ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: One-on-One (Iain Mackintosh, Jean Guy Lecat and Romi Khosla)
Duration: 00:55:40; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 13.322; Saturation: 0.095; Lightness: 0.421; Volume: 0.235; Words per Minute: 146.620
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.
An informal conversation between three theatre builders about the possibility of having a spectacular theatre in India, that is mobile and ecological at the same time.
Transcribed by Hans Kaushik.
Romi: So I'm going to ask both of you - are we trying to cover too much in this event here? Is there anything that has form or shape that is emerging?
Iain: Yes, we are covering too much but that's inevitable and that's right because the next forum needs to be more focused. It's representative, I hate the word representative because the representative answers to somebody, but there's people of all sorts here - of professional disciplines and ages, which is also good, we're very old! And I would like to hear more from the young - from the whole - I don't think they've asked us enough or tested us enough, and I think we should concentrate on the central question which is how does India get better theatres?
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Iain: And I believe that this is not a particular problem - it's an aspect of a general problem; the problem has been international - that a state has come in and that a city should have a theatre, it should have a library, it should have swimming pools, it's a service. Now that throws great strain on the people who provide that service and the problem I think is that the theatre profession hasn't yet organised itself to make clear what it wants and that too is healthy and that too is universal. The existence of the India Theatre Forum, I think, gives an opportunity to focus on this
Romi: I think one of the problems is when we deal with England or with France, we are dealing with very small countries where theatre people can talk to each other meet each other very easily and we talked about the culture of Theatre in India - it's a continent, which is bigger than the size of Europe and to try and have a dialogue amongst theatre people and to try and get some kind of cohesion in that would be like getting the Italians, the Greeks, the Portuguese, the English, everybody together and putting them in a hall and saying, "Do you have problems with theatre?"
Jean Guy: Oh we have problems in theatre today, we have one theatre closing In Italy today, abandoned. I think in France we start to solve the problem of closing when we tell the government that the government has to believe that culture has no cost but culture can make money and that brought a big change because they did realise that most of the money given to culture is money given to human beings, not to things. 90 percent of the money in culture - it is given to human beings. Human being give it life and all the money comes back to the government. When you are investing in a machine the money is lost. The second thing is - we take out the culture of Paris - how many tourist will come again to Paris? And this choice is probably something like 10 - 15% of the whole budget of France - it's very important. We make a big statistic in Avignon Festival in the 60s, for one Euro invested or one dollar invested in culture the city gets three euro back from all the people who work around/in culture because it is not just like the artists are sleeping and eating and the money goes back, but they pay tax - they go outside of France - six hundred times, ten thousand each night - all that money comes back to France. So one day if the artist is organised in India like the artist was in France after the war, because all communists with that kind of generous idea of communist at that time which is very different today, they organised themselves to persuade the government, that culture is not just something necessary for the education of everybody; it's also a way to make money.
Iain: Yes, I think the difference is - and I now see the difference is not the size of India but it's the absence of commercial theatre. Now Peter Brook is the exceptional case but both America and Britain have a commercial theatre, we talk about 600 performances of Carmen, but how many million performances of Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Seventy productions across the world? Maybe all that is going into Andrew Lloyd Webber's pocket, but, it isn't actually; it involves a huge royalty and it involves a commercial theatre. Now that doesn't appear to be a commercial theatre - there's a commercial film industry, but how many actors in Bollywood also act on the stage? Not many I understand. How many commercial productions are there in any of the major cities of plays or musicals, playing to an audience that also go to what I would call an art theatre and how many of the audience go to both? So what is unique to India is I think is that it is the only major country with an art theatre where there're lots of dedicated people - some people who've taken 25 years to train. But they're never actually going to play in a 3000 seater and make lots of money. So, the fact that it exists at all, I think is remarkable. It's a pity, that there isn't a commercial theatre and that writers aren't writing shows that could play to 1500 people - musicals that could play to 1500 people. As long as the theatre in India stays about form as opposed to entertainment, because Shakespeare made money, he built bigger theatres. People asked George Abbott, who's aged a hundred, in an interview I heard, "When did things go wrong? Theatres have got much too large." This was about ten years ago - he said, "When Burbage turned to Shakespeare and said - why don't we make the theatre bigger and make more money?"
