ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Institutional Spaces
Duration: 02:14:50; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 17.599; Saturation: 0.151; Lightness: 0.347; Volume: 0.253; Cuts per Minute: 0.267; Words per Minute: 50.958
The 2nd national seminar held by the India Theatre Forum
intended to address the overall theme of "Spaces of Theatre, Spaces for Theatre" in a wider and holistic manner. It was held between 14 to 18 March 2012 in Ninasam, an extremely special theatre space in Heggodu village of Karnataka which has served as a community centre for over 50 years. The seminar intended to cover a gamut of related topics ranging from the relationship of performing "bodies" to space, to the actual physical spaces of performance, to the politics of the spaces in society , to the new virtual spaces opening up and to the future of Spaces. In other words, the seminar built on the understanding that the act of theatre is always more than simply an act of theatre. To think of theatre and its processes is, ipso facto, to think of its temporal and spatial specificities. However, the main approach of the seminar was not to develop an academic theory of the spaces of/for theatre but to sketch the contours of a "spaciology" of theatre as perceived by its practitioners.
I am going to present in a few minutes the names. As Romi said in the beginning, it is all about search for solutions. I don't think we are going to find any solutions today, but we are going to present different attempts. It is very easy to be arrogant but I think that none of the panelists will use this opportunity to present his experience as the only possible model. And although presenting these new models as what in the west we would say today, best practices, it used to be twenty years ago, just like good examples. We will not pretend that those practices are walls. Each cultural organisation should differ from another as it is raised in different contexts, different communities, even different people. That is the basic crucial difference between cultural management from business management. You can transfer production of Nike anywhere in the world, Indonesia, the United States, Norway, and the Nike or Reebok are going to be the same. But theatre is very difficult to transfer unless you transfer the whole troupe or people, you cannot transfer the institution or the idea just like that.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Why then are we going to speak about institutional spaces? Beacuse it is obvious for me from the beginning of this seminar that even the word 'institution' raised very controversial and antagonistic feelings as well as the word 'manager'. For example, Rustom Bharucha was very clear about it that we are very managerial in our approach. Some speakers were mentioning lack of certain types of institutions. So that meant for me that they think positively about needs of institutions. But some speakers said that they fear India Theatre Forum is going to soon become institution, become very routine-bound in their daily activities. We had many conflicting, contradictory demands at the same time. So we need not only institutional spaces, we need institutional system. In England they would say we need a ? in theatre which starts with a good production. In France they call it circuit culturelle but they put emphasis on the author as the starting point of this circuit. We in Serbia use another word which is called socio-cultural cycles and we start with the need, the need of the people to become theatre practitioners, the need of the people to enjoy theatre. So if you start with the need, then the next element in this value chain is education. Not only production. That is the reason that today we're presenting these three experiences. We are going to focus in fact, on different institutions both with through education, through production, but also dissemination. And mediation, animation - you can use any of those words.
Those institutions are, for example, in educational part, aiming to build professionals by forming arts department of the University of Pune, Ninasam theatre institute in the field of production they are going to speak now about Ninasam company but also about Ninasam academy but also Prithvi theatre in Mumbai. All of them are involved, in fact, not only in production, but in dissemination, in mediation and so on. And pity it is that Anuradha Kapoor is not with us so that we could have different institutional points of view as we have heard two days before some comments about National School of Drama, its importance, but also its friends. As Jayachandran was saying, we do not need one model, one fixed structure, neither architectural, neither managerial, but many different models with as much as possible, open structure to change together with changes, contemporary, social changes, political changes to oppose them or not, depending on our choice. We have to create institutions which are very different, which can be community spaces, which can be convention spaces, experiment spaces, production spaces, educational spaces, experience and participation spaces, all ? and multi-purpose but in fact all of them have to have a very specific organisational culture. Atul Kumar was saying about Prithvi, there is a certain atmosphere, there are certain values which are shared by everybody from manager to electrician and that's what we want to focus on. Can we develop specific organisational culture which are the real, appropriate for our -for art institutions who want to be embedded in here in its context, in its community.
What I was also listening here - one specific need expressed by the participants of the conference - what Indian institutional system is needed? There is lack of space, lack of stability, lack of frame, lack of holistic frame, even lack of professionals which I was little surprised but that was given on the example of museums, not on theatre. Lack of evaluation, forexample, somebody told me that National School of Drama was never evaluated by University Accreditation committees, lack of strategic thinking, lack of collaborative practices, lack of solidarity. So in the discussion now we are going to see how those selected institutions could respond or are responding to those needs in their circumstances. We will see those institutions are catalysing factors or platforms who give space to other organisations in the community or in India or if they can just be inspirational models just for others to undertake similar, not, never the same.
