Ministry of Culture announces Studio Theatre Scheme

Starved by the lack of space to call their own, small theatre and dance groups have been offered a lifeline by the new Studio Theatre Scheme of the Ministry of Culture.

The government will shell out up to 60 per cent of the project cost, rising up to Rs. 50 lakh in metro areas, to help build small, non-proscenium rehearsal-cum-performance spaces, which can accommodate 100 to 200 viewers.

The scheme was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his capacity as Culture Minister at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav festival of the National School of Drama.

“Resurrection of theatre activity urgently requires functional spaces that can develop as both rehearsal and performing spaces,” Dr. Singh said in his message.

“A year ago, I had spoken about the need for ‘Studio Theatre' or small and more intimate performing spaces as a long felt need of the theatre community. We have addressed this need with all seriousness… This will give a much needed helping hand to our artistes and allow them to concentrate on creative expression.”

Several leaders in the performing arts were delighted by the scheme. “There is a great deficit of rehearsal spaces, and professional spaces to view and work on our productions,” said Aditi Mangaldas, a Kathak dancer and founder of a dance company, The Drishtikon Dance Foundation.

If the seating was pushed back, a studio theatre could double as the much-needed rehearsal space, she said, pointing out that two of her dancers had suffered fractures due to practising in small enclosed spaces.

“For the past ten years, I have been trying to collect funds. We struggle so hard as dancers and choreographers,” she said, adding that many Indian dance companies were not invited to international dance festivals because they had no space to practice with adequate sound, light and stage effects.

K.S. Rajendran, a professor at the National School of Drama, who also runs the New Delhi Theatre Workshop, said the new scheme could help create a parallel drama movement. “It would be perfect for small audiences. If theatre groups can get a space of their own, it will improve the quality of their performances and take theatre out of the large formal auditoriums to more intimate settings,” he said.

It could also bring like-minded people together if several theatre groups clubbed up to build a theatre, he said. Sunil Vishnu of the Chennai-based Evam Entertainment theatre group agrees. “Chennai needs spaces like this and we have always wanted to be a part of the process of creating such a space. There have been discussions for the last five years, but it's a big investment,” he said. “This may be a strong enough incentive.”

Not everyone is happy though.

“The government is abandoning its responsibility to provide theatre infrastructure,” said actor and director M.K. Raina. “What is Rs. 80 lakh? What will it produce? They are doling out crony money to create art gallery theatre.”

The scheme offers a Culture Ministry grant up to Rs. 50 lakh in metro cities and Rs. 50 lakh elsewhere, if the beneficiaries contribute 40 per cent of the project cost. It enhances an existing scheme meant only for formal auditoria with an upper limit of Rs. 15 lakh.

Applicants can either purchase a built space or construct their own theatre with building plans and cost estimates approved by any registered architect. The grant also covers light and sound equipment and interior furnishing. Apart from registered societies and trusts, not-for-profit companies will be eligible for assistance under this scheme.

More In: National | News