ITF Not The Drama Seminar: Institutions and Training
Duration: 01:40:51; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 16.166; Saturation: 0.077; Lightness: 0.263; Volume: 0.213; Cuts per Minute: 0.367; Words per Minute: 25.430
This session sought to explore the complicated terrain of institutions and training. We wanted to look at training institutions, but not simply those. We wanted to look at cultural institutions as a whole -- the akademies, the schools of drama, the private theatre institutions, as well as funding agencies.
One often hears the cliché that Indians are not institution-builders, that we cannot sustain institutions over time. How do we look at theatre institutions -- or, more generally, cultural institutions -- which we have in India? State institutions were formed in the aftermath of independence. Was the vision that led to their formation inherently flawed? Did our cultural institutions take forward the best traditions of our independence movement? What have been their successes, measured not in terms of grand showpiece events, but in terms of aiding processes that keep theatre alive and vibrant? And what have been their failures? Are state institutions doomed to failure by virtue of being state institutions? Does the state have any role at all in the realm of culture? If so, what? What about private institutions? Which private institutions have been vibrant and have had an impact on the larger field of theatre practice in their city/region? Are private institutions inherently superior to public institutions? What role have funding agencies played? What kind of institutions do we envisage for tomorrow? Presentations were made by Sanjna Kapoor and Shyamala Vanarase and responses offered by Anmol Vellani and Samik Bandhopadhyay.
Organised 50 years after the original Drama Seminar in 1957, the Not the Drama Seminar (NTDS) brought together theatre practitioners from all across the country to convene at Ninasam, Heggodu in March 2008. The attempt was to understand 'Indian Theatre' in all its multiplicity and diversity, and to problemetize the issues that arise therein.
I guess this will be one of the most contested sessions as it is about theater institutions and training. This subject can in fact be divided into 3 individual sessions -- one on organizations, one on training and one on funding.
However, we have included all these into one session, and hence, there will be, I hope, many many many questions that need to be addressed -- Do we really have institutions? Are our institutions working? What do we mean when we say that our institutions are not working responsibly? How do we envisage them as working responsibly? What are the problems behind building an institution? What is the state of funding in India? What is the state of training in the theater? Etc., etc… These are all hard questions.
We have four people here to speak on the subject and let me introduce them briefly. Sanjna, as far as I know has not acted or directed but she runs an organization, but she is one of the people in India who takes organization as an art. I sometimes feel that when I write accounts of Ninasam, I enjoy it; It is almost like writing poetry and I feel that those who do organizational work have to have such an approach. In my view, Sanjna is one such person.
Then, we have Shayamala Vanarase, who is a psychologist; she has worked in the areas of film studies, appreciation. She first came to Ninasam as a teacher in our film appreciation courses. She has also been an actress. She has played Mrs. Peacham in Jabbar Patel's '3 penny opera' and she has taught courses in SNDT college.
The third speaker is Anmol Vellani. He worked with Ford Foundation initially, and now heads one of the most important funding agencies in India, the IFA (India Foundation for the Arts). He is also a theater director, has directed plays, has written about theater. One of his recent essays is about arts and management and the creative industry.
Finally, we have Samik Bandhopadhyay. It is very difficult to say 'what he is not'. He is a theater scholar, publisher, film theorist and a 'resource person' in the real sense of the term.
I invite all four of them to the forum and request Sanjna to open the debate…
What Sanjna was saying led me to think about the place from where I come. She is basically concerned with the creation of facilities for theater. Therefore, when she realizes that something like Prithvi has worked to some extent in meeting that goal, she realizes that the possibilities are greater, and she wants to see that expanded in some way and establish ten more of them and so on, to actually influence theater in a larger way and have an impact on a larger number of groups.
I think similarly when you talk about providing funds for theater. Here too, you need similarly multiple perspectives of support, because everybody will come for what they do with a specific perspective and therefore I was happy with the idea that Sanjna put up in her vision which was of actually providing fellowships for people based in Bombay. That comes out of a specific reality which may differ from a reality in Kolkata. In each instance, there will be an impulse governing what needs to be funded, so we need these multiple sources from where support is made available. Because funding is always made available either based on a specific perspective or based on an understanding of the realities on the ground and sometimes it is all very well to have institutions at work on a national level, but you need also funding to come from local levels because they will be more in tune to what is required at the ground level there. So you need these kinds of bodies to mushroom? To in different ways and they might often be informal bodies.
