The End of the Year is nostalgic time for most. We each chorus “Those were the Days my friends”.
I have been a theatre-regular – on stage and off – for decades. And a theatre event meant a “kissing the air” affair with almost all who attended. Often a wink, a smile, a joke, a line and delivery was targeted at a member of the audience that one recognized. And actors were mobbed back stage by friends and fans.
Today it is a lonely matter-of-fact life!!! The bonding is mostly amongst the group performing on stage….and perhaps on opening night when a few relatives and friends find it mandatory to attend.
I can claim to be an experienced hand at it. Vagina Monologues has been running for eight years. And what a change one has seen. We opened to a houseful of friends and skeptics at the Experimental theatre of the NCPA. Every show brought in more converts and a houseful of recognized faces and names.
This was repeated at the Prithvi in Juhu during the opening months. Tickets were sold out as soon as bookings were opened. The actors phones never stopped ringing and receiving sms from people who suddenly claimed special friendships. What a high we were on!
Suddenly we were performing in Fame Adlabs, Kandivli, Malad, Vashi, Multiplexes. The Houseful phenomena repeated itself even here – except now it was to a totally unrecognizable audience….no friends, no relatives, no film stars or famous page 3 regulars….just regular residents of the remote far flung suburbs whom we had never acknowledged as theatre enthusiasts.
But the response during the show and the applause at the end was still deafening.
And this is what “going professional” is all about. It is a job. An assignment. You arrive; get into make up; make your entrances and exits; take a bow; collect your pin money; and drive off in your four-wheelers.
I had often seen some of the greatest lead actors of the West End in London, Broadway in New York, and Opera House in Sydney, Australia, emerge from the stage door after the show, and drive off without any backstage hysteria.
And I suddenly felt like them. Except our daily pickings wouldn’t even pay for a long distance cab ride…. But would any of us change this for a five-star, six digit salaried job. I doubt it!!!
Chhat Puja, Ganesh Chathurti, Diwali, World Cup Football, Wimbledon Tennis, IPL and Test Cricket have often competed with theatre performances. Often one has heard of attendance being depleted. Shows are delayed due to traffic jams for those who dare to snarl through the crowds. But Vagina Monologues has defeated all impediments. The audience profile is so vast and varied, that come what may, we have been Houseful even in far flung suburbs. Our audience base is not just the English theatre professionals but every aspiring young adult -- male or female.
We have had a request from a 65-year-old Principal of a Marathi medium school to translate it into Marathi; an 80-year-old man who expressed his joy at witnessing the coming-of-age of the Indian woman; a young couple who asked to cut their engagement cake on stage after the show; women introducing their grandmothers and mothers to us on stage; sons bringing their parents and grandparents to meet us; doctors and gynaecologists who have confided that the play would solve sixty percent of their patients’ problems.
No more is theatre a preserve of the English-speaking elite with Queen’s English accents. It is not Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde or Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller that is bringing them in for ten to twelve shows but indigenous writing on indigenous themes by our own young writers that is changing the face of theatre, and spear-heading a movement beyond South Mumbai and traveling to all parts of the country spread over many years…and many have even touched foreign shores.
There was a time when air travel and airports and AC chair car travel was a bonding occasion. Today, it is a rarity to recognize a face or name. And theatre has happily joined those ranks.
May their tribe increase.