ITF 2nd Theatre Seminar: Building for Theatre
Duration: 02:34:32; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 21.010; Saturation: 0.095; Lightness: 0.276; Volume: 0.257; Cuts per Minute: 0.738; Words per Minute: 109.568
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.
Ninasam, Heggodu, Karnataka
Iain: ...and it worked. It was a great success. Why? Because the director of the play had an idea of simple clarity. All the costumes were of various, almost identical opium colour with no decoration. The stage lighting was very subtle- never changed. There was no music. There was one drum, one folded sheet, one rain machine which are the traditional properties of the British theatre. And it worked because they were both superb theatres, totally different, and they did not need to relate the space to a complex reduction. They related space to a very simple reduction, relying on William Shakespeare. Now, from there, we were invited to go to the Adelaide festival and the limitation there was that the scenery had to fit in the underneath of a Boeing 747. So that was another limitation. We thrived on limitations. And touring theatre, I find, is the thing that relates me in different countries and different cultures. There's something about the actor having to cope with the situation at the start, but having given a clear idea with the director. So that there is such strength in the concept, such simplicity in the concept, it can go to different places.
Now, what I've just said, the one theatre that we always found perfectly terrible, were neutral spaces. The last thing that we'd like is black spaces, neutral spaces- I'll come to that later. But as we were talking about it in the morning, it is something I experienced over 50 years as a disaster.
Theatre is collaborative. Theatre building is collaborative. My own little corner at a theatre consultancy is collaborative. That has three sides to it- it has a technical installation, stage lighting, sound and the stage engineering. It has the planning of the building, making sure everything is functioning backstage and in front of us. And it has a third, which I will design, which is sitting and conceiving sometimes a theatre space and sending that plan to the architect. It's a triangle.
Another way to think of that collaboration- as a triangle that spins. At one moment, you are the key person with the idea. And the next moment, you will support the key person. And cricket teams have to have captains. You don't notice when the captain goes up to the crease. Design teams have to have architects and the architect is the captain of the team- a team team team is my experience. And the other thing I want to just explain: This is the book you've got snippets about. I got a reduction- weighs 40 pounds and you send an email to the firm and this tells you everything you ever wanted to know about how to build a theatre. What sort of theatre, about how and what options they have. It is not that good on the visionary side. It is extremely good on the planning and technicalities. Now I've given this a look at the theatre forum, I'll take it back after the session and I'm sure you can read it. Now, 41 conferences, what I've learnt is that there are very new problems. There are new aspects of universal problems and those universal problems have old solutions. But they also have new solutions, which is why we're here. When I hear people asking about this and this and that- I say oh that's so familiar, read through the book, come and catch me we'll talk about it. But the excitement is the new solutions. I've been hearing about the dance theatre in Bangalore and it maybe that excitement. I was hearing things that I've not heard before. And by tradition, I hardly understood. New solution is what is the important thing.
So, I suggest 9 headings. What does theatre comprise? Recasting old definitions; Measuring Size and Scale; Conditions for an audience; Paradoxes to be grasped; Conflicting demands of different theatre forms; Theatre people's requirements; How the past can inform the future and the place and pedigree of the Prithvi in the evolution of the thrust stage. Because it may not realise itself. It's a small version of something that started in 1948. How these evolved in different circumstances has always fascinated me. Well, what does theatre comprise? Often the word theatre is used as an alternative to drama. This is a confusion. It is like regarding Britain and England as interchangeable. I am Scottish and British, I'm not English. So with theatre. Currently in most countries, theatre comprises drama, dance, opera and fourthly musical theatre, which involves amplification. The physical commands of these differ in essence, but often overlap in practice. I'm not going to talk about performance art or things that involve audiences of less than 50. I enjoy going to them, I know nothing about them, and I suggest there few rules, which is probably a good thing.
In drama, one must be able to read expressions on the face. In dance, even in a small space, one must see the feet of the performers. For opera- let us call it unamplified musical theatre- a different acoustic than what is generally required. I say generally because there are a whole range of opera spaces in Britain and North America, which have the volume required for music and yet are intimate enough for drama. They are sometimes called Opera Houses for quite another reason. In the 19th Century, in England and America, an opera house sounded respectable, while the name playhouse catered to theatre, carried with it centuries old connotations of immorality. Until 1788, players in Britain were considered to rogues and vagabonds and could be summarily imprisoned. There were no princes to protect them. Commercial theatre earned them money. Now the fourth category: musical theatre with amplification. Think Broadway, Bollywood or London's West End stage musicals and sporting worldwide. The architectural requirements are simple- Large stages, large auditoria and good sightlines to a pre-digested scenic experience. Features you don't want for most theatres, but do for conferences. There's another category of theatre important in India, but less so elsewhere- Sacred Theatre. Ancient Greek theatre was a sacred rite of religion dedicated to both the god Apollo, who presided over poetry and also Dionysus, who also looked after wine and pleasure. Anything wrong with the (?) sound is that Dionysus is not allowed to enter. And just remember in Greece, quite as many coarse plays were presented as great tragedies. In the 12th and 15th century Europe, almost all theatre was religious- confined to a set stage, and played by ordinary people, dragging pageants through the street. This is a modern drawing of that. In England, the first purpose-built professional playhouse did not open until 1576. In many countries then, the only theatre, apart from private performances from the (?) in Paris was sacred theatre. In 18th century Britain, drama was presented at a grand scaled in London and most simply in the country. I'll show you three plays by William Shakespeare. Three (?) played within only a period of 30 years. First, Coriolanus, at Drury Lane- the greatest theatre in Britain at the time. Second, Macbeth in a country bar. And thirdly, Hamlet, out of doors in front of thelocal vagabond who's asleep.(?). Now these are all Shakespeare, all British and all within 30 years. So don't please think of English theatre as being very grand. There were many many touring companies around Britain.
In South India, there is a 400 year old tradition of building theatre spaces which were primarily arranged for performances. The Koothambalams, which in turn originated in the (?) where classical Sanskrit drama was performed over 2,000 years ago. Now why do I mention "sacred" at the outset. A distinguished actor called Tony Quail who ran the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 1950s before becoming a film star, was in a respectable time in West America. He was asked by a group of citizens who were considering building a theatre, "What is the essence of succesful theatre?" He answered, "That's easy. A successful theatre is half a church and half a brothel." The citizens were shocked and built a museum and art gallery instead. When we talk about the essential character of a theatre space, we ought not to forget the (?) as well as the sacred. I'm thinking when people ask me about energies- Energy is as difficult to find as sex appeal. Both you can, but somehow you feel subjectively about what they consist of.
The first definiton that needs to be recast is the proscenium theatre, which seems here in India, to be genuinely used pejoratively. Although here, you have a good proscenium theatre. Typical of what was being built in England and Europe between 1930 and 1970. But I guess if (?) or a colonial hall with a flat floor for the audience chairs and a decorative frame at the far end of the hall, behind which the performance takes place. All of barren, modern auditoriums with a similar screen at one end, the actor is banished to another room.
This is a theatre in Britain in 1933. (next slide) And this is the plan of one in America of the same year.
In contrast, there were more successful proscenium theatres in the past. There are those where the arch elegantly terminates an auditorium at each side of the stage. The arch is functional, in that it prevents the energy leaking out sideways.
(next slide) One hundred years earlier, the stage came forward of the arch. Principals of an opera stood on the forestage, the chorus under the arch and the main stage was used only for scenery and for grand entrances. This is 1832 and I think (?) wife, (?).
(next slide) In constrast the modern stage, often with a fan shaped auditorium, has two snags: The energy does leak out sideways. The architecture of the side starts so far apart, (next slide) that as a result supersized scenic stage. (next slide) And this is The Olivier at London's National Theatre. Another problem with a fan-shaped auditorium is that an individual member of the audience, all they can see other than the persons on their left and right, are the backs of the necks and the row in front. The back of the neck is hardly the most interesting part of the anatomy. Proscenium theatres can be intimate and focussed. We'll visit one later.
I'm skeptical of multi-form theatres. I'm a bit worried the English language- multi-purpose means it is used for purposes other than theatre. Community meetings, party places, conferences. "Multi-function," I didn't really understand the word but I think it's used synonymously with multi-purpose. Multi-form is the theatre which changes its shape in various parts, which is more interesting. Now multi-form theatres, in spaces larger than studios, holding more than one hundred or so, is problematic because of the sheer space and time of moving big blocks of seating. You can move chairs easily, with building them transferably in the last 4 hours. The idea of a multi-form theatre is attractive to two groups: educational institutions and to committees which can't make up their minds. William Shakespeare said that if two men ride a horse, one must ride behind. Now if more than two ride a horse, one will certainly be in front. (?) in a multi-form if it is recognisably one sort of theatre which can never be changed.