The other thing was the point that Sanjna made about building institutions and she put it slightly differently from the way I would put it. What you find generally -- not universally -- in institutions is that one voice speaks and the others listen and respond. And that is why when that one or two persons go away, the institution collapses.
So what you need is to build institutions with a culture where there are multiple voices speaking. It is very common abroad for any cultural institution to have more than one artistic director. It's so uncommon in this country. We seem to not be able to tolerate multiple sources of authority within institutions. Multiple voices within an institution can actually make a difference at the policy level, can make a difference, can actually effect change at the highest level in the institution. Unless you do that, then the person who happens to be the so called leading, when he or she goes, then there are all these people who have taken ownership of the institution. and there is no reason to believe that it will collapse. So an institution must become fearlessly and reflexively dialogic within, in o. Hererder to survive.
Now, after yesterday's discussions, I thought we should be speaking about institutions as normalisers of violence, which they often are. And this normalized violence is directed mostly against individuals and groups that rely on institutions for support and survival.
Here is a very simple fact: IFA says no to at least 200 requests every year, and says yes to maybe 20. The 'no' in many cases makes a significant difference to lives and prospects of the people who apply for support and therefore -- to whom is IFA accountable for the choices it makes? You could say it's accountable to the public. But where is the public?
To reframe Sadanand's question, 'what conditions must already exist for you to be accountable to public within your sector?' The public's voice has to be channelised someway, and the emergence of, say, this theater forum, is one thing that is required even for funding bodies to become accountable to the public. Otherwise who do you speak to? Who do you dialogue with exactly? And therefore you need more of these kinds of bodies. With a Forum like this, you can engage with people who are capable of providing support because otherwise they will remain unaccountable. And it is, not necessarily, their fault. It is the fault of the environment in which they function.
For instance, as a funding agency, we get many requests. And many of those people who ask for support are genuinely passionate, they genuinely believe in what they do, or what they want to do, or what they aspire to doing. Why should they not, faced with a reject letter, feel wrong, devalued, misunderstood? It's natural.
Institutions can support theater in many different ways. We talked about providing facilities, to cash awards, to providing excess to knowledge, to exercising influence and so on. For those in the theater who need or desire such support, these funding institutions are potential saviours or potential victims – even potential villains!
Sanjna said that her worst job was programming the space. She hated doing that. Why does she hate doing that? She hates doing that because she has to take decisions that affect other people. Through her decisions some people will be advantaged and some disadvantaged. It's not a good situation to be in. that's why I have bags under my eyes!
Now, in becoming either potential villains, or potential saviours, you become a villain by a factor of 20 over being a saviour because you say 'no' so many more times and I presume around 20 times than you say 'yes'. Whatever kind of support you are providing -- cash support, facility support, you name it. You are always going to be in that position.
Organized philanthropy, as against spontaneous acts of charity has sometimes been described as coercive. It is described this way for good reasons. Whether in theater or in any other field, organized philanthropy determines what will be supported, how it will be supported, and why it will be supported.
You might be lucky and turn out to be just the individual or the group that a foundation is looking for. But in most cases you will end up playing an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with that philanthropic organization and make a series of adjustments and compromises to the proposals and plans you wanted support for. And the more desperation you are in, the more likely you are to make that compromise. And as the economy around theater can not even be described as a subsistence economy, these are people who are in desperate situation and they are more likely to make compromises, faced with this power. In the worst case scenario, you will end up being what's called 'donor driven' and lose all sense of your purpose.
It gets worse if the supporting agency, does not work primarily or exclusively for arts. Influences in any other sector, even if they choose to support theater, give priority to their own perspectives and interests to that of theater. Think about any sector outside the arts that supports the arts. If it's the development sector the funding is available for social message theater, but very little else – because instead of thinking about theater from the perspective of theater, they think of theater from the perspective of development.If it's the corporate sector, they will support theater because they want to build brands, festivals, events and you have to . throw in a mix of stardom and celebrity. Otherwise you won't get support.
