Theatre in Hyderabad’s monsoon calendar looks promising. There is relief among the artistes who are treading with caution as they gear up to perform live. Amid the excitement, fear of a third wave persists. It has been more than a year of pandemic-induced emotional and financial distress for the city’s theatre artistes and crew with no shows. A few production houses shifted online, showcasing plays, drama reading, solo acts, monologues, poetry recitations and streaming recorded plays.
There is a sense of deja vu among artistes Babli Yadav and Ratika Sant Keswani of Sutradhar as the duo get ready to present two solo acts Dushalla and Weekend at Nishumbita’s new cultural space on July 31 and August 1. The performances were planned for World Theatre Day in March but had to be cancelled a day before the event as a member tested COVID-19 positive. “It was love’s labour lost but now we are looking forward and hoping this one will be without hiccups,” says director Vinay Varma.
“Nothing beats the magic of performing live,” says 75-year-old Aveti Rammohan of Surabhi theatre. He and his team of 52 actors staged Mayabazaar, Bala Nagamma, Bhakta Prahalada and Srinivasa Kalyanam at Ravindra Bharathi in the second week of July. Performing with new mandates of wearing a mask (during rehearsals) , social distancing and frequent sanitisation of the auditorium, the septuagenarian says, “It has been a year and a half since we put on make-up for a live performance. We were pleasantly surprised at the 300-strong audience.”
Show goes on
KissaGo Theatre’s Generations a Hindi-English play staged on July 24 at the newly-launched Rangabhomi Spaces. It has been a dream-turned-nightmare for founder Jay Jha who appealed for crowdfunding to save the place. “We had taken huge loans to create Rangbhoomi and when there were no shows due to the second wave, we were in trouble.”
With increasing financial troubles, Jay wants to make the best out of a bad situation. “We thought about the third wave but did not know how much longer to wait. We want to follow protocols and carry on in the present situation,” The cultural space is playing host to live events including stand-up by Rajashekar Mamidanna, Rohit Swain and Vivek Murlidharan.
Phoenix Arena, the popular cultural space in Hitec city, is resonating with the sounds of a theatre workshop. Samahaara founder, Rathna Shekar Reddy, says two theatre workshops are on at Phoenix and their centre in Banjara Hills. The group intends to perform its three workshop productions, three Telugu plays in the first week of August. Rathna Shekhar says the onus is on the people to follow safety protocols. The workshops have started after the lockdown pause. “We take all precautions but cannot ensure they follow safety protocols after the workshop.”
The theatre director recalls how they had to constantly remind the audience to follow COVID-19 protocols in March when they staged a play at Phoneix Arena. “People were reluctant to follow the COVID-19 appropriate behaviour. Some kept their masks in their pockets and when we insisted, they felt offended.”
The groups are also ensuring the crew and artistes are vaccinated.
Nishumbita theatre group has a busy August with two productions — Telugu play Agnatha Yashasvi based on the life of scientist Dr Yellapragada Subba Row,(translated by Rammohan Holagundi from the English play The Famous Unknown —script by Singeetam Srinivasa Rao) and another production on Golkonda. “We have gone through so much in this one-and-a-half years, but life goes on,” says Rammohan. “There is pain but the junoon of theatre will never leave us and we have to move forward.”
While some theatre artistes gear up to present live performances, others such as Storyboard Productions want to wait and watch. The group made the best use of the digital space and staged seven virtual shows — two plays, poetry recitations, storytelling and dramatic play readings. Says Sandeep Tadi of the group, “This year taught us of other avenues and since we are into different aspects of live performance, we made good use of the virtual medium. We hope to make a web series too.”
Rathna Shekhar hopes if there is a third wave, it will not be as bad as the second wave. “We will see how things unfold and keep an eye on the numbers. If we have to stop, then we will do so.”
While hoping for the best, Vinay keeps his fingers crossed. “It is a mercurial virus that is constantly mutating. Instead of a rash planning, we have to wait and watch and do one thing at a time,” he says.