Iain: The commercial theatre actually breathes Art; Shakespeare would never've happened without it being commercial theatre. Yes he did some performances for the queen, but these were minor compared to pleasing a public who put their hands in their pocket and paid their penny or their three pence. So it's getting theatre here more commercial - I think then the government will listen and I think the economist could always make that argument about spending a rupee and you get ten rupees back; yes that's easy, but it doesn't convince them any longer.
Iain: I'd rather turn to this side, Romi, that, I think a theatre is important not only as a social service, but for a building that a town can identify. We all think of the Sydney Opera House but that's not unique. I've just been working with Norman Foster on the Sage Gates Theatre, I did one of the halls. There are three halls, The building itself is quite staggering. it sits beside the Tyne river which is right down there - this huge shell-like building. The people are very proud of the building and we made sure the spaces inside were functional and well designed, and the architect listened to us and we got on terribly well. I hope you personally will build some spectacular theatres with insight and the India Theatre Forum will ensure the insights work.
Romi: Well, I think that the role of government...
Jean Guy: Yeah, but I want to add something to what he answered because of the commercial situation is important of course. The problem with commercial theatre is they play the same play for ten years because they want to make money. So both theatre (should be) made,on one side, if we want to see Shakespeare, you need a big theatre, or Comedie Francaise, on other side we can have contemporary theatre with two (?) big theatres, we need both. The question is - in Spain for instance, they complain because there is no audience. But what do they do? Nothing? They just publish posters and they wait. Of course, that is not working. Today there is TV, cinema, video, there is internet, there is a computer, there are telephones - there are millions of things - people are distracted by lot of things. In France the theatree works because they build audiences.
Jean: Who is Peter Brook - Peter Brook is very famous director. But in the morning we were watching a student, a man from the university talking with him, in the afernoon we go to another place to talk to people from Africa and we talk with them because the play concerns them etc. And when we go on tour, in the morning we are in the university and in the afternoon at the prison.
Today you have a young company - you have the actors to do that - they ask you for more money? The problem is not that, the real concern in a country where theatre is not working is the theatrepeople themselves. They don't do what they should do, they just wait for somebody to come and say let's do this.
Jean: The third thing is theatre costs too much money now. The way the architects build theatres has to be changed completely. In France, we can say 85% of the money is spent for the building, to heat the building, for electricity, to clean the building and then we really have to be concerned about - especially for a country like India - to start to build for efficiency - there is a window in the theatre. I don't understand why we should not have a window to have the daylight when the technicians are working - that is also something that the theatrepeople have to push the architect to do.
Romi: I think the relationship with the government is the critical one in India. The government is being pressurised to put up sports complexes because sports is a commercial success - because of cricket, so they are spending an enourmous amount of money building sports complexes. Which are lying empty, completely. They are not used.
Iain: The studies in England show that sports complexes cost a lot more to run per head of users than a city theatre. If you count the number of people who use it - you go to Greece, the entire Olympic park is full of weeds, since it is not used at all. So I don't think they can use that argument. So I want to return to my central point that we need theatres of architectural distinction - it's a technical point, the India Theatre Forum can make sure they work - there's a lot of work to do to make sure they work. But if somebody gave you a wonderful site and a decent budget, would you like to build a major theatre?
Romi: of course, one would like to build a major theatre but it presumes that the funder would probably be the government of India - (which) is detached from the project. Once it has given the funds, the activists who are going to use it are the real clients and you can interact with them. Now what happens in India is that the architect is designing the theatre as part of 15 other buildings. It's not a prestigious theatre. We don't have a prestigious theatre.
Iain: Well, what we in Britain distinguish between the money client and the user client, and what it needs is a middle person to talk between the two. It may need a charitable foundation, and somebody else (?) is going to create this. A theatre manager who is advised by other people, not a theatre "manager" - a charitable foundation who recieves money from the government and spends it. It's what's called "Arm's Length" and arm's length removes the risk that as governments change, the policy changes.
Iain: Of course when the building opens, you need the head of the state, the head of the government, the head of the country to come and cut the ribbon. You've got to allow them all the glory. They need it, that's human That's what a politician feeds on. Damn it, my son is a politician, I'm not sure if I'll let my daughter marry an architect however! But politicians need the reward for what others have achieved otherwise society wouldn't work. Society must work on leaders who say, "That is a priority- Theatre" because every time...I remember in the - after the war Edinburgh didn't have a proper sewage works. The sewage went into the sea and the headlines said, "Opera house or sewage works?" - implying that was a choice. In one sense of using the money it was a choice; in another sense of course it needs both. The politician's job is to sort out that problem and present it to the public. The sewage works and the opera house are both necessary in different ways. You have to have a clarity of thinking.