(next slide) Here is the Cottesloe Theatre in London, which I designed- set out as a conventional proscenium theatre.
(next slide) Here are some drawings of how the centre part can be rearranged. So those galleries are permanent and fixed and everything down there in the centre, you can move by hand. And just focus on those different arrangements, which are not involved in the mechanism at all.
Now the next topic, surprisingly, I have no illustrations. Throughout the world over the past 50 years, there has been a move towards performing in spaces which are recognisably not theatres. Advantages include the mystery, the previous uses of these now now redundant spaces, leave behind their own memories and something we can't analyse. And it's also cheaper to convert a space than build a fresh one because you already have a roof. Another advantage of found space, is that it provides a (?) for a historic building which otherwise might be lost. Jean Guy will no doubt discuss this tomorrow. Now when Brook asked about what it was that brought the most vivd relationships between people and went on to say what is the rule of this disorder? I'll let you into a secret- we're going to hear from Jean Guy tomorrow- he's the rule. He's the man who when somebody wanted a Brook production said, "No we won't work there at all or yes we definitely will." And then occasionally would have to discuss this with Peter Brook. And Jean Guy's mind and experience (?) him with that. There isn't a rule per se. There's experience- of the space and of the production. But they're confusedly called found space which baits the question- once the audience and actor have found the space for a number of productions, it can no longer be found. And it becomes to the audience's mind another fixed theatre. Now the new buzz word is performative space. In Prague this year, last year, they were all talking about performative space, which I think means that the space itself performs a role in the performance. But I believe that all theatre spaces play a part in the theatre experience. Some negatively, some positively.
Next, measuring size and scale. We talk about big theatres and small theatres. Often we identify size by the number of seats. Why? Because it's easy. But in European theatres the same auditorium that may have originally held over twice as many people as it does today, it's a question of density- historical density. There's also measuring them by feet and inches. Now some say, that even the greatest actor in drama, without amplification, cannot project more than 66 feet. It was indeed a measure which Sir Laurence Olivier came up with in the late '60s after a visit to a playhouse in Berlin, in order to impose a design brief on the two main auditoriums of of the National Theatre. 66 feet happens to be four rods- the English medieval unit of property. (?) which is 16 feet 6 inches. Oh yes and four rods is the length of a cricket pitch. 66 feet or 22 yards. It is also just 6 inches less than a comfortable universal size of 20 metres. How much easier if the crtical measurements were directly related to the human body. Now when you put the Hasta and the Danda on to the human body, it has an immense advantage that, if it is a theatre built in South India, it will be a smaller theatre than a theatre built in the north of India where people are taller. So it's genuinely the human scale. I think India is unique in having such a unit of measurement that was used throughout the continent, but is not specifically related to that. And that's very good, that that's how you measure. Now, large theatres are called for by two distinct groups who always wanted to build bigger. The former, to make money and the latter, to reach as great a number of people as possible so that theatre should not be thought elitist. Such were the people's (?) of the Soviets of the 1920s and 1930s. And such huge, similar style, Chinese opera houses of today- they've demolished them. Neither commercial nor Communist enterprises respected human skill.
Now a few weeks ago, I discovered another political dimension. After the guillotine of Louis XVI and the French Revolution in 1793, revolutions called for transparency in government and hence, the larger public gallery at the new National Assembly. The first one 1,400 then 2,500, before finally the (?) sphere called for 12,000 to be seated in the public gallery. There was no amplification in 1793, but no such galleries were ever built preceding it.
Now, the conditions for the audience: Rather than talking first about the performance need in a good theatre, I'd like to come back to the same ground from the point of view of the audience. I'm talking purely about theatre space here. Now, I'm going to define theatre space as just a stage and the auditorium because people (?) as an architect, (?) and it includes both, so I call it theatre space. Of course we need foyers where we can stretch our legs, talk amongst ourselves, take refreshments, and eat sufficient lunches. And because we need backstage areas and each country has to go through the experience of building terrible ones.
Now most audiences, they want comfortable seats. Such as those that have experienced going to the cinemas. Comfort, you can say, encourages concentration. But it also encourages sleeping. (next slide) As this ill-known judge (?) is seated at Britain's new National Theatre in 1976. Whoever thought of going to the National in a tuxedo? In a cinema, it doesn't matter if any of the audience doze, but in a live theatre each person switched off almost dilutes the experience for all of us. Any (?) cannot be recharged by an inattentive audience, and like an electric motor running on draining battery it will slow down. Albert Finney (?) opened the National Theatre and the new director was trying to get him back to that. Architects now understand the audience responds to the actor and vice-versa because Finney complained that he felt like a battery running down performing in the theatre. He got nothing back from the audience. And Finney's response is quite interesting. You saw the concrete picture of the Olivier theatre earlier. The director said, "You see, architects understand that theatre buildings are instruments upon which the actor plays." And Finney looked to one side and the other side and said, "And who would build a violin out of fucking concrete?"
(next slide) Should we talk of leg room and width of seat- if the bodies are supposed to be alert, less legroom is needed. And an ergonomically designed seat takes up less space as the back is more upright. And do we need wide seats, except for the unfortunately obese? Putting arms between seats- doing away with these means more people to a row. Now in all the experimental theatres in Britain, in the 150-350 seat range, who specialise in new writing and new forms of production, no longer require conventional theatre seats. Instead, they provide padded benches which are comfortable and squeezed people up.
Now, The Globe- this was The Globe of 1599. It was recreated in 1997, as much as scholarship allowed. Now those people in the front of are all standing. So the actor is getting a standing audience to give a feedback. Now, how many are there? 600 today and a thousand in the same space in Elizabethan times. And I think these two tarts- because 95% of the ladies who went to theatre at this time were prostitutes,-are enjoying the play which is rather (?) to their profession. Let us think - galleries were also very tight and compact. So when you go to The Globe, it feels very full of people and it held twice as many people in the Elizabethan period. And there's no record of how many people there are in that 19th century gallery because what you're counting is how much money you took- you didn't see how many people were there. You see how those people are packed looking at the performance which is down there in that corner.
This can be calculated. Let us say there's a square 15 feet by 15 feet. We get a 112 standing people in that space. Now an old theatre in the late 19th century, in the cheap seats, in the same space you would get 7 rows of 10 with 70 people. Now being tightly packed in the cheap seats right at the back of the stall- it's called the pit- the same space today holds 40 people. So, density really is enormous here. So don't just think of what a theatre holds in numbers.
I'm going to talk briefly about ventilation, I have no illustrations, and we should just listen to the mechanical noise. Cities were quieter in the past, so extraneous noise was not so intrusive. Theatres in Europe and North America did not remain open in the summer, until about 50 years ago. Now summer is the highest season because of tourists. Fans, rather than air conditioning, were considered sufficient in hot weather. Big theatres in Britian, even until the 1930s, had domes in the roof that slid back to let the air out because it was disgusting to so many people. Electric fans are noisy unless the air is moved both in and out though large ducts which have to be fitted into roof areas. Last night, you remember when this was all shut, how warm it was. An efficient fire system is the single most expensive part of any new theatre and must be integrated into the building design at the outset and not any later. At the same time, public expectation for efficient air conditioning in theatre increases year on year as standards rise in cinemas, hotels and grand restaurants. I served for a year in the army in Hong Kong. There were two pieces of air conditioning in the entire colony, so we lived in the fresh air for most of it. I'm not advocating air conditioning for all theatres in India, except if it makes sense. But I urge people to site their theatres in areas where there is little extraneous sound, like here in Ninasam. Contruct them so the outside pentetration of noisr is minimum.
(next slide) This proposal is by a Swedish architect called Pierre (?) and he made it during a conference in Lahore 30 years ago. And you'll see the principal there is to draw the air up and out and use the light to help them do that.
Our next section is paradoxes. There are no illustrations to this either. The first is that an auditorium with perfect site plans for all seats will be a bad theatre, but a good cinema. It will not have any of audience seeing audience, which is an essential ingredient of the theatre experience. Parallel rows of audience will distance the actor. If the auditorium holds many, it will either be too long or too wide. I think the theatre here is on that limit. So, the answer is to paper the walls of the auditorium with people. This must be additional capacity. For example, if you ask for 300 seats, then the architect should add a further 100 seats, benches or standing room in galleries, boxes, or benches to the sides to give a total of 400. But there is a condition: this will not work for theatres that wish to charge the same price for all places. Good theatres in Britain, which we used to visit greatly, when they opened had for nearly 300 years and 8:1 price ratio for most spaces. This had enormous social benefits in that all classes of society attended the same theatre. Pay less than the rich people and not only can you yourself afford to go- your presence in spaces that otherwise would be blank enhances the experience for all. A small, less than capacity, single-price audience in say a thrust stage, will concentrate itself in a clump in the front for them to see either side. If the audience is to capacity, then those who sit to the side believe that the best seats are given only to friends of the management and friends of the actors, even if pay the same. Today, theatre must use flexible pricing to clothe the theatre, so it appears always to be a successful play, with the audience well spread out on the nights that not all places are taken. It is as simple as that. Seat pricing is the part of the design preface.
