The world stage may be temporarily shut down but for a people-centric industry like theatre suffering under isolation, virtual venues are fast becoming the new normal. Despite the pandemic-related restrictions, theatrical intimacy was experienced. It was done recently, with a unique collaboration of live performance and online video communication courtesy of Natyadarpan’s Prism, a festival of monologues.
The multigenerational acts brought together a diverse group of artists. It created an initiative that crossed linguistic barriers and national boundaries on a virtual stage, using Zoom as their platform. The viewers, on their part, were grateful that live theatre was again a part of their entertainment options.
“We called it a ‘festival’ as it was a celebration of art, specifically drama,” said Mukund Deshpande. He was responsible for managing the intricacies of the show as co-director along with Mandar Vaidya OAM.
“The challenges of our virtual stage were such that we required an entirely different skillset,” claimed Mukund.
“With this pilot project we learnt a lot about integration of sound with background, we experimented with voice modulation, we toyed with technology and overcame many hurdles in our attempt to keep it seamless,” he explained.
Mandar agreed that the list of requirements was long and demanding.
“We had a large checklist to tick off before each online rehearsal,” added Mandar. Testing the bandwidth, maintaining distance from the camera, ensuring the best angles, clearing storage and memory in laptops, sound quality, and voice projections were just the start, according to him.
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On the flip side, it was an experiment that engaged the artist community, virtually, over the gruelling months of isolation and social distancing. “It was a great way to exchange energies, ideas, notes and talent and many found it uplifting amidst the gloom and doom caused by the pandemic,” said Mandar.
Sudhir Chaurasia, one of the performers in the monologue titled Safar shared his joy at being part of a community that bonded over their common passion for art. “This gave us the opportunity to escape and explore a different wonderful world, unlike the one we have been stuck in since restrictions. In our developmental stage we are eager to receive feedback in any form whether it’s a laugh or cry or emoji,” he said with a smile.
Sudhir’s script revolved around the migrant journey through different time zones spanning an eternal juggle to balance work, home and commitments with some relief from his trusted Johnnie Walker.
Viewers immersed themselves in the virtual experience of Prism festival. A landscape of emotions was enacted skilfully by Rabia Shahid, Seema Gupta, Nandani Singhal, Anjali Lele, Poulomi Deshpande, Sanya Bhandaari, Ananika Shrivastava, Vivek Pande, Mansi Shah, Rushi Shah and Vipin Gaindhar.
Seasoned writer Vipin Gaindhar, who scripted the short comedy play Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai as part of the Prism Festival, agreed with Sudhir that it was a wonderful opportunity to sustain creativity.
Vipin felt that the online rehearsals and creative sessions leading up to the show were as enjoyable as the final live performance that was presented to a sold-out audience worldwide.
While nothing can replicate the adrenalin rush that comes from a live audience and its reactions, the opinion was unanimous about online theatres and front-seat viewing from living rooms becoming the new norm post-COVID.
Saurabh Mishra, the playwright of Sadras Café, one of the first few Zoom comedy plays in COVID times, feels this is the best option to go places without the need to travel anywhere. “We can collaborate globally and create connectivity between the audience and the artist,” he said optimistically.
According to him, Zoom theatre helps people to cope better with current lockdowns and the Internet has opened up a lifeline, allowing performing arts to continue to thrive.
“I have realised that people need more rather than less at this time,” he concluded.
Both Sadras Café and Prism Festival were promoted through social media and Facebook for a nominal ticket cost and all the proceeds were donated to the Alfred Hospital for COVID research and purchase of medical equipment.