For those who have been regulars to dance and music events in the city for decades, the Government Museum Theatre holds a special place. The theatre at the museum with its old-world charm clearly stands apart from the posh auditoriums and aesthetically done-up ‘sabhas' that are fitted with sophisticated digital audio systems.
The colonial-style building carries a royal touch attracting earnest attention from performing artists for years.
Window panels with elaborate wood carvings and imperial curtains offer a distinct ambience to the theatre along with the crescent-shaped seating arrangement. Plush chairs and imposing stage settings with a few paintings at the corners round off the signature look of the theatre.
If sabhas are full of life with classical music performances during winter, the Museum Theatre lures an altogether different set of people round the year. Theatre performers, freelance dancers and singers head towards the theatre, for whom the place provides “just the right kind of ambience.”
Actors of Madras Players, a Chennai-based theatre group, say the hall has a theatre setting that makes performances more impressive.
“This is one of the best places for any performing arts. It is quite economical and set in a dramatic milieu,” said Gopi Nair, treasurer, Madras Players.
Many performers, however, find the age-old building inadequate to fit lights and audio systems. The present lighting arrangement is elementary and sophisticated equipment cannot be fitted in the building as its historic touch is meticulously conserved, they say.
“The shape of the building, which is its main attraction, is also the cause for the problem. You can't nail or temporarily fix wires because of its heritage status. We have to manage with the basic lighting and sound system,” says Sangeetha Isvaran, a freelance dancer, who performed a dance-drama at the theatre.
Mr. Nair also points to the difficulty in attracting sponsors for performances at the Museum Theatre, as there are restrictions in putting up posters and ad-boards in and around the museum building. “The procedure to get permission even to distribute notices is long-drawn. It discourages many as private spaces are easy to hire.”
Like in many halls, food and drink are not allowed inside the hall. But what puts off the audience and organisers alike is the absence of any eateries in the museum premises. Officials of the Government Museum say maintaining the place becomes a challenge when they compromise on rules. “We were allowing food inside until people began to litter the place. Maintenance becomes a major challenge,” explains T.S. Sridhar, Commissioner of Museums.
Veteran theatre personality P. C. Ramakrishna finds the Museum Theatre acoustically and visually pleasing. For someone who has been performing for nearly 50 years in the hall, the place is the State's heritage pride. “Despite being moderately priced, the hall, unfortunately, is not sponsor-friendly. This makes it unaffordable for many theatre groups to host performances as they have to solely depend on gate collection,” he says.
Mr. Sridhar, however, contends that patronage has been growing despite the museum's long list of rules. “In fact, the rate of patronage has seen a jump in recent times.”
Gopal Ragavendra, a theatre enthusiast and a regular to the hall, suggests that the audience amenities such as toilets could be refurbished and a cafeteria be set up.