In the wake of Covid-19, lack of funds and fewer audiences, theatre artists have switched to confined and experimental spaces in Delhi’s suburbs and smaller cities, leaving the Mandi House area — the national capital’s hub for performing art students and actors — with a deserted look.
“The theatre groups which earlier used to perform at Mandi House have now moved to residential areas like Laxmi Nagar, Mayur Vihar to perform. These places used to be our rehearsing spaces earlier but now since some theatres are not taking up shows and others have increased their booking rates, we are compelled to move to such places,” Harshvardhan Chaturvedi — an actor best known for his performance in the play ‘Ek Aur Dronacharya’ and ‘Bloody Bombay’ shared with IANS.
Akashara Theatre is the only prominent name amongst the newer substitutes.
There might be any sector that has not been hit by the pandemic and Delhi’s theatre community is one of them. “Our community has people from all castes, classes, religions and regions in India. However post-pandemic-induced-lockdown, many were forced to leave for their hometowns to help their families and themselves. Others, who did not, switched to some other occupation. And those who had somehow managed to survive the first lockdown broke down after the second wave. However, our plight still remains to be heard,” he added.
Just as all the public spaces in the city started opening up after the devastating second wave of Covid-19, the Delhi government had issued orders allowing cinemas, theatres, multiplexes to reopen with 50 per cent capacity from July 26 onwards.
“This 50 per cent bar had further given rise to another set of problems as some theatres despite having all the resources had refused to take bookings for they were sceptical of being able to cover their expenses with just half the percentage of audience,” a theatre administrator told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
However, Shobha Deepak Singh — Director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra said that they could book Kamani Auditorium, but there weren’t enough shows to begin with.
Meanwhile, Sri Ram Centre for Performing Arts has increased its booking rates by almost Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. “This has further rendered the community, especially those with a limited budget, helpless,” Saif Ansari — an actor and producer, best known for his adaptation of William Shakespeare in Hamlet, shared, adding that SRCPA is an autonomous body and is therefore not accountable to anyone.
“Due to all of these reasons, we are now performing in smaller cities like Lucknow, Kanpur, Bareilly in Jaipur,” Harshvardhan added.
Saif said although they have come up with new places, audiences do not appear in large numbers, “First of all these are lesser-known spaces in suburbs. Secondly, they are confined so people are sceptical of sitting closer due to Covid-19.”
The number of audiences has reduced from pre-Covid times of 500 to a mere 60-70.
“Cinema has moved to OTT platforms but we cannot rely entirely on that as well because of lack of funds, thereby, the equipment due to which it will be next to impossible to stream the live show,” he said.
Shobha Deepak Singh — Director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra shared similar woes. “The community at large is doing very badly as there is no money left. There are salary cuts,” she said, adding, “In the middle of all this, we try to take back people as per requirements hoping that something would happen.”
“There is no help from even the government on this front,” Singh added.