts had better fend for themselves after 9.30 p.m.
The city's World Theatre Day celebrations, organised by Stagefright Productions and Stray Factory, featured eight diverse theatre groups, each of which was given the freedom to stage whatever they wanted to, in a space of 15 minutes. Most exceeded the time limit, resulting in the event stretching three hours, till at 10 p.m. the last performance finally had to be halted, and the audience asked to leave.
Theatre Nisha, led by director V. Balakrishnan, chose a wrenching scene, backed by live singing and music, from their upcoming play “The Ramayana”. However, without the build-up and story, it bordered on melodramatic in parts. Jeffrey Vardon's Hot Shoe Dance Company came in with an advantage, since high-energy dancing always works in a potpourri such as this. Their styling was meticulous, though they were let down by a lack of co-ordination at first.
Their second performance, ‘Good Morning Baltimore' from “Hairspray”, on the other hand, was confident and glossy. Stray Factory featured a capoeira formation, drumming and a set of small sketches in the manner of short stories. An interesting, but haphazard, experiment. Freddy Koikaran's Stagefright put up a rom-com style, frothy play.
Michael Muthu's “Romeo and Juliet, the abbreviated version” showed promise, with quicksilver sword work and a clever mingling of the poetry of Shakespeare, with endearingly brash attitude. The talented lead actors, however, got a little carried away at the end, as they played Juliet and her nurse in drag, squeaking so painfully to disguise their baritones they sounded like a barrel of mice.
Amit Singh of ASAP's contribution was a slick and successful “Shakespeare in a quickie” listing the styles of kings, villains and murders in the Bard of Avon's works.
Theater Y was the dark horse of the evening. Considering how low-key they normally are, it was a pleasure to watch the young cast, led by Yog Japee, explode into a feisty and unpretentious performance of Hanuman dealing with corrupt customs in contemporary India.
The other surprise was MacTrics, a mime group discovered by the late Mithran Devanesan. With deadpan faces, covered in gold paint and lithe acrobatics they recreated everything from a beach scene to a church, using just their bodies. It's unfortunate they were stopped mid-performance, and they looked as disappointed as the audience.
Stagefright Productions and Stray Factory are to be congratulated for making the effort to put this production together. Very few people put their money where their mouth is.
However, an evening such as this should have been better rehearsed so everyone sticks to their stipulated time, and there are no indecisive pauses in between.
Additionally, although the organisers made a virtue out of not curating the evening, being that democratic doesn't work in practice. If they plan to make the event bigger next year, they need to work on the performance as a whole, so the evening's more cohesive, and the sketches resonate with the audience instead of leaving them cold.
Finally, we suggest they do more with their blog (http://worldtheatredaychennai.blog.com/). They can start by listing the actors, groups and upcoming performances, so that the ‘one night only' performance has more than just a one-night only impact.
Keywords: World Theatre Day