But something which is for me also very important is to see whether/do such kinds of institutional spaces, organisations create and produce specific knowledge - specific strategies and skills are adapted or appropriated for this teritory, for this cultural context. That is something which I think has to be developed, supported and stimulated by India Theatre Forum - that the knowledge created throughout the country from Bangalore to Kerala can be in a certain way codified, may be offered to everybody in India.
Now of course, maybe I have to say a few words, what does qualify me to lead this panel. Basically, nothing, because somebody coming from so far away has such a small knowledge about such wide differences, discrepancies and troubles of Indian cultural social political life that maybe some of my questions might look like out of the space and out of context. But I have had a very nice chance even two years ago by India Theatre Forum to go around India, to research organisational cultures and entrepreneurial spirit of theatrical companies, members of India Theatre Forum. That gave me some very small insight about real diversity of not only theatre traditions, but managerial, entrepreneurial and implementing positions which are now operating and represented by many of you in this room.
Now it is the moment to present the panelists which also might be strange that I'm presenting them. Because majority of you might know much better their persons and their capacities than me. So the first on the panel is professor/scholar Satish Alekar. He used to be up to two years before head of the performing arts department of the University of Pune, but he is also theatre activist, practitioner. He was leading a theatre company/academy, touring not only around Maharashtra and India but also west and east Europe. They've been to Belgrade once to our biggest theatre festival. And for our story what is also very important, he is a successful fund-raiser. He is somebody who persuaded Ford Foundation to give grant to buy something useful - bus - to make touring and to make really network of theatre, hosting venues or spaces in the region. So I think he can be a very good interlocutor for what we are going to discuss today regarding both educational and production and dissemination aspects and importance of cultural institution.
Akshara don't really want to be presented neither because he works here. He is our host here. He is heading cultural theatre group in Heggodu, Karnataka. He had undergone different trainings, not only in the National School of Drama, but also inspite of his hate for nomadism and travel, he spent some time at workshop theatre University of Leeds. He did a lot of adaptations and books on theatre and culture. He has written three plays. So he is an author. And he has Akshara Prakashana, editing publishing company here in Heggodu.
Sanjana Kapoor, now director of Junoon, used to be head of Prithvi theatre since 1990. Of course during her time there she has created very exciting theatre calendar, challenged the mobile theatre groups with festivals demanding completely new work towards festivals presenting theatre at other Mumbai venues and introduced arts outreach programmes for children which was very innovative at the time. She also expanded Prithvi theatre into a broader cultural hub by bringing other disciplines such as poetry, science, documentary films, creating in a certain sense, a real cultural venue. And even from India art gallery to present young Indian established artists. Most recently, she initiated India Theatre Forum- an all-India network of theatre practitioners. But now the newest entrepreneurial idea which is already started to be implemented is Junoon. it is a platform to take innovations in theatre to audiences far beyond Prithvi.
We had such a huge entrepreneurial endeavour from the Brazilians, now they have to present their own, and of course, you are going to see the difference. The Brazilian case was pretty impersonal. So it was some general commerce behind it. Here you some very personal presentations and charismatic personalities who are behind those initiatives. So my first question for all of them would be what was the initial drive to you or your predecessors who created the institution/ what has been the concept, what has been the key word and values on whom the idea of the creation of the institution was based? And what was more important, was it more important to understand the context, to understand the needs of the community, or more important to have entrepreneurial skill, to realise your dream, to transfer your value dream in the practical, in the concrete institution?
Satish Alekar: Nice to be here. Sometimes I'm going to listen to her, sometimes I'm going to talk about what I feel. Those who are not familiar with Marati theatre, let me take two or three minutes to explain what kind of theatre we do in Maharashtra. Unlike other states, the theatre is a representative part of Maharashtra, no exaggeration. Theatre is very popular till today. There are several theatreoperators? in Maharashtra in several streets, professional theatre, non-professional theatre, amateur theatre, ? bhoomi, dalit theatre, folk theatre, tamasha. Theatre in Maharashtra is not at all subsidised. So theatre is very popular. Another drawback of Marati theatre - the baggage we carry is - our theatre is very playwright-centric. I happen to be a playwright and I'm saying this. There is an average everyday you find when you open the newspaper you will find there are several advertisements reserved exclusively for the Marati theatre - performances. So the theatre is quite popular. You can sustain theatre. We don't have any kind of subsidy available to theatre.