Romi: But I want to ask you a little bit more - (turns to Jean Guy), when you talked about theatre buildings - when you say a 'spectacular theatre', what do we mean by that?
Iain: Well, I think it means that everybody knows it's there - Sydney Opera house everybody knows it there...it is a beacon, it is intrinsically a good building, it is a pleasure to look at, and to visit, and as you enter it, your heart quickens in anticipation of what's going to be there. Copenhagen has built a magnificent new opera house with all the money coming from MAERSK but worldwide, not any state money at all. It was designed and built in six years, for the good reason that the man who giving the money was 92. He said if you don't open it in six years I might be dead so it opened and he is not dead. And it needs urgency. And the great trouble...that's why you need politicians. Politicians only have five years; there must be a spirit of urgency - we have to get this done!
Iain: No more committees do it, but a good building must have a good site and I think it's a civic responsiblity to find the sites which in the past may have been a temple or a church or a cathedral or a government building and put a theatre in a prime site in a community. That's why we need the help with the architect to identify - "That's the place"
Romi: Do you think we need spectacular buildings? In India? For theatre?
Jean Guy: I think what you need to do is what they did in other countries. In America, the theatre is going down, down, down, down - more and more. Because there is no focus point like Avignon - if for instance, in small towns in India, you have very famous, extraordinary festivals, after ten years, the government will open their eyes. That's interesting because I transform any place - I show some this morning and when you visit that place people automatically say, "What are you going to do here? You see it is dirty, it is falling." I say, that's not your problem, let's do it and you will see. So, certain people are geniuses - to find solutions from many many directions - to fix a building so it does not fall etc. So to take the risk.
Iain: You are not answering his question, which is - do they need a spectacular theatre, you are taking a long time getting to it
Jean Guy: Let me finish. So, and then to take risk; no risk, no art! And then, you pay, the government comes - they see a building with a plain site and they say fantastic? You cannot convince any government before you start to do something. Another problem in many countries is that artists have to start to make something happen, with no money like Avignon. There was absolutely no money, with the help of lot of people like here for instance. And then slowly things are moving. Now we have more more audience and (?).
Romi: But can you explain a little bit more? But this is not about theatre buildings anymore. He is talking about a spectacular theatre event.
Jean Guy: No, no, no I said you ask for building later.
Romi: So he is talking about actually what is possible to do in India, to take the theatre one step ahead is to have a spectacular - recurrent spectacular events, could you go a little bit more into what exactly happens there - how is it run? This theatre event you talk about.
Ian: Well, I think Avignon was a reaction to existing great buildings in the first place.
Jean Guy: Avignon was very well known in France because it was completely the idea of the artists. There is a huge monument and they said, "We want to do something," and the Mayor said, "We don't care. We can give you the key and you can do what you want here!" and that is what they did for a long time and now who knows Avignon without the festival? Nobody! There was a big strike five or six years ago; the artists decided not to go to Avignon. It was a disaster - thirty years, forty years, the bourgeoisie in Avignon said the festival it is dirty, they glue posters everywhere, they hate artists! That year, no festival; they lost a fortune! So artists can create a process where something becomes necessary.
Iain: But Edinburgh was not created by the artists; it was created actually by a British Council representative who'd just come from Paris, in fact, who suggested that Edinburgh needed the festival. Now Edinburgh was a very beautiful Asian-centric town. It can be cold. I was born there, I was brought up there. In 1948, it started the festival because the Second World War had broken down communication between countries. So the first opera that we saw from Germany came to a very bad little theater I remember and the orchestra from Vienna played its first concert in Great Britain in Edinburgh. Now, for three weeks a year, it brought together a series of very good plays, operas, dance and concerts and philharmonic orchestras. Now the creative act lay in booking those, not in creating them. It comes back to my firm belief that theatre can be created in very small spaces and then taken out to a larger audience. I think a theatre arts festival is possible in India; it shouldn't happen in Mumbai, it shouldn't happen in Delhi. It should happen in a medium-sized town, not a tiny town; with hotels - if you like - Cochin or somewhere like that with the qualities of the first three towns brought to Cochin. But I still think we've got to get around, back to your question.