The second paradox is that what works well in one situation may not work in another. A few instances: First, the caveat of how this is measured. The human body remains the same size and the height and face of a performer measured from the stage or floor is reasonably constant. There is a limit to the number of regular, raised rows in any format. The size of the acting area is roughly predictable. For example if actors on a large thrust stage are encircled by too many stepped rows, they would appear to be acting at the bottom of a well. Similar calculations can be done for a proscenium theatre. Second, the stage riser. Many say that the raising of the stage is old fashioned. That the level of the first row of seating should be the same as the level of the acting area. This is fine for possibly 5 rows. But any more than that, there is a problem.
(next slide) Now this drawing, (?) is rather vivid about what the audience can see by having a shallow rake in most stage risers. He put it rather well, (?) and delicate. He said, "If the dancers were naked, the audience beyond the fifth row would think that hair grew only off their heads." There is a thought that the rigid geometry emphasises the architecture rather than the body of a performer. I disagree. Finely calculated geometry can provide the framework for freedom, while haphazard form does not provide focus.
(next slide) Let us start with the human figure. This is Alberti I think in 14(?) and interestingly leads towards a certain number of sides. Put the stage where the head is. (next slide) Or this shows a 7-sided geometry. And the acting area can be in the centre. (next slide) This is Hall 2 of the musical theatre that I built in Gateshead with Norman Foster. A marvellously designed (?) start with a little detailing exactly (?) they understand that it's a good idea. We also painted it red. No Norman Foster building is anything other than grey and I got it red.
So put the stage on end of this 7-sided theatre. (next slide) And this is the junction of the acting area and the levels of the audience watching a jazz performance. And the dynamics of that in a critical area where the audience need the performer is important. Now let us rationalise the opera house that we looked at earlier. (next slide) 2 circles- the audience and the performers. We connect them by simple geometry. Then into that geometry we draw stylistically an (?) opera house and we see that the stage goes out into the auditorium- the forestage. The interesting thing is that for the last hundred years, most of these Italian opera houses have had the forestage removed and we'll see what happens to that. (next slide) This is the drawing we were looking at earlier, and the performers are in the house. (next slide) But look what happens if we take away the forestage. Why? 2 reasons: More postions in the orchestra and an aesthetic of the 19th century which led to the idea that the actor should be within the scenic picture. Now that was not how and why proscenium theatres were formed. The stage was a spectacle, the actor was out in the house. This has been a great confusion. And you can see the blue area, which is the acting area, has been pushed upstage, so the person who had virtually the best seat before- and the best seats were on the side because the candle and overall lighting was so dim, it was better to sit on the side than to sit out in the centre up front.
The conflicting demand of different theatre forms: Now there are conflicting demands, such as achieving (?) for the performance area and preventing the "acting at the bottom of the well" effect in too high an auditorium. There's one rule worth remembering and I think it is that in almost any form of theatre, the eyeline of half the audience should be below the eyeline of the performer. And the other half should be above the eyeline of the performer. Now this relationship, in section through the building, is rarely discussed and you see hundreds of drawings of different theatres in plan. Why do you want some of the audience below? When you are below me, I can control you and if I'm a stand up comedian, you can shout at me. If you're above, I'm pinned out like a butterfly on a tray and your role as an audience is more analytic. Which is why some directors prefer to looking down on the performer. The best theatres have a bit of both.
With audiences on three sides, the important thing is that the audiences on each side are roughly the same size as the audience in front in numbers measured from the point of command towards the front of the thrust stage. If you compromise on that, you're really pushing up the main stage with a few people on the side. A theatre on all four sides- this is the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London which seats 108. I designed this and it's the only in-the-round theatre that I've ever designed. On the ground floor, there are never more than three rows and there's a single row gap that's slightly assymetrical above. Now the director of this is uncompromising. The audience and the actor are literally in the same room and he never transfers his productions to any other private theatre and never directs in any other theatre. He's a good director and a good friend, but the theatre is in very (?). He's like a member of an obscure, fundamentalist religious cult. He knows there is one road- his road- in-the-round road to theatre heaven. So I've enjoyed doing it once but not again. Lastly in this group there is what is now called in Britain promenade theatre which came to great attention 35 years ago when they did the medieval mysteries at the (?). All the seats were removed at the centre and the audience stood there. Mystery plays are about the mystery of religion and they were performed by amateurs in medieval times in floats, going through the place. Now here, is a modern one. This is God creating the world, creating heaven and Earth, from the top of a fortieth (?) and intially, the audience going into a dance. It's a magical moment and this is the only great photograph I have as he rose to the music and created the world.
(next slide) Adam and Eve were naked in wet gravel, drinking through straws. And the craft that presented this were the lighting and candle craft. Here came the electricians. And the tree is made of paper- heavy duty paper. The rest of the cast become the servant tempting Eve- there she is with the serpent running around her. Finally, when Baby Jesus is to be conceived- the guardian Angel Gabriel announced it with a single reflected reflected light off a metal tray, like we eat here, pointing the light down at Mary and telling her that she's going to have God's child.
Theatre peoples' requirements: Today it is difficult for the performer to see the audience, except in the smaller studios, due to the ever increasing brightness of stage light and the ever more efficient control. In the old days, with oil or candle light, the performer was more aware of the individual members of the audience- they used to keep the lights on in the auditorium- and could adjust his performance to a particular audience. How this intimacy is to re-established is one of the great challenges in theatre today. More performances with flat lighting or natural lighting perhaps. In other word I'm saying that theatre lighting has become too clever for itself. A performer also needs a responsive audience. I believe that it is part of the architect's job to make sure the audience has a responsive attitude when the show starts. Yes, sightlines and comfort and sightlines not too much, apart from the story, and so also there's colour. There's an inherent conflict between some theatre people who have black and grey as a background to the performance and the performer who would like first and foremost, a receptive audience. Let me explain: Some years ago, The Journal of Behavioural Scienctists, Richard (?) told a conference in Munich that he had taken two similar groups of people in different rooms and attached electrodes to the brain. After 15 minutes, he'd show some stimuli- stimuli which represented the actor- and measured how quickly each group responded by laughing or crying. He was able to demonstrate that the group that had been in the red and golden room cried sooner and laughed quicker than the group that had been in the black and concrete room. Most actors notice that architects, philosophers, lighting designers of the modern theatre you know, they call for a dark and neutral background for the auditorium so that the performance alone is the focus. I believe that this may be a mistaken approach and that colour and decoration of a human scale either condition or determine it's style, it's requirement, if theatre is to be a joyous occasion.
The requirements of the director and designer are simple. Directors of drama like not too big a theatre. The designer likes not too large an acting area to fill with what is always too small a budget. (?) the time the manager cries income from the box office to pay the performers and (?) and hence more seats. If it was ever thus. The lighting and sound designers are often the hardest to please. They've seen the latest equipment, which salesmen sugggest is essential. It suffices to say that the most important element in travelling theatre is not the latest equipment, but the provision of lighting positions which are safe and accessible for the lighting people to get to the lights. And I'm amazed how many theatre spaces still seem to depend on the step ladder. Technical staff need to be involved from the start of planning and need to be given on stage and off stage equipment that can be operated safely; and plenty of secure storage area.
The past can inform the future. The American playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote in 1931, "The only living life is in the past and in the future. The present is an interlude. A strange interlude in which we call on the past and future to bear witness that we are living." In the discipline and art of creating theatre space today, we need to care less about theatre fashion. I reach for my gun when I hear the phrase "state of the art." I'm all about the poetry of past and future. Many theatre buildings rapidly become (?) if they are built around simple, (?) design to make the present easier. In Europe in the late 18th century, the raising of ceiling through the (?), in the 19th century they froze from above, nowadays there's projection. The future generations had better address themselves to what can trigger the imagination. Can the past tell us about the future?
In the London Shakespeare Globe in 1999, superior intellectuals judged it as a mere Disneyland- to be patronised by tourists and American professors. At first, the critics were right. Then the standards increased and in 2010, over 310,000 patrons some by day and some by night saw the plays of Shakespeare against only 178,000 in Statford upon Avon. In 2011, Stratford opened its new theatre. You can see, I think, how the invocation of a Shakespearean past is translated into modern day.