So this is the background and this has been going on since 1847...before coming to the Lalit Kala Kendra Center for Performing Arts, which I headed for almost thirteen years, I must say that we have organised a theatre group called Theatre Academy in Pune. It was established in 1973. Because of the controversy created by the play 'Ghashiram Kotwal' Vijay Tendulkar, directed by Muslim director, Dr. Jabbar(?) Patel and enacted by all Pune brahmins, quote unquote, Chitpavan brahmins - Khare, Dave, Gokhale. So it was not liked by all theatre organisations which was established in 1951. Progressive dramatic associations. After 19 performances, the play was stopped. It was almost the same parallel story which you have seen in the play 'Sakharam Binder' related (Sex, Morality and Censorship) play done by Sunil. So we have been thrown out and the theatre academy (?) of it making new group(?) was established at my home in Shaniwarpet, not very far from Shaniwarwada in 1973. We started this group in '73 wih Jabbar Patel, myself, Vikram, Mohan Agashe, and so on and so forth and we had not made our living on theatre. I was teaching bio-chemistry at the local medical college for twenty three years, where I did plays. Jabbar was a paediatrician and Mohan Agashe was working as a lecturer in the department of psychiatry, Pune General Hospital.
So from 1973 to 1992, we did all kinds of plays. 'Ghashiram Kotwal' was quite successful and the income from that play went in as subsidy to our theatre and was self-sustaining. It was eye-opening to have for the first time a Marathi contemporary play going abroad etc, etc, etc. So around 1990 when the economy changed, what I find is there is a need for professional training in theatre in Maharashtra. There was only one existing department at the State level located in Aurangabad which was not very active in that time. And one theatre department is in Delhi - National School of Drama where they have about 18 crores of rupees budget spent on 60 students, 15 full-time staff, teaching staff, 300 non-teaching staff, including the repertory. Something unheard of. We are very proud. I'm not criticising them, taking pride in that this is the government who is paying for the theatre, for the past so many years. Every year the budget goes on. And the contradiction is that the National School of Drama functions in the field of higher education but it is governed by the Department of Culture. We are establishing a performing arts center at the open universities, where it is been governed by the department of higher education. There is no kind of cross-linking between the Department of Culture and Higher Education. So this is one contradiction we see over several years.
It is a very well-known fact, I'm not telling something new. So around 1990, when we ... before that we visited several European theatres where we performed ... we found out that theatre has to be organised in a way. Whether it is subsidised or non-subsidised, theatre has to be organised. So how can we organise a theatre department? When I was given the opportunity in 1996 I was at a cross-road because something is not happening well, we ran the troupe for almost twenty, twenty-five years, it had reached to a kind of a peak, so I was looking for - Jabbar went into the films - Mohan became a director of the National Film Institute of India - I was looking for an opportunity, so this was a call when I was asked to take over as the Director of the National School of Drama by the University. Which I refused. Because that time in Pune University, they have what a Lalit Kala Kendra established in 1988 but which was headless, not functioning well. They had a professor's post and they want me to go there in that department which I accepted as a challenge.
I went there in 1996 and my first student Pravin, he is now my colleague, he is sitting over here. So I went and we established this department. It is not only a theatre department. It is a department for dance, drama and music under one umbrella. The peculiarity of this post is the traditional guru-shishya parampara has been incorporated into the syllabus for the first time in India. It is a full-time residential course for six years. After twelfth standard there is an audition, then first three years BA, next two years MA, so if one wants to complete it at one go, he can do it in five. But he has to stay there, pay the price, because this is not a subsidised department. It is a self-supporting department. Every student has to pay 25,000/- to 30,000/- rupees fee. And most of all my students, they come from rural areas. They come from places you've never heard of. They come from the traditional families of percussionists, they come from folk theatre traditions, also urban girls, they come to join courses of dance.