Iain: I think some good architects are shy about building theatres because we theatrepeople are very difficult user clients. And one group will say it should be this shape and another group will say it should be that shape; another group feels it should look cheap, it should look simple so it's not spending money...another group will want it to be a beacon. Now this is where we need the architect, to cut through that and have a vision, a totality - "we can all make it work". But I suspect what is happening here as in some parts of Britain or America, they have competitions for the new building. This results in either very famous architects who've never built a theatre before, like Gary and Norman Foster who want to add a theatre. The spectacular buildings being built now are airports and railway systems. That's the new cathedral. And theatres are very architect-intensive, you have to spend a long time talking to the user and you don't get the opportunity, the tabula rasa to create a great building. So who gets the jobs? The competition people also open another envelope and that's the fee...so you either get a very good architect who's bored or a very cheap architect. So these are the architects who tend to design the theatres not just here but in many countries.
Iain: And it's getting the best architects involved that I think is the problem. But I do know that the India Theatre Forum - they do like architects, they do like good architects, they don't like bad architects.
Romi: I think that the need for the theatre people to approach the architect is the relationship that we want. So in a sense I think if theatre is to be developed here...we have very articulate theatre groups but they have to sieve this process because if you leave it to the government, they will give you a package, they will get it designed for you and build it as a hall, because that's the perception of city center halls. And then you can struggle with it if you want it. But there is a space. I feel there is a space for theatre activists to approach the government. The government is soft on these issues, and to actually seed the idea of a theatre festival, which are held now in the urban centres and have very little impact, because they are for the rural groups basically. And they're not truly able to reflect on some of the deeper issues or address them for a wide variety of audiences. Because in the urban centres, the theatre-going group is very small. In terms of its diversity it's very very small.
Iain: I get the feeling Ninasam is unique in many ways in its connection with the community and the dedication of the villagers, and it'd be wonderful if there were many such places but I fear that the dedication that exists here is unusual. The danger of letting the theatre people seed things - they all want three-hundred seater experimental spaces and everything. I'm looking for Indian theatre to not be frightened to allow a large scale, to get the best composers out of Bollywood who've got enough money - it's not buying them, it's flattering them and getting the opportunity to create work that can get to the "popular" audience. Because this situation's a bit like what happened in England 50, 60 years ago. There was a commercial theatre, highly evolved. All the serious theatre took place in little spaces people being very intellectually serious and playing to a middle class intellectual audience. And the great thing in France and Britain is going out to get the kids whose parents have never been inside a theatre into a theatre. But I think that groups here have to work in a big scale and be ambitious. I see a shortage of ambition here, an obsession with what's wrong, with the mecahnics of dealing with government.
Iain: I think India Foundation for the Arts has a role to play I'm told that it's like the Arts Council. (is interrupted) They haven't got any money? Where do they get their money from?
Audience member: Who, us?
Iain: No, IFA.
Another audience member: It's not the Arts Council.
Romi: Well, it functions like one...
Iain: The arts council when I first started had a tiny grant. I started a company on two grants of 600 pounds. It was a neglected play and hadn't been done for 400 years. The next year I got three thousand pounds and it was peanuts but it attracted other money and I used the wrong analogy about grass being greener on the other hill because I realise in this climate it means absolutely nothing but what it means in English is that people always feel that somewhere else they've got it right, and I've got it wrong here. I promise you the problem's universal - if they don't have enough money and they don't spend it right, tell them how they should, because I think they should be left independent. Both the user and the government, I think, would need that intervening buffer to do it.
Iain: But I also think you must have some association of architects in this country and I think you the architects have to talk to each other about this strange thing called a theatre arts building.
Romi: I think that the problem of designing a building is not an issue at the moment. I think we need much more iniitiative from the theatre practitioners and I agree with you that we need to look upon them as being a more cohesive group which is looking at a longer term. And less concerned with the operational problems of their own theatre practices, which is more or less what dominates the theatre dynamics.
Iain: I think the background of the drums is very good for that speech. Yes I think we do need that...
Romi: But I'm interested, do you think that a place like Ninasam could become the centre of an Avignon type festival?
