A play live from Stratford-upon-Avon

Bombay Theatre Company’s latest offering is a play performed from England via Instagram

Updated - July 09, 2021 05:57 pm IST

Published - July 02, 2021 12:52 pm IST

The actors rehearsing on Zoom

The actors rehearsing on Zoom

Three friends gather in a home at Stratford-upon-Avon in England for a quiz night as an audience scattered around the globe watch on Instagram, in real time, from their couches. This is what international theatre looks like in a pandemic world. As screens take over, actors, directors and playwrights from all over the world are experimenting with new formats — from plays performed through Minecraft to live shows on WhatsApp groups — and Mumbai-based Bombay Theatre Company (launched in 2019) is no different. Their latest offering, Quiz Night , features actors located in the UK, directed remotely from India, performing live through Instagram for audiences worldwide. The 15-minute play, with a very British premise, follows a physical quiz night where the friends gather for the first time after the lockdowns are eased in the UK. The reunion lays bare an elephant in the room, which was hidden behind the rush of life all along.

If split screens and remote performances from multiple cities were the rage until recently, Quiz Night adopts a different approach: partly because the actors could come together in one place. Raveesh Jaiswal, director of this show and founder of Bombay Theatre Company, blocked the play over Zoom from Mumbai. “All the virtual international plays we have done in India, are two-actor or three-actor plays, with the cast based in their respective burrows and houses. Whereas, this play will happen in the living room of a country house in England,” explains Jaiswal, who along with cast members Hannah McBride, Stacey Warner and writer Joshua Gallagher, devised a strategy that would work for the story as well.

“It’s an out-and-out British play. I frankly didn’t want to change or ‘Indianise’ anything,” he says, adding that the script by Joshua captured the bleak times in a light-hearted manner. “It is based on a real activity [online quizzes] that was happening in England a lot during the pandemic.” But he feels the premise would be relatable to the Indian audience, since we had our own ways of coping with being cooped up at home.

This is not the first time Bombay Theatre Company is collaborating with international talent for virtual shows. Last year, they had worked with New York-based actors and directors for live virtual productions and have done 22 Instagram plays till date since 2020. Jaiswal had always wanted to go international with Bombay Theatre Company and sees these virtual collaborations as the first step. “I am very systematic with my approach. Once the actors come together, I leverage Zoom. So we connect there and do play readings. We then get into characterisation. Post that, I also block the scenes on Zoom,” he says. Rehearsals are done through proxy Instagram accounts meant solely for this purpose. When the cast goes live with the rehearsals, Jaiswal gives feedback through the comments section. The process also involved detailed starter mails on how to operate the platform and navigate its pitfalls.

The fact that live plays on social media at least attracts a live audience, makes them closer to theatre, than a recorded performance where actors perform to an empty theatre. “One of the actors that I worked with told me that he felt butterflies in his stomach... the same way you feel on stage,” says Jaiswal. Instant gratification and the push to keep at the performance, remain the same, because a responsive audience is present.

The play will be performed on July 3 at 7.30 pm (IST) on Instagram @bombay_theatre_company

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