The Corona Effect

On stage: A performance of META-nominated play, Every Brilliant Thing

On stage: A performance of META-nominated play, Every Brilliant Thing  

No thanks to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, a pall has been cast on mass gatherings of all kinds, at least for another fortnight, and theatre fixtures have been no exception however niche the audiences they cater to might be. Some groups and organisations have been quick to take proactive measures at the very outset while others are in wait-and-watch mode. The response to the pandemic has been industry-wide in the United States and the United Kingdom but in India, where theatre isn’t quite an organised sector, decisions to cease and desist are made separately and individually.

Timely decisions

Earlier this week, the organisers of the 15th edition of the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META) announced that the festival, slated to take off last evening in New Delhi, had been postponed. The festival typically brings together theatre troupes from all over the country and this year’s line-up included plays from Kerala, Maharashtra, Assam and Karnataka. Often, META-nominated theatre productions involve large crews of actors and technicians, and the festival provides for air and train travel, and local accommodation in Delhi, as well as arranging venues like the Kamani Auditorium and the Sriram Centre where the performances are staged, attracting sizeable turnouts of theatre-lovers. Given the logistical minefield this presents each year, the organisers (Teamwork Arts) have done well to heed government advisories and push the festival to a later date, no doubt at great cost to their exchequer. Teamwork’s Suraj Dhingra, in a personal message to delegates, wrote, “We were all ready and excited to present the festival this month and this has been a difficult decision. However, given the serious health concerns, the safety of our audiences and artistes remain our top priority.”

Similarly, the Akhil Bharatiya Natyaparishad announced yesterday, via a widely circulated official communiqué, that this year’s Marathi Natya Sammelan has been postponed. This was to be the 100th edition of the conference, presided over by Dr Jabbar Patel, and was to be flagged off at Thanjavur on March 25, before a gala celebration at Sangli — the site of the very first Marathi theatre performance in 1843 — on March 27, a date celebrated worldwide as World Theatre Day. Theatre events, under the aegis of the Sammelan, were programmed into an itinerary that would’ve extended till June 14, at locations as far-flung as Kolhapur, Raigad, Nanded, Solapur, Ahmednagar, Latur, Kalyan, Nashik, Baramati, Vidarbha and Mumbai (where the grand finale was to be held). This is a 12-week calendar that has been placed in jeopardy by the spread of the coronavirus, but in the long run, these preemptive measures might substantively help to contain an outbreak with the potential of much more far-reaching consequences than what we could possibly anticipate at this point.

Broadway goes quiet

In Manhattan, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on March 12 that Broadway venues could remain open but must operate at 50% of their regular audience capacity. Minutes later, as CNN reports, The Broadway League, a national trade association, declared that all shows on Broadway would be suspended with immediate effect through April 12. “Our top priority has been and will continue to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatregoers and the thousands of people who work in the theatre industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers, and many other dedicated professionals," said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League. The slew of announcements came a day after an usher who had worked on recent preview performances of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the musical Six, tested positive for coronavirus. The person in question has been placed in quarantine, and the venues ‘deep-cleaned’. Six, which had been running previews since mid-February, was slated to open on March 12. The Albee play, top-lined by Rupert Everett and Russell Tovey, was to open on April 9. Before the suspension, popular Broadway shows were already experiencing a slide in attendance, in part due to a slump in international tourism.

In London’s West End, theatres have been advised a series of precautionary measures like limiting stage-door appearances and prohibiting backstage guests, according to The Stage. High-profile productions like Andrew Lloyd Weber’s next musical have been postponed, and actors have lost jobs. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama re-opened earlier this week after a closure prompted by a teacher testing positive. The fallout continues as new cases and new precautions are announced everyday, which is likely to be the case in India over the coming weeks.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:16:08 PM |

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