When I joined there was not a single full-time teaching staff. I was the only full-time teaching staff. What happened at that time was that University has offered academic autonomy to entire departments in the campus. Which is very innovative decision. A small decision. Many departments don't take advantage of it. All science departments and department like me - we have taken the advantage of this freedom. So I don't have to bother about the University. I can select my students, I can appoint my contributory staff, I can formulate my own syllabus, I can conduct my examination, I pass and fail the students. The entire autonomy is given to the head. Which is a very good and innovative thing. The Vice-Chancellor was Vasundhara Gowariker and he was a well-known space scientist. He called me and persuaded me to join the department. So we formulated the syllabus with the help of doyens like Ashok Ranade, Ulhas Kashalkar, Vikas Kashalkar and many famous dancers like Rohini Bhate, and we formulated a syllabus. It was a loosely structured syllabus. So you can enhance the syllabus or you can diminish the strength of the syllabus depending upon the kind of student you get.
We designed the courses. And the course director - a teacher is supposed to be the course director - the job is to conduct the course in 25 lectures, your student took the examination, pass or fail the student, and he doesn't have to give the marks - marks were abolished in 1996. We are giving grades or grade points. Similarly, students can exchange the courses. Total freedom. A bio-technology person can come and learn tabla with me. My student can go and learn source code or do a course in German language. So on and so forth, so we introduced a course in anatomy and physiology for performance. Since I don't have a medical background, all the top doctors used to come and teach all the students. The students also had to introduce their vocal chord through camera - they can see the vocal chords of a person singing and watch the screen... So this kind of innovation we slowly brought into the syllabus.
The use of computer in performing arts we made a compulsory course. Marathi on computer is compulsory to everyone. Similarly they have to take courses in each others' field. The drama person has to go and do a course in music, the dance person has to pick one course in theatre and so on and so forth. So the first year is a common platform. Gradually they will separate and then the music student will go to the guru in the morning, come to the department in the evening. The theory structure very neatly done with the help of a scholar like Rajguru Naik. You must have seen on display nine text books in Marathi we have created with the help of Sir Ratan Tata Trust in the last five/six years. It is a painstaking work - 200 page each book, in Marathi, they require several scholars, written, rewritten and assimilated, designed and we brought out the first edition is over. The second edition is on the way. So these are the kinds of innovativeness we brought in.
The dance/drama/music students have to function under one umbrella. Alekar has got a very very humble effect on the theatre students. Because theatre students are doing in the free time nothing. They are in the canteen. Music students all the time doing riyaz. So that is an indirect effect for the theatre students. So they know that these people are coming in the morning at 5 'o' clock and doing riyaz. And I'm just sitting home. So he will come and attend the yoga classes in the morning. These were kinds of innovativeness we brought in. Our board was very simple. We are not creating any national institute. We are creating a very simple, local performing art school. To cater to the needs of Marathi audience.
If the student is good, they go and join the Bombay film industry or theatre industry or whatever. If the student is more good, he could go abroad, several students have gone abroad, to learn and come back. Very very open kind of working is there. University evaluation - there is no botheration of the examination. Practical examination we sell the tickets. The practical exam is announced in the newspaper and the tickets are sold. People come flocking to see them. So how the administration is helping me out...we are becoming darling of the crowd immediately. It is because I also happen to be a playwright, not a bad playwright. So I carry little bit of credibility. So with our little nuances, I used to get all the people rushing towards us(?). One morning I get my friend Richard Schechner teaching my students Natyashastra, rasa box kind of thing. I sent my colleagues twice to Eugenio Barba to learn things. Alkazi landed. He said he wouldike to come and visit. He said only one condition I have: you must not spend any rupee on me. I will pay. I said fine. He came and spent two days with my students, delivered lectures etc. Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, you name any stalwart ... we sent our students to Adishakti, to Ratan Thiyam, residential programme. NSD is very kind to us. I didn't have money for the production. So I used to invite the guest director - the guest director's fee has already been paid under the NSD's extension programme. So in the last fifteen years, all our productions have been in association with the NSD without having any kind of botheration.
Unlike NSD's productions, we could do with the help of NSD. NSD is very kind, very helping, saying if this is what you want to do, you have the chance to go ahead and do it and we'll support you... All the wretched bureaucracy, the gumptions, they are everywhere. If you have got a little credibility in your field, and if you have got some kind of tricks, you can do applied theatre somewhere in the bureaucracy. Applied theatre helps in bureaucracy. I will tell you how. Suppose you wanted to buy the costumes, to go to the market and buy the costumes, I will invariably ask the ladies from our fine arts department: 'Can you help our student - they are going to Laxmi road to buy the sarees. They don't know how to buy the sarees. Kindly go with the rickshaw and buy sarees for them'. Invariably they say yes, jump at it. Similarly, all the bureaucrats have sons and daughters. I say your daughter looks fine, will she like to have dance classes? Bring them to me. So we organise dance classes, I ask my students to go into their homes and teach and make some money. So on the campus it was a very infomal network. And applied theatre was ultimately introduced as a course.