What place has India in this vision of the past shaping the future? In 1984, Goverdhan Panchal entered in the preface of the first edition of his study of Koothambalam and Koodiyattam, these words which I'll illustrate as I go along. "The Koothambalam is the descendant of an ancient classical theatre (?). A descendant need not be an exact replica of its form. It must reflect its own individual personality in time and space and yet reflect its ancient lineage. Does the culture of our country- that's India- today not bear the stamp our ancient heritage? It certainly does and yet we do not think or live in the sway of the past as our ancestors. A theatre must reflect the new emerging drama of the present. And the Koothambalam can easily be adapted to suit our times as it is nothing more than a bare platform which will suit the presentation and form of drama leaving heaven and the imagination. If this study helps even in a small measure to stimulate the imagination of theatre planners and institutions thinking of building new theatres, I will consider my labours amply rewarded."
When I was in India 5 years ago, my wife and I spent 3 evenings at (?) and spent them all at the venue's small theatre. We were enthralled by the living tradition of Koodiyattam. Courtesy our chair Himanshu, comes these images of the larger theatre in the temple, which I wasn't allowed into. I would also like to remind you that in 1987, the plans for (?) and the National Arts Centre in Delhi in which I was briefly involved, included a modern Koothambalam- which you can see here in the model of the centre- which was never built. The manager also sent me this image of Adishakti in Pondicherry, which I visited 3 days ago, which provides grounds for proof that it is possible to derive modern theatre spaces from ancient Koothambalams. That the past in other countries could inspire new theatres, is suggested by these images from China, where the touring theatres were always mounted over water in a village. That's from Malaysia. And that, god knows what it is, I found it a very romantic image. And then from Japan too. There are not many Japanese modern theatres that take this or this as its inspiration. As a good example of the past and present, let me show you the successful 200 seat classical theatre with which I was closely involved 25 years ago, made of scaffolding in a narrow hall seating 200. Now, nobody knows the
for that building. There it is 1788, the only surviving 18th century in Britain. I'm sure there is, as Panchal said, great opportunities for seeking inspiration from the Koothambalam for new work in new Indian theatre- in parallel with the sustenance of the ancient art of Koodiyattam from which they were built.
Sadanand Menon showed us spaces in Chennai for (?)- I thought it was the most exciting space I've seen on this visit- which comes from martial arts but a space built to do other things in there.
I thought I'd finish by telling you something about the pedigree of the Prithvi Theatre. It's well-loved and in the Prithviwallahs book, Ved Segan reacted to a visit to England in the early '70s: "After Jenifer and I returned from England, she asked me what I've come up with. I told her Young Vic in London. That's exactly what I had in mind, she said." I thought it might be interesting to trace some pedigree of the Young Vic which opened in 1970. A brief had been given to the architect of the Young Vic by iconoclastic director, Frank Dunlop. He had been charged with creating, with very little money, for young audiences, the Young Vic- in contrast with the Old Vic which was the temporary home of The National Theatre before the new building was completed. Hence the name Young Vic. Frank Dunlop's brief was one sentence: He wanted a cross between Guthrie's (?), the Elizabethan Fortune Theatre and a circus. Here is the (?). Now you'll see immediately we're back to the sacred play. This is the meeting place of the Church of Scotland, which unlike the Roman Catholic Church has no bishops, is democratic and thus (?). So he changed this space into this theatre. So you see there in the centre, some people sitting at the desk and somebody's standing at the back there organising the seats, and galleries all the way around. Guthrie, for his play, built a stage there. This play, Three Estates, was written in 1542 when Scotland was an independent nation, trying to get rid of the Roman Catholic Church. So, divine correction arrives and the world is put to (?). Now he did this in 1948 and I was there- I was rather precocious- and 20 years later we took our productions to the same hall. Now, the next one that Guthrie built was the Stratford Ontario in 1957. Then there came Minneapolis and they're doing Three Sisters there on a thrust stage, surrounded on 3 sides. This is built Guthrie (?) in Perth- small theatre seating only 600. (next slide) Then this theatre is important because it is a proscenium arch theatre that I designed- but I'm showing you this to see how this modern ancient theatre was then changed into a thrust stage. On the stage are four base (?) and made to look like the auditorium. So the stage is literally a thrust stage, showing how something that is primarily a proscenium theatre can do with (?).
Let's move to The Young Vic. That is The Young Vic soon after it opened, which is when Ved and Jenifer saw it. It did have originally a red walled balcony- like this one- by the same architect built a couple of years later. They then put green seats into the main theatre. The Crucible opened in 1971 and that was 900 seats on three sides and here is the production of The Crucible in 1987. I'm referencing it to show you how scenic stage can work in a very simple way on a thrust stage.
And that's the end. Thank you very much.
Himanshu Burte: Thank you Iain for a typically masterful survey of a range options, thought through with a very clear direction, with a personal take on it. I will now invite Ved Segan to make his presentation. Ved is an architect as we all know and he has also been very active in architecture conservation issues in Mumbai and has always been interested in looking at architecture from outside architecture also. And Ved is most famous in the theatre fraternity for his work at Prithvi. It truly is a masterly, almost magical piece of work and he's going to share that story. He's also going to talk to us about the conservation and partial restoration work that he did to save and reproduce a theatre at the old Gaiety at Simla, which was falling down. So that's going to be broadly what the presentation is. Let me invite Ved to begin his presentation.
Ved Segan: Good evening everyone. After what Iain so methodically, so well, he has analysed and given us perfect guidelines for perfect theatre performance, I feel really very small, but since he has also praised the work I now feel confident to stand here and tell you from my point of view, the story of Prithvi. To start with, as you know our film stars, they live in a different world and we are in a different world. And I was literally full of joy when Shashi and Jenifer called me to share or to do this building for them. Now, before I did Prithvi I was involved since 1968- that is almost 10 years- in teaching basic design. To me, even if senior classes were offered to me, I preferred to do basic design because the basic element was something I always felt was a part of every scheme. Whatever work we do in any field, these basic elements reamin the same. Yes, most of us who learn or when we teach students, they don't realise its importance, but it's only after we complete our graduation that we realise that the experience- what we are taught or what we go through- how important it becomes for us to recollect or to work on it right from the beginning with basic elements. Having said that, (next slide) this catch is iconic for Prithvi Theatre. Let me admit one thing- Prithvi was an experience. All the drawings, whatever we did- it was like work happening on site, in the evening coming back to the office and putting on paper what we have done. And the next day, if there is a discussion and if there are any changes, again we would come back and do the same thing. This perspective was when it was complete and it was supposed to be part of our brochure which was prepared, and maybe 3 or 4 days before it was presented. Now coming back again to what I started with- there was an already existing building- (next slide) what I'm going to talk about is using the Old to make New; the Location, Forecourt and Prithvi Cafe; the Entrance and Foyer; The Auditorium and Stage; Upper Level Spaces. I borrowed this word forecourt from Himanshu's book, who has beautifully said the story of Prithvi from his point of view and from the architect's point of view.
(next slide) Now, if you see this, when Shashi and Jenifer called me and though there was an existing structure, we hardly looked at it because we decided that we'll remove that structure and put up the new structure. And this was the concept of a lot of discussions and working which was presented by me and more or less, it was okay because it gave Shashi and Jenifer exactly what they wanted. We had proposed- because that was the time when it was easy to have a dubbing theatre, a place of you know, residence. Otherwise if you do a theatre, the special requirement would be that you have to leave 40 feet of open space in front, 25 feet open space on the sides and the same at the back, which was impossible for us to do in this place. But still we managed to keep the same heights and within that height, we managed to give whatever requirements Shashi and Jenifer had at the time. To start with it was- there should be a dubbing theatre, there should be a small projection theatre and there should be performance space for 500 people. (next slide) When we approached authorities for the permission purpose, they flatly said no, we cannot allow you to have a theatre there because we will not allow you any horizontal expansion- we are not convinced that there is an existing theatre. So that was a task. There was a structure which was made by Shri Prithviraj ji to store his props and once in a while it was used as a rehearsal space also. So I made those drawings in height and pushed out functions like, I don't know whether it actually happened, but on the left hand side, I showed a stage because it was higher. This was the hall, then the passage and the green rooms, toilets, whatever, you know, even if they were storing props- a mechanism was there, I haven't shown that. So I proved it to them that there was an existing theatre. Now that's changed. Unfortunately, they asked the same big question by which all theatres are measured, they asked how many seats are there. So I tried my best to squeeze all the seats and I couldn't get more than 130. So they said ok, that's it, you can't have a theatre even if you say (?) transform the new theatre more than 130 seats.