Iain: You don't have a spectacular location. You have no hotels, I'm afraid. You would need to...
Romi: You have a direct train coming now to Sagara...the Bangalore-Sagara train has been restored.
(General laughter and mumbling)
Jean Guy: This place is absolutely necessary everywhere, but that can become something different if there is alternate view - if people knew. Because I told many people before I was coming here, nobody knows, outside of India, nobody knows some friends I have in India , they say, "Oh yes. I have heard of something there." The problem is that if you have in a country some important actors who have international stature - they come back here and they ask to have something bigger, that's possible. But if India stay inside of India, then you have to do what you can with what you have to do more that what you can. You cannot push any government to do more. Like in America for instance, governments are very conservative. Theatre is going down.
Iain: They're building lots of more new theatres, that's extraordinary. Our office in America, now I've left my company, they've never been so busy. They're building big theatres everywhere, and they told me that theatre is booming over the last five years.
Jean Guy: Of course, they're building big buildings but there's nothing inside. Because, in France for instance, there is a good example France is one of the countries with England and Germany who really have a big hand - one percent of the French budget is for the theatre in France, this is unique in the world. But it's easy to find money to build a building because then you can win elections; the Lisbon mayor for instance, they are not building churches - they build banks. So we build one theatre in Lisbon with an architect and they asked to open the theatre. They had to stop working for sixmonths because they wanted to open near the election dates to win elections and then they won the election because they have done something . After that, to keep the theatre alive, that's very difficult, that is why it is very important for the architect to think how can we keep the theatre alive? Everyday cheaper, because if you are not doing that, they have to take away part of the budget of the operative part to make the building heated, for air conditioning, electricity etcetera - who pays that? So the young companies, they don't take them and don't care about them. They take big directors. You can see in America, in a big country like that there is a policy where there is freedom - everybody does what they want, they don't bring young people in. It's very difficult for young directora, here or in America, to start.
Jean Guy: In France , because of the government, any theatre has to have one or two directors in residence.
Iain:So the difference between France and Britain is that France has this wonderful self-confidence that they're doing things right. But we've been always questioning ourselves. So, definitely, the grass is greener (there)!
Romi: So the difference between both of you and India is that we don't think we're doing anything right!
I'm going to try and combine both your viewpoints; if you agree with this, that we will look for a spectacular site to host the future theatre festivals of India. A spectacular building and that's a job we're going to leave for the Theatre Forum.
Iain: I know this is not going to be popular with you but I'm wondering whether India can build an ecologically-sound theatre and the sustainability, because we know the cost of running the building is now...throughout Britain there are fewer actors in these very successful theatres and lots more people raising money doing the education, selling the seats and at the expense of the theatres. Now I've been here what? Seven days and I'm feeling very healthy with the food I've been eating. Now I'm not very familiar with South Indian food. All I can tell you at my age it's very good for my insides. I feel very very healthy. I don't eat too much, and that's a good thing. Now I'm wondering if a really eco-sensible theatre could be designed, including, possibly, an eco-village that you could put up and get 1500 people on this site who dont have to go in a bus, back to a rather dilapidated hotel. I think the whole thing about taking theatre to villages is that it too can be carefully thought out from an ecological point of view. So the bus that takes the thing is using less fuel - I think the West does already admire India for that and could admire it much more if you were prouder of your ecosystems. The trouble is the foreigner arrives in Mumbai or Delhi, and the most pollutant object on the planet is the petrol-driven rickshaw with its two stroke engine and its bouncing over this thing so that doesn't score very well when we arrive in this country. When we come to this part of the country, and you feel it is at rest with Nature, so we feel immensely impressed by that.
Iain: ...this quality of being connected with Nature, I quoted Alexander Pope and I should say the verse is, " A verse to Lord Burlington who built a beautiful house in a beautiful Garden," and he, the poet was worried that this great Patron was importing things from Italy, so he said, " consult the Genius of the place in all." Now, consulting the Genius of the place. What is the Genius? it is a Greek idea that the Gods lie in the soil and in the Earth. Not quite as I understand it in the Indian religion where the Gods seem to be something different,but there is this idea that the grass, the trees, the crops, are where the deity resides. It's sort of Pantheistic. I find this very appealing, and I think that day has come worldwide, when we have to re-examine what the Earth gives to us and I'm not sure that theatre shouldn't connect itself to this.