I invited (?) from Europe to write the course. His exercises are wonderful. He takes the students to the bus stop and says to them: Initiate political dialogue. Quarrels start, sides atre taken. He's watching and we take notes coming back from the bus stop. Like this applied theatre workshops he has stated - very innovative course. Another course we have started with the help of IIT Powai is research methodology in performing arts. To go into research you must know technology. It was the first kind of course started on the campus. The science people, the bio-technology people, used to come to me and say how have you started research methodology. I said you also start a similar course in the science area. All the time, I am comparing my department with the science department. I say if you want to start stem cell research, you spend the money. And if you want to start a course in a 1000 year old art, you start with the tabla and (?). You must start with some kind of money. So these are the kind of interventions in the administration that is needed. It depends upon how you conduct yourself. What credibility you carry with you. Before that the people should know me as a performer. So whenever I approach there is no kind of a demand. And some ways here and there. That is how we have been functioning for last thirteen-fourteen years. That's all for the beginning.
K.V.Akshara: I have two problems to talk about Ninasam. One is probably I'm not the best person. Just the fact that I work with Ninasam doesn't make me the best person to talk about it. I feel that there are at least five people in this room who can talk better about Ninasam than me. But the fact that I am associated with Ninasam for the last twenty years is why I'm here. There is a second problem. If you ask questions like 'Why was Ninasam created?' 'How is this mission/vision framed?' 'Has it changed over the years?' It is such a difficult question to answer. If you ask a poet what is the meaning of your poem, it is embarassing and also difficult. So similarly if you ask me what's the ... because Ninasam doesn't have a concept. It grew out of a context. In '72 it came into being as a small group of villagers joining for three events - to chant, to talk and to do an occassional play. Slowly after the 70s, I'll not go into the history in detail, I'll only mention the milestones, after the 70s, 70s was a period of political charge, (?) it was also in Karnataka when the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti was formed. Samudaya was active. B.V.Karanth was working at that time. So all this made Ninasam change its course from a small theatre organisation working in a village into a slightly different thing and the first thing my father had known - the first film appreciation was in the film institute. We thought that we had to start a film appreciation course. We did it for ten years. Whatever Ninasam does, it does at least for ten years. The film appreciation course had a different model. Most of the people came from the film institute. The people who came to the courses were extremely different from the people who would go to the same film appreciation course in Pune. People who came are now advisors of Tirugata. People who came were people who were working with social organisations from all over Karnataka. The film appreciation course fired their imagination, amongst all of them. Many of them nostalgically remember those courses. Ultimately it was not about film. It was about a certain way of dealing with arts and society. It fired the imagination of people of being in the world in a certain way, being sensitive to the arts in a certain way.
Once these film appreciation courses were established, we built the main theatre without actually knowing what to do with the theatre. Then Ninasam realised that you have to engage the theatre all through the year. At that time, we only spent one lakh. In 2006 when we renovated it, we spent 50 lakhs. But when the theatre was ready, it was a useless structure because the villagers would join once in a year and what do you do with a theatre all through the year in the other months? Then the idea came that this is a good place to start a theatre institute. But then because the students will be here and that is the only building - all other buildings were built later - that was the hostel, that was the mess, that was the theatre, that was the green room, that was the office, that was everything.
Then when the theatre institute started, people came who had attended the film appreciation courses - they sent those people to the theatre institute, hoping that they will get those people back to do and continue theatre work. And it worked. The first five batches of students went back to their places, organised smaller groups, organised shows, organised not just theatre shows but various kinds of cultural events. Then there was the question of once you train people, what do you do with them? Then we had to have a repertory. Because there were already 100 people who were trained and there is no professional theatre in Karnataka, which will employ them. So we thought of building this Tirugata. We didn't call it a repertory. We still do not call it a repertory. We call it an itinerant theatre group.