In the case of Governments – rather than talk generally, let us go back to what Sanjna said – why won't the government of Maharashtra support Prithvi theater? Because it doesn't support enough Marathi theater. Why? Because, the government of Maharashtra is not thinking about the realities on the ground in Bombay, the kind of city it is, but its thinking from a particular political perspective.
Even if the influences of society chose to support the arts with, say, perspectives drawn from the arts, theater would perhaps be the last thing they would consider supporting, among the arts. Theater is not establishment. It's not classical in the sense of which we are talking about theater. It's not safe. It's too challenging. It's too defiant, too iconoclastic, too self directing, too subversive. There are no shortages of reasons for giving attention to any art form other than theater. So let us not fool ourselves. Institutions that adequately and properly support theater through funding or in all the forms that we can imagine, and in ways that the theater community might respect or might applaud, will not emerge in the lifetime of anyone present in this room.
As I have been talking about institutions my guess is that you all have been picturing certain types of institutions. Formal, legally instituted entities, whether promoted by the state or promoted by agencies independent of the state. It's these kinds of bodies that have clear codes of conduct which establish frameworks within which they function and which serve them as weapons of violence. But these are not the only kinds of institutions that we can think about.
An institution we all know comes into existence, when an idea settles down and is pursued with reasonable direction, systematically. In this sense this theater forum is an institution. And I think these are the kinds of institutions you actually need more if you are going to get support for theater, because as I said it is not actually going to come from anywhere else in the ways that you would desire or want. It is an institution moreover -- as the six people sitting here yesterday said and as Sanjna said today – where the practice of theater people will be articulated by themselves and by others. Sameera said that the dream is to build an active theater community that support each other and share space. That's exactly what I mean.
What the theater forum does is supporting theater in a certain way, deepening discourse, bringing the theater community together to address vital and issues of shared concern. And what I want to argue is that we need more institutions of this type which rely on the energies and motivations and participation of individuals involved in theatre at all levels and stages. And that's the kind of development we really need.
As we have discussed, they could be institutions doing a variety of things, they could be strengthening discourse, they could be generating audiences for theatre, and they could be improving communication between the theatre community and other sectors, whatever. What is important is that these are institutions in which the people from theatre themselves mutually and jointly advocate support and advocate their own interests and concerns.
In other words I believe that only theatre people can possibly alter the conditions in which they subsist. You can't really expect anyone else to have the motivation, to have the necessary understanding of what theatre needs and demands.
I think you should all remember that though you talk about impoverishment of resources in theatre, all of you, if you have thought about it, have lots of resources. They are resources of different kinds. In fact, you think of the theatre forum, what is it doing? It's bringing different kinds of resources in different institutions together. The resources of Prithvi are very different from the resources at Ninasam to the other people who are the moment at the core of this particular initiative. Allow these resources to come together in a effective and optimal way which will enable you to build institutions of and by the theatre.
Now you might say, isn't this forum relying on outside support? It is, at the moment. I don't think it needs to do so endlessly. But remember what has changed, by the fact that you have this forum, is terms in which you negotiate with the people who have money. It is no longer the case that somebody is coming to a foundation and saying "I have this project and it will help me advance my artistic practice." Or, "I have this project and I will support theatre in this way through this project." Because, one of the reasons why foundations feel uneasy is that they know that in any sector in which they work, it's a house divided. Whatever you do, somebody is going to criticize you. Nobody shares the same perspective. All the people here, they don't have the same perspectives in theatre. So anything that any foundation does will be criticized by someone or the other so, it certainly feels less anxious when there are people who come together and say we want to support theatre in a certain way and we are willing to overcome whatever ideological differences in poetics and aesthetics in order to make that happen. That means that in a sense you are saying that give it to us to decide what must be done for the theatre.
And another reason why a foundation feels better about that is because certainly they feel they are able to address the sector with a larger canvas. I think that is the best relationship you can have with a foundation. But that means that you guys have to do a certain amount of work to actually make the terms of negotiation actually change.