Iain: I don't see how, I'm a foreigner, but I sense that is the worldwide area; and it needs architects who understand how you reuse things, how you'll reuse the rainwater from the lavatories, in London - and I have - my hot water comes from a heat pump in the roof; so I'm doing my little bit, but I think the whole building you came into (the Ninasam theatre) could use natural ventilation, that's my t-shirt that I'm wearing, recycled human waste in various ways so that in general, you would return to the soil.
Romi: It's not a problem. That dilapidated hotel of ours practices energy conservation because hot water is given for twenty minutes...and they give you a telephone call saying, "Hot water's starting now" - it's only for twenty minutes that you get hot water. But building ecologically is in a very advanced state here in India, India actually has the largest number of registered 'green' buildings in the world.
Iain: How about the first 'green' Arts space?
Romi: Sure, The reason it's got that many buildings is that many buildings is its very easy in India to get green buildings because we use recycled materials in a very large way anyway. You see, you score points for what happens to waste paper. Now in Europe paper's thrown away, in India it's recycled immediately so you rack up points, so it's much easier to do that. But in any case I think I'll still be obsessed with this idea of the spectacular site, that would certainly have to be ecological because you can't actually afford to run a theatre building which is going to be expensive.
Iain: Well maybe this spectacular Thing is a one thousand seat movable theatre. Which because, frankly, labour is still intensive - capital cost cheaper here, so you pack it up and take it to another city.
So the first Great Theatre Festival of the Arts happens in five, six different towns, but it needs - don't get it designed by an engineer for god's sake; the engineer must serve the architect. It needs a concept that when that circus, that thing, has arrived in town, it's party time, and there are bars around where you can drink and there are fireworks on the first night and then there are some very good plays and some very important art as well as the big tent, there are three small tents, and it will all cost an enormous amount of money which Sanjna is going to get...
Romi: No, no I don't agree that it's going to cost a lot of money. I think that what this requires is an enormous human resource; the technology is very easy to assemble. It's not expensive at all, and it can begin at a spectacular site. I think there are great possibilities of doing this. we mustn't forget that theatre groups are very strong in certain regions; in other regions there is no theatre activity.
Iain: (to Sanjna) We're nearly finishing, so get your head closer to the microphone (Joined by Sanjna) just kneel down there and say your thought come on.
Sanjna: Just to say that we have commercial theatre in India.
Iain: Is it any good?
Sanjna: No...but some of it!
Romi: In Gurgaon, they've got this spectacular thing.
Sanjna: Marathi theatre has an enormous tradition. (Interruptions by a spectator, continues) There is Marathi theatre which is very very commercial, fantastic performances, most amazing performances, scripts - they're facing a crisis, but it is incredibly popular.
Iain: Are they part of India Threatre Forum?
Sanjna: Unfortunately not yet. Because they have to find a need. Whoever is here has a need. We don't go in and bring people in. They find a need to be here, so when they find a need they'll be with us. There is Gujarati theatre which is very very commercial; there is other traditional theatre which is booked till 2026 and which has tickets that sell at a 150 rupees, whereas in Bangalore the art theatre can't sell a ticket for more than a thirty rupees and it won't. So we have our own poverty in our brains.
Iain: Then I'm going to say if I'm a politician, why on earth should I give money to you?
Sanjna: That's a different question. And then you've got the mobile theatre in Assam which came out of another peculiar thing in India - and I think anywhere in the world, it will come out of the few individuals- the British council guy, the artists in Avignon, who want to make it happen. Assam's mobile theatre which has phenomenal commercial engagement, huge mobile theatre, enormous - two stages, wrapped up, travels from vilage to village to village to village to village in Assam; is seasonal, 9 months of the year it performs - or 8 months in the year; it is hugely commercial - people make enormous money. People who study at the National School of Drama who want to create and do create art theatre go off and work for one year, earn money and come back and do the theatre they want. And that's what happens in Assam and North India, it hasn't been replicated anywhere else. But it's two individuals who started it.
Iain: But do these artists working in these commercial theatres also work in theatres that you represent.
Sanjna: Yes, some of them do - the silly bugger who was supposed to be here but he's not. (Nagesh? - someone in the audience asks) Yeah he does both, the actor in the play last night. He does commercial thatre and this other theatre.
Iain: Tell me about the commercial theatre buildings.
