UNUSUAL PERFORMANCE SPACES
In all my years in theatre, the most unique experience till three weeks ago was having performed Harold Pinter’s ‘THE BIRTHDAY PARTY’ directed by Alyque Padamsee in the large drawing room of Kulsum Terrace the Padamsee ancestral home in Walton Road.in 1972.. the eight doors leading in and out for entrances and exits lent themselves sinisterly to the setting of the play…and the 75-seating in two rows of chairs placed along the walls brought in the psychological claustrophobic closed in atmosphere none could escape from.
Those were days of a disused lift. And every member of the audience trudged up four flights of stairs to 25 houseful shows….only concession being Kulsumbai allowed us to place a chair on the second floor to rest and catch your breath for the less physically fit.
In those days theatre was an intimate activity patronized mostly by friends and family. One recognized every member of the audience. And if there was a strange face, there was much askance.
Now, it is not usual to have plays running for years and celebrating over a hundred shows…in some cases breaking records of a 100 shows within one calendar year.
Eve Ensler’s ‘VAGINA MONOLOGUES’ produced by Poor Box Productions is now in its ninth year and completed over 260 shows in hotels, gardens, malls, multiplexes, theatres in Goa, Pune, Bhubhaneshwar, Hyderabad, Kolkatta, Delhi, and even Sri Lanka…sadly Chennai, Jaipur, and Lucknow have shunned us.
And now the same cast doubles up for the Hindi and English presentation with consummate ease.
Since July 2010, we have become a monthly feature at the Comedy Store at the Palladium in Phoenix Mills. Audiences queue up laden with shopping bags and a glass of wine, and respond enthusiastically sometimes prolonging the play from the 75 minutes duration to an 85-miniute one!!!!
But the most unusual experience was performing The Vagina Monologues in the boat M V AVIOR anchored on the high seas opposite the Taj for some 80 doctors from fifteen countries -- including Norway, Japan, Korea, China, Turkey, Germany -- who had come to Mumbai to attend the Convention of the Academy of Neurosurgeons of Europe and Asia.
Our host, Dr. Keki Turel of Bombay Hospital -- who was the President of the Convention -- said many reported that India was even bolder than Germany!!! This was a conference with a difference where neurology included humanities and the arts.
Our excitement began when we were told to come in full make up as there would be no facilities on the boat…what a misconception that was!!! Because the AVIOR was a three double-bedroom boat with large dining and lounge on three floors and a terrace deck where we performed. Being a regular at the Taj washroom, I quickly transformed from plain jane to painted performer and waited on Slip 5 to board the six-seater yacht that would take us to the AVIOR. Many nervous squeals and apprehensions later -- about costumes-getting-sprayed-in-an-open motor boat, and salted hair and lips, we enjoyed the 20-minute skip over turbulent waves to clamber up the MV AVIOR almost chorusing Land Ahoy being on what we thought would be larger firmer ground.
Being on the boat and taking our positions on the raised platform for lights and sound test, we suddenly realized that the strong wind tossed us around even more, and the almost gale for us would carry away our script cards which are a part of the monologues tradition. The mikes amplified the sound of wind, and we had to compete with that while giving our sound tests.
But miraculously the tide changed and when we started the play at 8.30, the sea calmed as if straining to catch every monologue. Minutes earlier we were all clutching at our shawls and sweaters. It was late January when temperatures had dipped even in Mumbai. But come show time even the temperature mellowed. And we played to rapt attention lulled into calm by the gentle swaying of the boat.
And as if on queue, a holiday-revellers dhow blaring appropriate Hindi film music at 9.30 pm circled our ‘stage’ and disappeared into the night. The actors were a little disconcerted by this unexpected intrusion – but not the international audience who were straining to catch the strange accents albeit in English, and were unphased by the images conjured up for us by Munni Badnaam Hui as Rasika Duggal produced those moans in her monologue ...Who liked to make other women happy”.And happiness and applause was expressed in international customary appreciation when we took our bows!!!