(next slide) Originally, if you see a section, there was a wooden roof which was high on one side and which sloped down on the other side. So it was hardly useful as a performing space. Now let me go back to why this was thought of: one, because the authorities did not allow us. The second thing was that when the Government heard that Shashi Kapoor is going to make a theatre, they said, ok we are going to offer you land but with a condition that The Asiatic Society, the entire library you will accommodate in this building. And we were sitting- Jenifer, me- and I was very disappointed. It was going to take ages if we had to work with Government grants or government money and the land which they were going to give us. So from my experience of going with Shashi and Jenifer and seeing the places outside, the type of stage she liked and I also found great, I just mentioned to Jenifer- why don't we just do it instead of waiting for the government or building a new theatre. We remove the roof which was in dilapidated condition and we have a steel roof and cover it with cement sheets. She said, "How long is it going to take? How much money is it going to take?" I said hardly one lakh. (next slide) If you go back, that is what it was initially and this is what it is today. So instead of the (?) we have used portals and this is the section the way the present theatre is. (next slide) Initially when we sincerely thought, "Ok, what do we do?" And as I told you we were working everyday on the site- Jenifer would be there earlier than me, we would be there by 10 and go around an see what was to be done. We decided, okay these are the walls which will be removed. And the foyer can be the backstage and we can enter from here and this and that. Everything was discussed like a brief which I was getting everyday and we were working together . That is the essence- she being the theatre person having so much experience, there was no question of my driving in front and it had to be that she knew what she wanted. Technically how it was possible, all those requirements I could think about. So we thought this is the right way, but the form of the stage was very definite right from the beginning. We had thought of the central staircase going down through the dressing room and some space which is required behind the cyclorama and rest everything, more or less the form is same.
(next slide) Now looking at those balconies, we even thought of building a staircase like this and there will be a 5 or 6 feet wide three-sided balcony at a level which was convenient and over the head of the audience.
(next slide) In section it would have looked like this. (next slide) And this is then ultimately the additions to the existing building- the toilets there and instead of entering from the front, there was a big window which we removed and made that into an entrance. There was another entrance on this side. We gave a lobby to it, the back entry to the stage. And behind the cyclorama, the projection which was extra, which was not being allowed because it would reduce the open space at the back, which was already 14 feet. So we faced that problem but somehow or the other we managed that. Now at the upper level, the changes we did: (?) that has come in front. There are the special dressing rooms and the control room and the toilet. Everything fit so well. Even the staircase to go off- instead of a circular staircase I could provide a regular staircase so that actors don't feel uncomfortable while coming down.
(next slide) Now if you see the surroundings, the front space is a kept area. The right side was kept for scenery, loading and unloading. But later on, people found it much easier to load/unload in the forefront and then they enter inside from the left. Even if you have a 16 foot high prop and the height of the door on the left hand side is 8 feet, you can take the prop in. The door is divided into 2. The upper portion remains closed most of the time and the door is normally used during the performance.
(next slide) These are some other images. I need not talk about it because I'm sure that most of the people here have been there and seen it. As you enter, you see the entrance right in front of you. There's no confusion- you know where you have to enter. On the right hand side is the kept area. As you enter, this is how it looks. There's a beautiful tree, which is the essence of that space. The cafeteria which we have retained. And this is the view from the tree side of the entrance. This is the space which was to be open, but with demand for more seats, we did this without obstructing the people exiting from the side- a sitting, eating space.
(next slide) Again, coming through step by step, you can see the entrance. It has got a platform which is used very extensively when people wait because there is no waiting space inside. And it's amazing the way people interact till the main door opens and they enter.
(next slide) This is the auditorium- the sketch which we had made at that time of what it would look like. (next slide) This is how it is actually now.
(next slide) This is again the stage of that time, immediately the photograph was taken during that time. And those standing triangle forms are actually part of the stage. If someone wants to extend the stage, they fit in so beautifully on the sides. That is happening very often. So you don't have to carry it out or anything. And if someone wants to use it and leave a small space, you can easily do it.
(next slide) This is the catwalk and the lights on top. Now from the side if you see, on the front wall, acoustics. Now acoustics we generally do or think of when you start the theatre. Somehow or the other, maybe because of the way Prithvi was built and otherwise also, we decided that we'll wait. We'll wait till we complete and then decide where should we give the treatment- where the treatment is required. Apart from- I think I have told Sanjna this many times- at that time, Shashi was very busy and Junoon was being made. He got very very upset when I told him that the budget for acoustics is 40,000. I didn't have any money, so I said what do we do and he said open it without any acoustical treatment. Jenifer as usual was listening and she said how much money will you require for acoustics? I said give me 5,000. And it's strange, she said, "Ok, I will give you from my kitchen money." I immediately rang up the person who was supposed to do acoustics and he had this glass wool factory. I asked him, "What do you do with your glass wool waste?" He said, "We throw it." I said, "Ok I'm sending you trucks. Please give the trucks that glasswool waste."
Next day that glass wool waste came. "How much do I owe you?" He said nothing. The inaugration was supposed to happen, so whatever material was brought for the opening night for the theatre group, I stole that. I picked up that and made into these panels which I wanted and I replaced that wood. The total of course didn't cost me more than 5. Now coming back, when I went around striking two wooden pieces, I observed that it's only the two opposite walls- because they were parallel- there was a flatter echo. Otherwise it was a perfect space. So we worked in only those panels and that sort of purpose. To this day, we have not done any additional acoustical treatment, though we have in between when Kunal and Shashi thought that the acoustics may have gone bad. Most people brought instruments and tested it, and to this day it has got perfect acoustics. It doesn't require any extra treatment or anything. Those panels were a very good way to use the theatre. Though they are too small, they bring the variation. But that itself, when it's the drama, speech and when some music is being played, we just turn the panels and it makes a trememndous difference. The reverberation time goes up from 1 to 1.5 just bu turning the panels.
(next slide) Ok, coming back, these are the balconies and other things I've already talked about.
(next slide) Control room, special, then toilets and balcony.
(next slide) If you (?) I can hurriedly run through the Gaiety Theatre restoration work.
(next slide) Ok, I think this is the last slide. Initially I had shown what was existing and this is what it was to be. This is a section which we believe in and we depend on so much- You can see the catwalk on the top, there are seating arrangements, the entrance is at a higher level and the control room just on top. On the side is the foundation of the portals which go around and if you see, this wall goes in the portals. Initially, this space was not in a clear condition and we were depending on the flow of the natural air. Now this side is the sea and we decided that there was a horizontal slit with the (?) which will allow breeze but will not allow the light to go in and which was about 20 feet high. Same on both the sides. The breeze will come from this side, from the back of the actor, which will carry the sound up. On the balcony again there will be an exhaust system- what we learn in school as (?) system and we thought that was the only thing posssible. On the left hand side if you see, there is a huge duct. Normally the duct is within the theatre, but this, as I said, happened on site. Most of the things happened on site. One day Shashi came and he said, "I want absolute dubbing level. Tomorrow if I want to dub something, I should be able to do it in this theatre." And that was absolutely disastrous for me because the roof which was designed- it was a cement sheet roof- and I was depending on natural ventilation. And what (?) ok, I could easily say that if your performance is interesting for human beings, they have a mind, they can cut off some sound, but mikes don't do that. So it had to be perfect. The ambience cover, the sound cover, it has to be minimum between 15 and 20. With all the callibrations, we had to change our roof.
Now it will not take a cement sheet roof. But ultimately we settled for prestressed-precast roofs, 8 feet by 2 feet, only 1.5 inches thick. They were made in the factory, they were brought inside and they were rounded off to give us the- because the theatre was on (?) path. So that was our biggest worry. Just below the ceiling, leaving airspace of about 12 inches- we have this gypsum ceiling and that gave us a lot of protection from the airport sound. As far as air-conditioning is concerned, we had no alternative but to run it from all sides. And there was not enough length to absorb the sound of the compressors, so one of the things which came to mind and which I had only read about- was like silencers for motor cars, how you kill the sound in the engine. And if you can devise a sort of silencer which will cut down the noise. The (?) people didn't agree to it. They said, "No, the velocity of the air which we are pushing in, that will go down. So we can't do that." Ultimately there was friend of mine who had this factory. He came to our rescue and he advised silencers which are kept outside the theatre and air passes through that and it is still functional. I think that is one of the greatest saving graces, which gave us the required ambience level. But that also caused some problems which one of our very respected theatre directors pointed out- he at the time of the opening- Satyadev Dubey, he was the only one, when everyone was congratulating and saying super, lovely work, fantastic, this and that. He called me and he said, "You have ruined theatre. What are my actors going to do? You have made 5 star comforts for them. They will not have to project their voice. They will never project their voice." And I seriously thought of it. If such a respected theatre person has said something, he had a point. Thank you, now after this I think I'll run through some of the Gaiety slides.
I must thank everyone for having a lot of patience and listening to what- It was a very erratic way of presentation. Thank you very much.
