The green room in Alliance Française is a friendly space. Even though it is my first audition in Chennai, I am not rattled, as my fellow contestants are also newbies. At the Short+Sweet South India auditions, I have come armed with a Chekovian monologue and a John Lennon song. I walk onto the stage to meet my panel of judges, comprising young and old directors. Once my act is over, they whistle and applaud, which leaves me on a high.
Once the auditions are over, I, along with other aspiring actors, head to Yusuf bhai’s shop to savour the lemon tea. Soon, our phones start buzzing. “You interested to work in my play?” I read the WhatsApp message. The directors, who are given our phone numbers, do not waste a second. They make sure they approach their favourite candidate before anyone else does.
This message boosts the confidence of even a beginner like me. That’s exactly the idea, says Rajiv Rajendra of The Blu Lotus Foundation, one of the organisers of the festival. The aim of the festival is to lower the entry barrier into theatre. “It is tough for those with day jobs to get into full-length productions. We want to bring in newer actors, artistes, audience, and build a theatre community.” The idea of the festival, consisting of 10-minute plays, was conceptualised by Australian theatre artiste Mark Cleary, who organised it for the first time in Sydney, in 2002. The venture, which was a hit, is now being held annually in seven different countries, across 30 cities, including Chennai.The city’s edition is one of the most vibrant ones. It all began in 2011, when Rajendra, involved in the Short+Sweet in Sydney, asked Cleary to visit Chennai, and connected him with Ranvir Shah, who heads Prakriti Foundation. Shah was only happy to collaborate with Rajendra.
Cleary was overwhelmed to see the response to the first edition. “The audience was whistling. He absolutely loved the energy!” recalls Rajendra. Every year, in May, the organisers call out for actors, directors and scripts. This year, there has been a hike in the number of script entries. “Seventy scripts have been short-listed out of 150. People register in the festival as individuals or under ITC (Independent Theatre Company) categories,” notes Meera Krishnan, the festival director. On days when the plays are staged, the backstage is even more happening than the stage. Both novices and established theatre groups rub shoulders with each other, says Shah. “Year after year, we see an improvement in the quality of writing. There is feedback at the end of every session. This is fertile ground for experimentation and camaraderie,” he says.
For many, Short+Sweet is the beginning of new friendships. Anantharaman Karthik, artistic director of Narjaya, recalls how he made friends for life through the festival. He made his directorial debut through Short+Sweet, and his plays won many hearts and prizes. That helped him garner actors for future productions. “People start wanting to work with you. They have more faith in you. I had to travel through the Short+Sweet route to become a director.” Also, the organisers provide you with technical and lighting support, which is a huge relief, says Karthik. “As theatre artistes, half of us are restricted from productions because of financial hurdles. Here, I don’t have to invest money, worry about sets or marketing. You get to experience the joy of creating.” V Balakrishnan of Theatre Nisha feels that it is the communion that is precious. “You have people representing many eras of theatre. Diverse ideas on theatre are disseminated. Short+Sweet has done a lot of good to the theatre community in Chennai.”