The model came to us not from the National School of Drama repertory or the western repertories, we don't use the word 'repertory' but for the sake of communication, sometimes we call it the repertory. The model came from the travelling Yakshagana groups actually. The Yakshagana groups have this wonderful ... in the conversation between Romi Khosla and Iain yesterday, this idea of a tent moving from one place to the other came and actually it is not a new idea. The Yakshagana people were already doing it. At least from the 1930s. They have this huge tent with two trucks travelling from village to village. They go and set up and in the morning, if you are watching Yakshagana, it is a wonderful experience - by the time it 3 or 4 o clock in the mornning, people who have removed the tent have already started their work. By the time the play is over there is nothing around you. Everything is gone, it has moved to the next place. Because they have a show in the next place.
So we thought of doing a similar growth - a small bus - we got a Ford Foundation grant and we got a bus. With that we planned exactly like a Yakshagana group. Every 50 kms we should do a show. So we had four plays initially. Three plays for grown-ups and one for children. We did in that manner for ten years, then we reduced the chidren's component because there were other people who started doing that and it was too much work for the actors. We removed the third play. We are now doing only two plays. What we do with Tirugata is that when we plan Tirugata it was not planned like a company. We planned it within a reverse budgeting. Suppose we want to go and perform in a place like Manchikere, a small village in North Canara, or in (?) a taluk/town in Bishapur (?) district, or a small town in southern Karnataka, would they pay us? We knew all these people through our film appreciation courses and later which was turned into a culture course, through those gatherings, we knew what they expect from us. But the major problem was money.
If they want to organise our show, they have to organise our show, give us remuneration, travel, food etc, then they have to pay money to bring chairs, money for electricity, and publicity. They can at the most, at that point of time, in 1985 when we started Tirugata, they can raise with tickets and a little sponsorship, something like Rs.6,000/-. So we have to be able to do theatre to fit into that kind of money. So out of that 6000, 3000 will go for their organisation. They can pay us only 2000. So we have to build a group which can perform for a remuneration of Rs.2000. And we accepted that challenge. We broke it down into what we can pay the actors - we paid Rs.400 a month in the beginning. Now it is Rs.6000. And then what we can spend on production. We spent Rs.4000 on production at that time. We now spend something like Rs.60,000 or Rs.70,000. Add a zero and you will get what the NSD spends. Through this exercise of reverse budgeting, we arrived at the models that we have got.
Then after doing Tirugata for a long time, we realised that Tirugata is also ... my father used to say that, just two years ago before he just died, somebody interviewed him. My father was asked what is the vision/mission of Ninasam. My father said religions have missions. Ninasam doesn't have a religion. It is like a ritual. You repeat things. And ritual changes. You must remember that. A ritual you do yesterday is not like the ritual we do today. We change rituals. But we change it so slightly every year that the change is also not noticed. But the changes are done in such a way that there is not a long-term plan. There is a short-term plan. We respond to the immediate circumstances. We never have an idea of what we will do in 2020. But we are very sure what we will do in 2013. So that's how Ninasam's planning is done.
Then it developed into various other branches, for example, my father got the (?) award and the money which came through it was kept separately as a (?). Through that money, my father had some very hard-core principles about money. He didn't have problem with taking money from Ford Foundation. But he was concerned that we should take money only slightly less than what we need. It should never be more than what we need. It should not even be what we need. It should be slightly less than what we need. So that suppose Ford Foundation stops a grant, we will not lose the capacity of fund-raising ourselves. So whenever we got grants from Ford Foundation, we used it for buying a bus, we used it mostly for infrastructure. We have also done a bit of creative accounting there. But then you know, things have changed. From the 1990s people who used to be rich, I used to be a rich person until 1992, I'm an agriculturist. I have 6.5 acres of areca farm. I used to be called as a rich person in this area. Now compared to the salaries that people get in Bangalore, even the government professors in the UGC scale, (Rs.1,20,000) ... The irony is that UGC professors get Rs.1,20,000 but those recruited by them doing the same job get Rs.5000 per month. We are in a similar situation. Our actors are paid Rs.6000 per month. We cannot raise it because the Department of Culture is not giving us money. Ninasam and Tirugata still run on a sharing model. Sometimes there are 20 people, not distinuguished, paid the same and have to do everything. They have to rig the lights, all the work and they do that. It is hard work. You can do it only for three or four years. After you get married you can't do that. Because the income is not enough for living.