Sanjna: They are very big, huge, proscenium stages that the government's built or other people are building. Satish Alekar is here from Pune which is the hub of ..
Iain: What's wrong with that?
Sanjna: Oh, they're fine. It's terrible when they're being reconstructed
because the architects of today don't know their whatsit from their whatsit and they make a mess of it.
Sanjna: There's a fourth point - we have huge mega festivals; we have big festivals in the country. The government runs a very enormous festival in Delhi, and has now started a grant, which is about to start or is it already started? A mega festival grant where it will give 50 lakhs to an individual organisation that runs a mega festival; it doesn't have to be a government festival. Kerala, in the last four years has seen a very major festival - international festival. Sudhanva has been a part of that process; unfortunately these are government organisations - the people who run it change and the festival falls to pieces. Both these festivals came up to really amazing, interesting stature; the people in Kerala changed and this year, it was a disaster. And that's the way things run in India.
Iain: That is the way things run everywhere, that is not unique to India, if you have people appointed by governments, you have good people and bad people and things go down, there's no answer to this - it's a universal problem. My worry is that - you've very kindly invited me here but nobody can give me bit of paper or a booklet that explains theatre in India, If there's anything to the buildings and there's no explanation of the succesful commercial theatre. All I sense is you don't like the buildings because you think they're doing them wrong.
Sanjna: We can't get in, we won't get in. Our audiences won't come there necessarily. It's not easy; firstly, in Gujarati theatre, you will not get a date, it's a mafia running it. In Karnataka, in Bangalore, your Rabindra whatsit (Ravindra Kalakshetra) - there is a mafia running those dates, you won't get the date there.
Jean Guy: Yeah but you've not understood. These two gentlemen want a big beautiful centre, where can we do it?
Iain: I still say they have their architectural politic...
Question posed by audience member (Naresh?): I just want to make one point. The theatre client in India is not educated. If a surgeon comes to me to build a hospital, I don't necessarily know what an operating room looks like - you should...unless the surgeon says I need it like this - I need a prep room, I need to bring the client and I need space all around the table to work on it; I have no bloody clue what he wants unless you tell me. I know how to make it happen once I understand work flow and ergonomics and requirements and functionality but many theatre - I am working on three projects at the same time and one of them - I am my own client which is very difficult, which is more difficult than I thought it would be. But the problem is that there is no...for instance, I was looking at the Theatre Forum website, if somebody wanted to build a theatre, what is the brief you go and tell an architect? Is there like a...not maybe one brief, maybe, are there sample briefs? Because if you just come and say - all the complaints you hear are - the green rooms are not okay, there is no wing space in the side, the space above the stage is too low for rigging,, these are just hygiene issues which can be put down on paper.
Iain: I want to draw a distinction between functionalism and meta functionalism, if I can use that word. The soul of the space is difficult to write into a brief. What is easy, the dressing rooms, the front of a house, the sides of the (?). I've given you a book it's all easy, that bit. You can produce a document - a theatre should have this, this and this, but it still isn't going to address the character and soul of the space. That, when Frank Dunlop said, "For the young Vic, I want it one-third the assembly hall, one-third Elizabethan and one-third a circus, that was the brief for the soul of the building.
Naresh: Have you ever heard a brief like that in India?
Iain: Architects tend to want the function - how many cubic metres for this? how many square metres for that? Then they think that is the brief; it happens in America too - they think the plan of accomodationis a brief; it isn't. It's necessary, for the soul, the difficulty is writing it down, articulating what the aesthetic and social purpose of the structure is - that is where you come in, but don't confuse it please with the nuts and bolts. The nuts and bolts are easy, just that it is a lot of work. Sorry... ( points to member of audience)
Ashok Bhagat: I am Ashok Bhagat, designer of lights and sets, working on differnt things for the last thirty-five years, trained at NSD, and I am correcting the mistakes done by architects - I have redone around thirteen theatres in India and there are others which are going on. Ok, now a few things I'll add before that, you are talking about great spectacles - we had great spectacles in India - we had the war of fifty days, which was done in Delhi, as a huge spectacle. Then Ramayan was done, then Andha Yug by Bhanu Bharti was done - these were spectacles. Before that, National School of Drama had done it in different places - that's something else. Then Ratan Thiyam, who is doing all spectacle plays, which go around the world.