Himanshu: This was a- I have had many conversations with Iain and I've seen his presentation before and I've read his book. But this was a fascinating presentation again. The same goes with Ved, because I've again had many conversations, but somehow these stories with all the specifities, they rein me in, the specific histories of the way things evolve in theatre buildings especially good ones. There's always something to find, to latch on to everytime. What I'll do, is I'll just flag a few of the interesting points that emerged and I have one question and then I'll quickly open it to the audience because I'm sure there'll be a lot of questions. The things that I've taken away- and they're not at all meant to be comprehensive, but they're very interesting counter-intuitive ideas that seem to run through Ved's story as well as a number of ideas that Iain presented. There's a thought that there's a lot of value to the limitations that theatre practitioners face in theatre spaces, but not just in theatre spaces, in all situations- he spoke about touring theatre and how it has to adapt. The value of having to concentrate action, to distil sets down to a minimum, to bring in through that flexibility, that is one kind of limitation. But also limitations we saw in the case of Prithvi, of space. Where you just didn't have enough space. And you see that in many ways, the intimacy of Prithvi is the function of the fact that there wasn't any space. Not that it wouldn't have been intimate without it, but it is a contributory fact. So the whole idea that limitations are not necessarily a bad thing, that we don't need to complain, that it's something worth thinking about. The possibility at simplicity rather than complexity of technology, of design, of form, might really hold some kind of key. Again you see that, whether it's a Koothambalam or any of the performance spaces that performers have built for themselves in India, simplicity is not something that is neutral which doesn't have character. In fact it's infused with character, which brings in the possibility of a certain quiet but profound flexibility within simple structures. So the whole notion that we could be thinking of simple, small spaces- which also have character- for theatre.
But I think, in some ways the most radical question that comes to mind as a possibility- which is what I would start with and then hand over to them- I feel that in Ved's story of Prithvi, there is this account of trial and error. Of experiment, experience, learning, changing as you go along. And in the account that Iain presented, of how his own theatre designs have evolved in the context of different experiences, of different situations, you see that there is an accumulation of learning which is brought in. In his book, Architecture, Actor and Audience, you also have a series of examples of theatre buildings built instantly from the outside without having the experience of what it is to perform in a particular space or in a particular context. And those very often have been disastrous. We don't lack examples of that kind in India. We have more than our share. So, the question that arises is, does it mean that we need to focus on the process of building a theatre as much as we need to think of design principles of a good theatre and should it be that we actually make it a principle that you don't just build a theatre from scratch at a new place as an instant product, that you actually begin by using the space, having a temporary space and then after you get a feel of your practice in the context of that space, you go on to building a theatre? Which is a very different vision of what a theatre building is, from what we are used to- from the governmental model, from the corporate model where everything is managed, chalked down, pre-decided, pre-planned and produced. It's a very different vision because it also implies a particular practitioner being at the centre of every building. So is there some reason to start thinking along those lines even if you don't make that into a kind of religion? So I'll begin with Iain and then pass the question to Ved.
Iain: I'm not sure what the question is actually. How to start, I think is what we need. I guess that Karnataka is an example of what I would suggest is the way one starts. Maybe it's here to create a lot of successful play actors and dance theatres that are (?) themselves. If you have a number of powerhouses like Ninasam that will serve a region to a plan and get to know how those secondary theatres, which may not be used very often, work. So I see a whole gamut in the future. Probably done or modelled on a state like Karnataka or a great city like Mumbai or Delhi, where somebody, not the government, something from the centre of each state that sort of decrees, yes we're going to give you money to build a theatre, but you have to take your shows around to other places. Which in the short term may be unsatisfactory. So I'm answering the question (?). You mustn't luxuriate in discussing philosophy on each and every occasion, whereby you can spend decades talking about an ideal world and complaining about the real world. I see that as the danger- complaining about the terrible theatres you've got and constructing an ideal world. I think we have to start by giving a role to certain theatre companies. But there's nothing more (?) than giving an architect and a theatre practitioner the power to create an entire theatre, because we have a saying in our country that as soon as you do that, the artistic director leaves to go somewhere else. Because the creation of many- I've given about 7 examples. And architects find they never have the same artistic director to open the theatre with whom they started the dialogue. Therefore there has to be a promise by the practitioners or the organisation which is that the theatre is the primarily originating product, but the vision of the artist has to take him to a point that they have to go on the road and take their productions to less than satisfactory venues.
Himanshu: To again rephrase the question: Do you think you can actually design a theatre- an instant and perfect theatre from scratch- without really knowing what performances-
Ved: I think I can add a little information. Prithvi theatre- it was called Prithvi Theatre workshop to start it and it was meant to be only for 5 years. Why 5 years? Because it was temporary, to see how groups react to this new form, the form where there's no curtain. And both the worlds- the theatre world and the world of the audience, I can say that I was associating myself more like an audience- they came together. What we expected was not much- just the reaction of the theatre people. How they will use the space. And if it's successful, this would be our model the actual theatre which would be built. Now when it was being done, there was a question that Jenifer was asked, I distinctly remember, "Why a thrust stage?" And she said, "I have not mentioned and I'm not in love with one form or the other. Tomorrow if there's a need for a proscenium stage, I will just demolish this building and go for a proscenium stage. But today the need is a thrust stage, where people have to experience different forms of theatre." So coming back to what you're saying- once you know more, once you know the kind of space which is expected of you, it becomes very easy and we did accept- as soon as we finished Prithvi, within 2 or three years, we saw many places where our theatre will come up, which unfortunately didn't happen. Why it didn't happen, that is for theatre people to explore. But definitely it's possible.
Akshara: What I intuitively knew and what became clear through today's presentations, is that building a theatre is a process. It's not a product. In the sense that, you cannot just- I mean building a theatre building and building theatre activity in that place are part of the same process. And I remember the (?) house. Nobody goes into their house, which is fully dead. Usually, we build the most essential part of the house, we go and (?) the house and then we slowly develop the house. Similarly, I think we should look at theatre buildings in that way. There should always be some basic minimum structures to begin activity and then we go into it. And as the necessity for more tradition, changes develop, we make the building grow. But what has gone wrong with most of our theatre buildings, is that either the government has just thrown a theatre into your- very restrictive Karnataka is one. And even the (?), the theatres under (?) Theatre has simply dropped from heaven and then it's closed.
Iain: My worry is that this becomes a conversation about theatre politics and I don't think that's what we're here for. The ideal world is 500 Ninasams across India and it's not going to happen. And I use the product to you, because unless companies and creative people are forced to do theatre in places that are not perfect, it will continue. You'll have to wait for 500 Ninasams and that's not going to happen. This is an exceptional circumstance and you serve other theatres, which is wonderful. But how you deal with your politicians, I can't know- except to suggest that you have to have a strategy, which is why we should hear from Sanjna.
Sanjna Kapoor: I'm very anxious because there's a lot of money that our Central Government is suddenly putting into building theatre buildings and this is something that's been happening in the last 2 years. There are two very big schemes- one is the studio theatre scheme. It's going out already, it started this last year. There is a building grant, which is basically what used to be the (?) grant for two and a half lakhs is now merged into this building grant, so you get a lot more money. And grants for a studio theatre or any reconstruction of an existing building, up to 25 lakhs or 50 lakhs for metros. Then there is the Tagore Complex money grant which is huge, which was actually for only government organisations- for state governments- but now it's open to private organisations and it can go up to 50 crores. It is only a complex, however, not just for a theatre. And you have to have some naming of Tagore somewhere. I'm on these committees and so is Ved on one of them. And it's terrifying. It's terrifying for 2 reasons- one is the endless amount of PWD plans that are coming in as plans for building, which are these- we saw something like that in the beginning. A PW just to make a cinema hall sketch. Then where is that synergy of an artistic director ever being conceived or thought of? I mean, the luxury of having an artistic director doesn't exist in India. Having somebody who is there at the beginning of the project and then waits till the end of the project doesn't exist. So for the first time, a certainly unusual phenomenon has happened- I don't know how far we'll succeed- there's a small group of theatre people in these committees and we're going to say that we need more guidelines and we need to have management guidelines and building guidelines. And we need to have them responded to. They're not the law. It's very difficult to get that across, that they're not all the rules by which you will only make the building, they're guidelines for your response. It's very scary, we're trying. 5 projects have already been okayed on that one and lots of projects in the building project are being- 2 crores have already gone out I think to the other smaller studio grants. But in a way it's a great opportunity for us and it's also an opportunity for us to say we want accountability and we don't want these buildings to become dinosaurs.
