A curtain raiser


Anand   | Photo Credit: Photography: MohanDas Vadakara

The gloss has worn off fancy corporate careers as many young people replace the stress and monotony of their jobs with the excitement of theatre

Crazy night shifts, scary deadlines and unmitigated monotony... these are some of the reasons why many corporates are migrating from the world of computers and codes to one filled with light and sound. While few straddle both the worlds — corporate and theatre — with ease, others move full-time on to the stage. But both agree that theatre gives them a high.

Dharani Dharan shudders as he remembers his time in the corporate world. The pay was good, he wore branded clothes and his mother was proud of him. “Only I knew I was bleeding inside,” he says. “You are just one among the herd there.” He got his placement during a corporate job fair that sold jobs and dreams. “You are this small-town boy who fantasises about the American way of life. Only later do you realise that people manipulate you.”

Theatre saved his life, says Dharani, who now runs a theatre company called Uruveli in Coimbatore. He wears a veshti and shirt, much to his mother’s displeasure. “I can see the sun and the moon clearly now. I am in the process of becoming an artiste. I feel happy again.”

Mansi Agarwal, another Coimbatore-based theatreperson, says corporate life had swallowed her up.“I married early and had to contribute financially to my family. I got into corporate work because it was lucrative, but my personal life was destroyed.” The stress almost led to a breakdown.

That’s when she shifted to Coimbatore from Mumbai and bid farewell to the 10-year corporate job. She joined the Helen O’ Grady team as a Master Trainer. “I am breathing again. Money does not matter if you cannot enjoy it.”

Chennai-based Vinodhini Vaidynathan also chucked a job with a chemical and engineering conglomerate to train in acting at Koothu-P-Pattarai and Theatre Nisha. She has been involved in theatre for the last 13 years. “Anything that uses capitalism as its main stay, stresses you out. When you act, you become someone else. That is therapeutic.” Many people who saw theatre as a stepping stone to films have returned to the stage. Anand Sami, who acted in films such as Lens and Passenger, says theatre is more open. “Everyone knows what the script is all about. In cinema, if you have a small role, the director does not think it is important for you to know the entire script. In a smaller theatre group, there is also a sense of unity.”

Anand quit his corporate work after job hopping between around 10 companies in three years. He recalls what a struggle it was to talk to his client. It was a relief when he joined Chennai-based Perch theatre group. “We would speak in regional languages. We could switch to the language we were comfortable with. English was just used as a means of communication.”

Theatre does not pay well, warns Vinodhini. “It is always better to have another profession in hand. Then you do it for sheer passion and won’t be pressurised for money, and that will be easy on the the production company as well. At times, the full-timers tend to take their work for granted, but part-time professionals amaze you by putting their heart and soul into a production. For them, these hours in theatre are precious because they are doing a mundane job at other times.”

Rajiv Krishnan of Perch echoes Vinodhini when he says, “One has to negotiate the slippery slope of finance in theatre. We pay our actors whenever we take up a project. Unlike Europe, here there is no government subsidy. We get just about enough to sustain ourselves.”

“Each has its own path,” says Bengaluru-based Vikram Sridhar, who also explores story telling through theatre. In his city, a new group of youngsters in their 20s comes to watch plays, he says. “There is an increased audience space. The corporates-turned-theatre practitioners are able to win a young audience. That is good to see, especially when people keep saying ‘theatre is dead’.”

Hemalatha Swaminathan, a theatre person and a creative art therapist, conducts regular workshops in corporate spaces.

“Any job that curbs creativity tends to be monotonous. I think that’s why people take the extreme step of quitting their jobs. But if they introduced once-a-week workshops, stress levels reduce. Theatre also lends beautifully to the concepts of team bonding and leadership in a fun and interesting way.”

The corporate world too is waking up to this trend and employees are being encouraged to attend theatre workshops as a stress buster.

But V. Balakrishnan (Bala), of Theatre Nisha, has his reservations. “Theatre is not some kind of medicine. There is a certain snob appeal. The manager in the upper echelon tells their employees to dabble in theatre games that are like parlour games, sold under the name of theatre workshop. There is no long-term benefit.”

Balakrishnan feels some have also changed the way theatre has been consumed. He feels people are more interested in filling the hall and are thereby compromising on the quality of theatre. “It gets advertised in cinema halls, tickets are offered at major discount rates and content is being changed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The quality falls to the level of television serials. Theatre is being sold more than being done.”

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 9:07:05 AM |

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