So it is more like surgery residencies. For three/four years they will do Tirugata, then they will have to find their place in the larger world. So that is how we have grown. From project to project. But then also in retrospect, I feel there are at least two key words, if you cannot articulate a mission/vision (which we do for the consumption of people who give us money - we have a written mission statement, it is on our website) But if I have to articulate two key words, which have driven Ninasam all through these years, and still drives Ninasam, I think one is 'community' and the second is 'voluntarism'. Community because through all our activities we started with a small community then we slightly expanded it and also we tried to sustain the community, we also tried to deepen the engagemnent with the community. So basically what we are doing is driven by this sensitivity to the community. That is one influence which drives Ninasam.
Another is voluntarism. Whatever project we do, we want to have somebody to go and do the project from the local resources, if not in cash, in kind. For example, the culture course that we do is a seven year affair, and we do it with five lakhs of rupees. A similar three-day event that Sahitya Akademi did in Bangalore simultaneously when our culture course was happening, cost Rs.80 lakhs. A three-day event in Bangalore cost 80 lakhs, and we were doing a five-day event, housing and feeding all the people, paying airfares to some, still we could do it with five or six lakhs. How is that possible? Because at every event, including this, there are fifty people who will come from all around the villages, work for no money. The people who are managing the mess, are not paid - those who are serving are paid, those who are managing the kitchen are not paid.
They are working for the fun of it. The pleasure of it. Or the tradition of working - so they come and work. Some agency told us that we have to budget even that as a contribution. But it is difficult. When the idea was proposed to the Executive Committee of Ninasam, they said no. Don't translate our work into money. Let it be work. So it is that kind of voluntary spirit through which Ninasam is going on.
Sanjna Kapoor: Prithvi Theatre's motivation was simply to create a platform, that would be a stage, and facilities that would be professional to develope professional theatre. I came from two traditions - a British travelling theatre company and an Indian travelling theatre company, through my grand-parents. They produced these two people who got married and realised this dream. As we have said, it was meant to be a stop-gap, intermediary space, but the real core of the mission has never been articulated. The belief clearly was that theatre mattered. There was no doubt about that. That professional theatre mattered. From there the belief, from years and years of experience travelling through India, was that it fed the world of the actor and it fed the world of the audience. So I guess that is the uniqueness of this tiny little space that we created. It was really aimed at both these worlds.
Given that, there are some fundamentals, again you call it ritual, I am urban, we call it habits. But it is the same thing. Regularity of programming, regularity of system for people who want to engage, they know what to expect. So Prithvi is a curated space. All the shows are curated. You can't go in and hire the auditorium. Which is a bit of a unique entity in India. Most auditoriums you can go in and hire. And it also works on the reverse economics like Ninasam does. To the extent that, the theatre groups' existence, their sustenance and what costs are involved - our rent is then (?) to how much of a loss we can bear. And how much of a loss theatre groups can bear. And how much we expect the audience to bear. To come and see a show. Paying for a show is essential. It is critical. It is the most important thing. But there is a certain incredible common-senseness in a way in all our learnings - Satish comes from this rich and incredibly wonderful world of Marathi theatre where there is an unbelievable common senseness to the way people work and plan. It is delicious to hear your story, not just about the University but before that the Theatre Academy and all sorts of wonderful programmes. But I think that's it. One learns how to run and how to manage a space on one's feet.
There are pros and cons and I think today I look at it as a con - Prithvi has always believed that it would be a very very very bare necessity management and clearly terrified as Subanna was, of being dependent on funding. However it didn't really translate. We were always dependent on sponsorship. Whether it is a foundation or a sponsor, the monster is always the same. And that is a huge danger. But because we kept our resources so minimal and tiny, in the long run it was detrimental. We were not able to shift into a slightly bigger gear, bigger institution because we - and it was also the reason why we managed to sustain in Bombay on prime real-estate for thirt-four years - but it needs to reinvent itself. It needs to look at how to sustain for the next twenty years. Tht's a huge challenge. But if we look at the basic words, Milena asked us to throw up some words, habit-forming, reverse economics, curating, these are primary things that come to my head.
Underlying it is of course, trying to develop professional theatre. We have today 550 shows a year but it is not something I am necessarily proud of. As I said last time at the seminar, it is too much. We sustain about fifty groups. Which is crazy and my greatest sadness is that we have not inspired another Prithvi. We have inspired one Ranga Shankara. So on our 25th anniversary, that was the one little celebration we had. That Ranga Shankara came to life that same year. That's it, there's more but we'll come to that later. That's it.