Iain: I'm still not sure how we can help you. Take North America. The place is full of big, expensive theatres that pre-suppose the shows are going to come from Broadway. And they are dank and they are dark most of the time. This Indian problem is not unique, it's a general problem when the government wants to build theatres. Because commercial theatre no longer makes and the community is disorganised. So if the government has money, I don't think you should refuse the money. All activity creatively with every theatre complex contains a creative company. One may have a dance company, the other may have a drama company. Unless those dance companies and drama companies agree to visit other places, then if we accept that as a principal, we can talk what sort of creative theatre the government should build if they want to give money to a circle and there I think we should be talking about scale, about form. And I suggest here the scale is probably about 500, 600. You have to discover whether a conference is a part of the key and try and match the money from the central government to the creative people. Because if the creative people don't identify with this government policy, it's going to continue going wrong, and finally, they're going to build swimming pools instead and libraries instead and art galleries instead. The theatre has to be willing to work with what it's given, rather than postulate an idea. So what sort of theatre should be in every major town in India? Should it be 1500 seats, should it be 500? Should it be a proscenium theatre, should it be a thrust stage? There I think we can help you. But we can't help you with the politics. I don't even understand what a lakh or crore is. I don't understand whether it's a big size. But I see you in a problem which is similar to other countries, where buildings are (?) for people. Not being new to India, it's the common problem of Western (?) trying to create things through money.
Ved: Sanjna has just raised a question and it's very true- I'm seeing what's happening around. I'm again going back to my personal experience. When Prithvi was there, at that time the NCPA was also being built. And they had a budget of one and a half or two crores. Initially when the trustees asked me how much the roof is going to cost, I said maximum about one, one and a half lakh. But we ended spending 12 lakhs. Still if you compare it, you see there's a vast difference in the money which was available for the theatre. Now my peers and I realised that if the government is giving so much of money, the people are going to take that money even if it's not required. While doing Gaiety theatre, I had suggested about 50 lights. Now Gaiety has this small stage and 50 lights to start with, it would have sufficed. But the government said, "No, we want at least 150 lights because that is suggested by the lighting company and since the money is available, why not put 150 lights all in one go?" So I tried to argue that you have got two theatres at the same time in one building. Even if you save 50 lights and 50 lights, you will get a 100 lights. Why don't you create a storage area where you can keep and use each others' lights whenever required? They said, "No, since it's given to us, we want 150 lights." So today, they have 300 lights lying there. That, to my mind, is a sheer waste. Funds being available and being given and asking for money properly and what's required. We are facing that problem because the budget that we receive is for redeveloping and they go by their norms. If 1,000 required, they will sanction only 2 rupees, but utlimately spend 5,000.
James: I've really relished the practical and pragmatic presentations here and I thought, "What makes a good client and what makes a good architect?"
Iain: I just (?) before we need good architects. What is the worst opera house in the Western world to work in? The answer is the Sydney Opera House. It's terrible. You would never plan it. You would (?) never build a building like that. It's one of the great opera houses in the world because it's great architecture. We have to embrace men like him. Some of these buildings the government is going to give money because it's going to be a great, spectacular building. But he's no fool, he's going to listen to you as well. That's the marriage you have a put- don't fight architects and money. Say your question again, because I've suddenly lost my enthusiasm.
James: What makes a good client and what makes a good architect?
Iain: I'll tell you the worst client. The worst client is somebody who is impressionable and listens to too many people. Because they're very liberal people, very intelligent, very creative people and I still am somebody who meets that (?). The best one I ever worked for was George Christian (?). He raised 50 million pounds and then we, Michael Hopkins and the design team, for four-five months, it was only him and us in the room. No committees. He took the ideas to the people giving the money and we never had a committee. So the ideal client is an intelligent, creative dictator who doesn't direct operas or produce plays but actually knows what you have to do. So one man or one woman is the better client. The worse one is a large committee.
Ved: I wanted to bring up this subject, but since you have asked I can easily say that the experience of working with a different set-up is what matters. If you're interacting with your client one-on-one and the (?) action you are giving and taking and that is how the format ultimately is formed. On which both of you agree to work on. But if it is a corporate client, now a corporate client is like faceless. There's one officer who is today very important. He has some power or most of the power to tell you and decide, ok do this. Even if he tells you and works with you, next time someone else takes over. So that is the problem. How do you solve that problem? It's the type of client. Then the third is the government. The government as a client is like from politics, policies- even if you start from there, at the lower level, there are agencies like PWD agencies. Most of the time, they feel very comfortable to work with them because they are used to it. To start with they'll say it will cost 2 rupees only. But if you say it's not possible, it will cost you 1,000, they'll completely reject that and say no. You may end up spending more than what you think is the right thing. So these three situations- it depends from client to client. But it's definitely more comfortable to work at a one-to-one level with clients and nothing better than if they have a dream, you will help to realise the dream and it doesn't matter whose dream it was, it's a beautiful dream. Today the clients come to me and they say, "This is my dream." And I feel it's a nightmare. So there an architect takes over. Tries his best to convince, and if he's not convinced, he takes over because he's not illiterate. He knows his agreements, he knows his field. And that's why bad architects take over completely and good architects also. I think it's the confidence in nature, that ability-
Sadanand Menon: I think it was very educative listening to both Iain and Ved and the precise manner in which they have shown the organic way in which spaces can grow. The British situation I think, for better or for worse, there has been some sort of policy at work. Some sort of overarching- there has been a certain collaboration with types of producers and certain kind of directions (?) in private spaces or public spaces. In the case of Prithvi Theatre, one can see that it was making the best of a bad bargain in a sense, by investing in a space that the theatre company wanted and obviously that's the best way to go in and work. In the present context, there are some very interesting (?). On the one hand we have this new policy in India which is that the government has suddenly decided to open up and has said that the first set of theatres that we built in India was in the year 1960-61 and that is not enough and we need to invest into theatre spaces. Out of the blue, a huge corpus of funds has been creates. This corpus of funds is a boon for writers, for architects, for theatre people etc etc.
But there is a very interesting downside to it. The downside is the critically short manpower available to build the theatres. And we have in the last audit, done about a year ago, discovered that say for something like the Indian museums, there is a short supply of 1,463 personnel in Indian museums- starting with The National Museum. Which is the number 2 institution in India. After the Indian Parliament, it's The National Museum. From the Director General to Post No.6 is vacant. They're not able to find people. There are no qualified personnel who can run those instiutions. And so, in museum after museum across the board, there is lack of personnel. This has also become true for state-run theatres in India. There are no personnel. It is handed over to all sorts of security agencies and engineers and PWD guys to run the place. They are certainly not artistic directors, they are certainly not theatre people etc etc. These are very very special situations which we need to bother about and therefore once the people have sent a petition to the Ministry of Culture, that why building theatre spaces and performance spaces is interesting. The brief that's gone out is that for every one theatre that you sanction money for, please simultaneously sanction money for 20 simple rehearsal spaces. That seems to be the need. You need a space to produce work. This side there's a huge factory which is producing something, it needs laboratory space to develop material. And similarly I think all theatres where performances are going to happen need ancillary rehearsal spaces which are absolutely lacking in our context. One reason for example of a space that I have in Chennai that seems to be working- it's not a theatre space, I haven't planned the theatre but it's just a space available for people to do work. It's a simple space, it doesn't require any (?) and all that, there's no budget required. So people come and work and automatically work seems to be happening. Nobody's pushing it, nobody's prodding it. There's no grand agenda, it just happens. Now this is the kind of project that I think the theatre community should be able to go out and arm twist governments to be engaging in. For every theatre, give us separate rehearsal space. So that should be an issue. And this can be spread across different parts. So I think if even from this forum if we can raise a call, then I think it is going to be-
(?): (?) in Serbia, I wanted to say something (?) that it depends in each city which opts for a theatre, to see how many of the creative groups would like to be hosted in this theatre, to give the atmosphere, to give the identity to this theatre space and then with those 3 or 4 or 5, this kind of building could be more rehearsal space, even some kind of a short residence space, something like that because auditoriums they have anywhere, everywhere, you can find them. But what is more difficult to find is a space to rehearse, to work, to host somebody, to make a workshop, to invite some outside theatre person who you want to work with for a longer period. And just because I have this microphone to say it, that in the '60s, throughout Europe there was this fashion to build this (?) in France. It happened to be, although (?) himself said it's obligatory to have a theatre that's going to differ from (?). (?) can be only with theatre group. Still, there were a lot of mistakes and protests and even Walter Gropius Theatre Hall which was done in (?) was also destroyed 10 years ago because it was not used, because it was this multi-form theatre which would go up, down, left, right and so on. And no artistic director wanted to use it and it stayed unused for 40 years. That is the reason why it is so important to have creative troupes unique to the idea of the building and developed together. So put this (?) of learning even Artistic Directors' Programme or those who would like to make a living out of this way.
