City theatre: Taking a bow or bowing out?

A cursory glance at the theatre scene in Bangalore shows that Kannada, English and the occasional translated play are being staged...but the vibrancy seems to be missing.

Looking at the schedules of various theatre venues in Bangalore, and there don’t seem to be too many venues where theatre is happening on a regular basis. Indeed, when I went to this link on ‘Bengaluru Theatre’, asking for theatre performance spaces,, I found the message, "This Category is currently empty"!

Chandrashekhar Kambar's

Chandrashekhar Kambar’s “Thukra’s Dream” – A play at Ranga Shankara (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

The most used space, of course, is Ranga Shankara, with its commitment to ‘a play a day’; a variety of theatre groups have been putting up shows this month. English, Kannada, Punjabi, and multilingual theatre is being held. The English plays include Love Letters by A R Gurney, put up by Rage from Mumbai; The Whale, by Concrete Temple Theatre from New York, The Suit, by The Company from Chandigarh, The Common Man, by Yours Truly Theatre, and The First Leaf, by Ranga Shankara itself, as part of its children’s theatre initiative, AHA!.

The Kannada plays include Bahumukhi by Ranga Shankara and Sanchaya, Bandawalvilada Badayi by Binding Wire Theatre, Mojina Seemeyache Ondooru by Natana, Ammavara Ganda by Vati Kutira, Mysooru Mallige by Kalagangotri, Arere Kuni Rama by Aneka, Swathantrada Ota and Jugari Cross by Samudaya, and Heegadre Hege? and Aadaddela Olithe? by Kriyative Theatre.

On July 30th, Rangakarmee presented a Bengali/Hindi play, Antaryatra, under the aegis of India Foundation for the Arts.

I spoke to Arundhati Nag, whose brainchild Ranga Shankara is, and the first thing that she had to say was that Ranga Shankara’s mission was affordable theatre. This is possibly the reason that so many theatre groups gravitate to Ranga Shankara, and put up their performances there.

Outside of Ranga Shankara

Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar. (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

Ranga Shankara’s initiative for children’s theatre, ‘AHA!’, is also very active, with their Gumma Banda Gumma having been staged extensively. Every July and August, in association with the Deccan Herald’s Newspapers In Education initiative, children from several schools are brought to Ranga Shankara and initiated into stagecraft; at the end of the eight weeks, they put up the play that they have rehearsed.

Apart from AHA!, Ranga Shankara also has the ‘Other Voices’ project, where small, delicate pieces are staged in a small space with just 25 members in the audience. I have watched 1, Madhav Baug by Chetan Datar, acted by Revathi, and The Stronger, by August Strindberg; the one I have missed is a piece by Rehan Engineer, featuring Jyoti Dogra and Rehaan himself.

Alliance Francaise does not seem to go in much for vernacular theatre; the last two performances have been Silence! The Court is in Session in English, translated from the Marathi play, by Version One Dot Oh (VODO) on August 1st and 3rd , and Workshop Productions’ performance of Harold Pinter’s Dumb Waiter, on the 2nd of August.

Outside of H N Kalakshetra

H N Kalakshetra (Pic: Deepa Mohan)

Venues such as H N Kalakshetra are not exclusively theatre spaces, and the last play held at the H N Kalakshetra was Bidee Nanu Devaragiraballe by Associated Amateur Artistes, on the 3rd of August. It was preceded by a feliciation for eminent Kannada theatre personalities such as Hiranniah, and Bhargavi Narayan by Ranga Sneha Balaga on the second.

Ranga Shankara
36/2, 8th Cross, J P Nagar 2nd Phase, Bangalore 560078
Tel: 080 26592777, 26494656

Alliance Française de Bangalore
No. 108, Thimmaiah Road, Vasanthnagar
Bangalore – 560052
Tel : 41231340, 41231344, 41231345, 41231346

195, 5th A Main, 6th Cross, Vijayanagar II Stage, Hampinagar

Ravindra Kalakshetra
Kannada Bhavan, J.C. Road, Bangalore 560002
Ph: 2222 1271, 2291 5388

Active Canvas
# 343, 10th A Main, 3rd Cross,10th A Main, 3rd Cross, 1st Block,Jayanagar, Bangalore 560011
Tel: 41609122

H N Kalakshetra
National College Building, 36th Cross, 2nd Main, 7th Block , Jaya Nagar , Bangalore- 560082
Tel: 26539239, 26549684

Gubbi Veeranna Kalakshetra
Opp National Market, Majestic

Chowdiah Memorial Hall
16th Cross, Malleshwaram
Vyalikaval, Bangalore, 560003
Tel: 23445810

Maya Gallery of Contemporary Art
# 59 Nandidurga Rd (Behind the Airtel office and Elements Restaurant), Bangalore
Tel: 988096631

Ravindra Kalakshetra opened recently after extensive renovation, and at their Nayana Hall, Yours Truly Theatre presented Sunday Brunch, an interactive performance, on July 27th. Since then, I am unable to find a listing for a play staged there.

Another theatre space in Vijayanagar is Saralaangana, which has been conducting a theatre course for children, conducted by Vijayanagar Bimba, every Saturday; Active Canvas in Jayanagar also runs a theatre course for children every Saturday. For adults, the Maya Gallery of Contemporary Art at Nandidurg Road in the Cantonment area, was the venue for a workshop by Arka Mukhopadhyay, the founder of Logos Theatre, on August 8th.

Apart from these are the one-off performances at various venues, the Gubbi Veeranna Kalakshetra, in the Majestic area, staged Sampathgintha Mangalya Doddadu; the Renegade Amateur Theatre Society, at the Centre for Film and Drama at Miller’s Road, staged Bang Bang You’re Dead; and the ITC Windsor Hotel, on the Golf Course Road, had a supper theatre performance of Love In A Tub, by the Reputed Theatre Company from Delhi, on August 2nd.

Both Girish Karnad and Lillette Dubey, when contacted just prior to their staging of the former’s play The Wedding Album at Chowdiah Memorial, felt that the theatre scene was not really very vibrant just now. Lillette feels that smaller theatre spaces make stage performances economically unviable, and stands by her formula of large productions and many shows. Girish feels that with all the encouragement Ranga Shankara provides, there is still not enough response, as the exigencies of work and life take their toll on people’s leisure activities.

Pawan Kumar, who staged his plays The Woman In Me and The Final Rehearsal at Ranga Shankara recently, feels that affordability is a major stumbling block. "If one has to hire a hall, and then pay extra for the chairs, the lights, and the sound system, how on earth are we even to clear expenses?" he queries. "Theatre is not dying, we are killing it!" he says. If the government allocates such low funds to theatre, what chance do struggling theatre groups have? He says that several playwrights and artistes are trying to form a theatre society, but things are moving slowly.

Perhaps, to a theatregoer living near Ranga Shankara, t
he theatre scene seems alive, with a choice of plays to watch, but the overall scene across Bangalore seems to be rather less than vibrant and cheerful.

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