Sudhanva: Ashok, they are talking about big spectacle as a festival, like a festival kind of...
Iain: Thank you for that point but what I also said is to India Theatre Forum is you must join some international organisations, because we don't know this. At the organisation I've been involved in, we know what's happening in most of the countries of the world. This is the biggest island in the world, India - it looks in on itself. It's a huge island separated by oceans, Himalayas and you don't have dialogue enough with other countries because I've always been convinced there weren't (?) spectacles in theatre. I don't quite understand how that relates to religion and how, what sort it is, so don't discuss the details, and just say to outsiders here, who want to know more about it. You must tell the world more, and I've been suggesting you read a book called "Success stories" and success stories are sometimes individual places like this and sometimes are the fact there is a commercial theatre in Gujarati, and the fact that these festivals exist. I think you need to tell not only the world, but politics that you actually are successful. not that you've had to rebuild it.
Iain: We've had to rebuild theatres built in the fifties and sixties - that happens everywhere, now that's not going to happen, because you're here and you can prevent that from happening.
Romi: But I think you should be corrected on the issue of the spectacle. We're talking about one location repeatedly having a spectacle and taking the dialogue of theatre on and sort of spreading it all over. (Audience member intervenes and is cut off by Iain)
Iain: Hang on, I don't think we've got time, Thank you for the topic but I think we ought to move towards a summing up and (to Romi) - you go first, I've been talking too much.
Romi: We've summed it up before, that the India Theatre Forum is going to find the spectacular location on which there is going to be a spectacular theatre.
Iain: It should be mobile, yes, and going different places.
Romi: And what would be your conclusion, the festival, right, there would be recurrent festivals of a spectacular kind?
Jean Guy: As Iain said, festival, because we don't know India enough for instance in France, except Kathakali, which is coming every two years and some musicians - always the same. And there is a big confusion between Pakistanis and Indians because the French - they get confused,
Romi: They think it's the same music?
Jean Guy: And we have one theatre, Theatre de la Ville in Paris, it brings that every year, Except that we don't have in France, even with a big festival like Avignon, we don't have Indian theatre. We don't know what the young directors are doing here; this country is one-sixth or one-seventh part of the world with the same importance as China, so the festival is that...I mean before you bring the big theatres who maybe have no money to survive - a single festival is probably the best way for young directors to exchange with the young directors from the rest of the world, and then to grow up and develop something and not to just say how can we start? But to really do something and see some young director who can do things with little money, lots of energy, lots of hope, because I know at the end that will have a result.
For instance, in Avignon, we had one thousand French companies. Many companies start in Avignon, not just because journalists were there, because they meet, to see all of these people around you from different cities, from different countries, that gives you a lot of energy, lots of hope, and you start and you make a project with people from different cities and after maybe we can think about building something more solid and maybe a good example of what the theatre should be in the future because we have to think in another direction; tomorrow (?) there is no energy. So India which is from my point, one of the most ecological countries historically and also by necessity, would be a good place to build the theatre of tomorrow which costs nothing to run everyday because we can do for school, we can do for theatre probably that should start with change from outside.
Iain: I am going to sum up about outward looking - just, you should know that the Edinburgh Festival of 2014 has its theme "The countries of the Commonwealth" and as India last had the Commonwealth games - they're going to be in Glasgow, which is 40 miles away. I strangely met with the director, Jonathan Mills, and I said can I look for some groups while I am there and he said, "Well, I am in touch with quite a lot already. I wonder who he is in touch with, but that's somewhere you should blow your trumpet. I'll just slightly humorously tell you that there's a danger of festivals, that they drain the activity by concentrating it all in a period and Edinburgh which is hailed as the Athens of the North; some people refer to it as Reykjavik of the South. After a few successful festivals, the verse was published,"Some talk of Ionesco and some of Harold Pinter, but if you think this town is culture's crown, you should come here in the winter!" It can drain things, so by all means concentrate, but I think it's once again it is advancing on different levels - inward-looking, outward-looking, taking stock and you must have major events. And that why we're suggesting ecological mobile theatres
Spectacular theatres three auditoriums designed by Romi and Jean Guy Lecat
Romi: Thank you very much and on that positive note,
jean Guy: A lady came to a friend and said I want to have a baby, how should it be educated? My friend said - have the baby, you will be wrong whatever you do!