Iain: Can I react to those last two? The only thing you can say to politicians, is that you don't build a restaurant without kitchen. It's just hell, actually. You could fight all the three (?) and you can have (?) Mcdonald's. It's perfectly possible. However the point from Serbia, is because Serbia has a different culture. Let me begin with a nightmare of the Netherlands. We built some very good theatres- about 40 or 50- in the last 15 years. Everytime the Netherlands has a very good theatre. There's one problem. All the actors and dancers live in Amsterdam. All the actors and dancers come in on a bus at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, do their rehearsal, do their shows, get on the bus and go home to Amsterdam becausr the roads are so good. So there are rehearsal halls, but nobody uses them. I think if India theatre Forum made a simple inventory, 2 inventories- one of existing theatre spaces, very simple with not every detail. And the other of existing creative groups. Once you can match these two- but I don't think that will be the job of India Theatre Forum, to match the creative people and the buildings. If you direct yourself in that way, I think you'll get somewhere. The problem is you might finish up with centres of lots of small spaces. Someobdy has to have a big vision with (?) to these complexes- there's nothing wrong with using the word complex- as a major space where the architect is extremely important and a number of homes to these groups and they are on tour.
Ved: I'll give an example: now since we have restored Gaiety on hold basis, it was a Victorian stage, It was built in 1889 and it had all the (?) which are required for a good theatre. And there was one space which was called paint room. It was for painting the scenery and all that. While doing the restoration, I suggested that we convert that into a dormitory and rehearsal space because when the groups come from outside, instead of making them stay in hotels which will be expensive, why don't you use that space as a dormitory where they can rehearse also, so they save going up and down. No one talked about it, they said yes yes yes, then when the building was ready, one day I came to know that the tourist department wanted that space for a tourist information centre and it was completely taken over without even asking whether that's the right thing to do. So these things are happening. We even tried out whatever was the right thing to do. So now it's up to theatre people to exactly suggest and do what is the requirement.
Ashok Thakkar: I just want to add some information. Now Gaiety Theatre, their side debris, they have made the whole area an art gallery.
Ved: On the ground there was an area which was Masonic Lodge. The army was using it for their dining and ballroom and all that. So that space is a museum now. On the first floor, of a similar size, is an art gallery. But as far as corridors are concerned and backstage, the army was running their kitchen and the bar was in the basement. So all those areas have been retrieved. There was a big fight, we went up to the High Court and we convinced them with the High Court's order to vacate the are because they are not using it for the purpose for which it was designed. The Amateur Dramatic Club, the ADC, they very conveniently, because of some ignorant people, they started calling it Army Dramatic Club and not Amateur Dramatic Club. So with all the records that were produced in the court, we had to give them our 7500 area in lieu of vacating Gaiety. So that's the information.
Kuljeet: I'm Kuljeet- just a response to the studio theatre scheme by the Ministry of Culture. Two years back when they started this scheme, the intent was to provide spaces to younger, newer groups for rehearsals and performances. But the problem with that scheme is that they also ask for a matching share by the group itself. The maximum is 70 lakhs that they offer, but that means that the theatre group also has to manage another 50 lakhs to create a space. I actually spoke to the concerned person at the Ministry of Culture and that's why I feel it's a funny scheme. A theatre group cannot give a corpus of 50 lakhs in order to get 50 lakhs from the Ministry of Culture and perhaps later set up for itself. And simlarly, you know when you buy a piece of land, what they argue is that the amount should be the paper value, not the market value. This again is a very major problem in Delhi. So I think that scheme is not working at all.
(?): I found your presentation very fascinating for two reasons. One is that the comparison between the two presentations reflect our reality and your reality because in Iain's case, you can actually work on an idea with a very stable patron, which is the government and also cultural groups who are stable in their mental capacities to think. What we have is clients and a government who are being consistently unstable in their approach to architecture, with theatre and they don't need (?) and an anecdotal conversation or a visit abroad for them to radically change their idea. So in a way I think it makes us more reflective because I don't think we're going to change and nor should we. I think that the asset that we have, the quality that we have of being inconsistent actually is a characteristic of our theatre because the vital part of theatre is that theatre itself is resistant. It's not a theatre that's going to get into bed with the government. These big, ambitious theatre building projects that the government has started, we saw them in China, we've seen them in the Soviet Union. The (?) of culture for the extension of the State have to be built at some time. Every country has them. The Chinese expanded it, even curated enormous theatres in Nepal which lie empty. So we're going to get these and I don't think that our theatre or resistance will change pretty much instantly, because I think that we're trying to create a more creative position on the way buildings ought to be for theatre. It is not for the State. This is something you have to look down the road. We will need the coming days, as I shall explain, they will be very very difficult days which are going to require resistance in terms of performance, in terms of every aspect. And I think that we should regard that as being the inherent quality of Indian theatre.
Satya: Two big reactions: One is that recently when I had done some occasional reading on theatre, looking at what was being built around, it looks like the inside of the theatre is getting built (?) channelised. We did a lot of study, we looked different angles, we looked at a proportional size and so in a way, (?) is getting channelised. Of course the external elevations may look different. But the flip side of this channelisation of theatre is that why the theatre groups and directors want flexibility, the design bit is channelised. So there is a kind of (?) happening around there. But I was happy to see a variety of theatre spaces inside. I've not seen such a variety in India.
The second big observation is that most theatres are- what is the reason why many groups are not able to build theatres because getting a theatre built is very costly. It costs a lot of money, power and AC now, from an energy
point of view they consume a lot of energy- and not only during construction but also further recycle cost and maintenance. I have no idea but are there any experts now in making the theatre possible in the context of resource consumption? Have there been any efforts?
(?): I just have one corrollary question to Iain. You showed- after your sequence of slides- one in which a sort of Vitruvian Man as it were, was superimposed on an auditorium. And you said the head of the man was in the stage and that according to you was the ideal theatre. Can you just expand a little more on what you said?
Iain: I explore geometry frequently and I drew that theatre underneath the man, it wasn't superimposed. I'm interested seven-sideds. I've done the seven sided auditorium in Gatesdale and it's the only one in Europe. So I think the framework for freedom which is geometry- we're back to what we said yesterday- can be interesting. Now, yes if it's in the round, the theatre would be central from the stomach. I'm just saying let's go into that and I'm interested in Indian theatres. I was shown around a rather strange theatre in Chennai- Kalakshetra. I couldn't understand that building at all, because it seemed to pick out "things to do" at the (?), that I couldn't see a all. It seemed to be a proscenium arch theatre facing a tourist place with lots of carving. I couldn't understand its essence. It seemed to be a total diversion from what I was interested in. And from what I saw as Spaces and what I just saw at (?), were serious (?). That's my problem. I think there's a lot you can contribute to thinking by discussing more the relationship of the human body in space. I'd like to have 125 years to have this conversation.
Flexibility your other point is- everyone falls in love with flexibility. There is sometimes a building, in every book there's a picture of the Seagate Theatre in California in which every seat is on a pistol. And if you pressed the button, it never worked at all. So all of the books- (?). The books are full of theatres that didn't work because they looked pretty on paper.
Himanshu: Before we- we are now closed for questions but we're not really closed for a final parting performance for the session which Iain is going to-
Iain: I was so struck by Winter's Tale two nights ago and by the interest in Shakespeare and the conversation about imagination. And I thought I'd try and link all three together, by doing a speech from Shakespeare from a play you probably never do in India- Henry V. Why don't you do it? It's a theatre, a play where Shakespeare is summoning up the national to defeat the immortal enemy of 400 years, France. And remember France, we fought for 400 years and didn't finish the war till (?). So England became the top nation in the middle of the 18th century, but until then it was in fear of France. Shakespeare doesn't use the prologue very often- in fact I think there are only three prologues. Why he wrote this prologue, I don't really see, except when you hear it. I think you'll see the connection. I have to give you the footnotes first and then you'll understand the speech. It's the prologue from Henry V. Harry is Henry V. He, the audience know before the play starts, won the Great Battle of Agincourt. This play was the play that Laurence Olivier turned into a film in 1944 to summon up the British spirit against Germany. It is an appeal to nationalism. It also defines what a theatre is. So there's a few more footnotes: At the time of writing, Spain is the enemy, so we in England had to defeat Spain. He talks about the unworthy scaffold, the cock pit and the wooden O. That is a very primitive theatre of the 15th century where the audience was in galleries around the centre. He talks about casques, these are helmets. And it's very similar to your Indian stories about the great princes defeating each other. He talks about- and this is very important- the phrase "crooked figure." Now nobody in England knows what that means. So they cut the line that is very central to the character. The crooked figure is a figure is a number under 10. The narrow ocean is of course the space between England and France. And the hourglass is the fact that the theatre finished off as a 2 hour experience. So he uses the phrase hourglass. I'm not an actor, so please excuse my skills-
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Himanshu: On that rousing and evocative note, I have the pleasure of releasing all of you and thanking the panel which shed a lot of light, occasionally in the darkness, on the stage that you are inspired by.