We can walk around blindfolded, know the numbers of steps to the first greenroom, the width of the wings, what the cyclorama feels like when one rests a tired cheek on it, the taste of the sabudana vades and definitely better than to eat or sleep (openly) in the auditorium.
Ranga Shankara, Arundhati Nag's baby and one of the dead-best theatre facilities in the country, turned 9 on October 24th this year and will shortly kick off it's 10th Theatre Festival - Samprati, a platform to delve into the works of Girish Karnad. A fair chunk of the sun for this well known Bangalore playwright.
If we* love RS in the times of cholera, chikungunya and the rest of the year, we simply adore it at festival time. The weather is great, the girls are pretty, some folks are witty and everyone gets down with the buzz and excitement of a darkened theatre and...the lights coming on. The sheer, insurmountable thrill of witnessing live actors on stage.
I spoke to Suri (S.Surendranath) the new Artistic Director of Ranga Shankara, the morning before the festival begins. Despite being immersed in streamers, posters, interns and having to solve every manner of pre-festival crisis, Suri is his game and funny self, one eye on his laptop and the other on Veronica. “Ayyo Rama” he says “not 15 years, just 9. It's the 10th festival though.” In tandem with the festival in Bangalore, away in Mannheim, Lichtenstein and Nuremberg, the super successful Ranga Shankara-Schnawwl Theatre production 'Boy with a Suitcase" begins it's 8th run. Meanwhile Aru, utterly unphased by the hectic nature of it all, nibbles on a plate of bhel puri knowing, que será será.
So, go people, go and enjoy Samprati! Eid is here and Deepavalli is around the corner. The energy at Ranga Shankara, during the festival, is electric, like nothing else. There will be seminars, discussion, debate, videos of monologues and lots and lots of theatre. Stimulate yourself (ok, I didn't mean in quite that way). Go to Ranga Shankara if you've never been before, you will be so glad you did. And if you are one of that royal we*, well, you know what I'm talking about.
Over to Suri...
1. Any pet dreams for RS, Suri? Where would you like to see it go in the next few years?
I want to reach out to the younger generation. That is where a lot of good and path-breaking things are happening. The new generation or the younger generation has developed its own language. Also, if you look at the demography of the country, about 600 million are under 35 today, making India the biggest youth nation. And about 140 million are around 19 years. How can we forget this audience? It is important that they are given a platform to say something that they really want to say. So in the next couple of years you may see a lot of these young ones performing at Ranga Shankara.
2. Samprati focuses on the works of Girish Karnad...what brought this on? Are you looking at new audiences? New interpretations?
It is precisely with the same approach we started ideating for this festival. Give platforms to the younger generation. Girish Karnad's playwriting completes five decades came in as a bonus. Then we thought why not marry the two generation. For me it is a wonderful happening - Girish Karnad is from a generation earlier than me and the directors are from a generation after me. It is a kind of bringing tradition and modernity together, like what Girish Karnad has done in his playwriting. For him Modernity and Tradition are not two separate idioms. They are just two phases of any creative process. Like Ananthamurthy says, we must often question tradition to rediscover modernity. And this generation, in these plays, are doing exactly the same. Through Girish Karnad's plays they are questioning the tradition, they are redefining modern society, they are re-interpreting his works in a modern context. Yes I am trying to reach out to newer audience. Even if I get about 20 new audience per day, I am through. I will have achieved something.
3. What about new writing....are you exploring ways to encourage and develop a new crop of playwrights?
This festival could be a step for me to understand the way the younger generation works. In the coming years I think we should allow new writing to be on stage. There is an immediate necessity to get new play writing on board. We need to support new playwrights. Theatre cannot be stagnant. It lives in this moment. And to make it more lively we need this new play writing.
4. Seeing the spate of new and devised works at Ranga Shankara over the last year, do you see the need for dramaturgical interventions or guidance? Do you foresee the introduction of dramaturgs to our theatre-making process?
The need for a dramaturg is more immediate than yesterday. We need not intervene in the process. But certainly we need to guide them. A playwright gives us a focused play. Which is then open to many interpretations with a director/directors. With a devised play, though they may be good, this 'focused element' is often missing. When you have a team writing/developing a play, this is natural. It is then we need a dramaturg, to put the process, and content in order. Not to spill over.
Dramaturgy brings in a kind of cohesiveness to the entire process, from ideating to scripting and structuring the play. The dramaturg, he or she, is as responsible as the director to take the play to the audience. The director can only take the play further from where the dramaturg leaves off.
5. Do you foresee a time when Ranga Shankara spreads its wings and has festivals at other venues? For instance, what about a Folk and Traditional Theatre Festival at Infinite Souls?
Inshah-allah. Right now we are planning to take our AHA! productions to other venues in Karnataka. I come from a strong Karnataka background. I feel children in other towns of Karnataka are deprived of good entertainment. Good theatre, I feel, should reach out to them. Show them what is good. It has some challenges. Language is one. English may not be accepted all over. We need to produce some Kannada plays and take them out of Bangalore. Holding festivals is a humongous challenge. We need a lot of man-power. Ranga Shankara is ready to explore this possibility with a group of like minded people/teams. Why not...
6. What about theatre pedagogy? I have personally been involved with the pedagogy exercises that RS has offered the local community, including the Theatre Pedagogy for Toddlers Workshop. Do you see a Pedagogy Department at RS in the future?
I did not have a clue about this. But once I saw the Portugal team in this year's AHA! festival I am all for it. (Remember I have a grand-daughter, 18 months, who watched the show. She loved it!) We should really seriously start this. Will you help us?
7. How does RS reach out to the community....through interactions with school children....low income group children and so on. In what ways do you hope to further your outreach?
Aru and I are talking every day about reaching out. Our main concern is to get college students to theatre first and then to Ranga Shankara. We need to crack this. When I was running a television channel, we had the same challenge, to get college students to watch the programs. It is one section whose behaviour is very difficult to predict. We need to keep on trying. The school children are with us now. About half-a-million kids have watched AHA! shows at Ranga Shankara. And about one-third of them are those children who could not afford to watch a play. Thanks to Britannia we are consistently achieving this. But there is still a lot to do.
8. How is this RS experience turning out for you personally? Do you hope to leave some kind of mark on RS?
I loved theatre. And am enjoying it. After many, many errands in my life, I feel I have finally settled down. I really don't know about leaving a mark. May be leave a good theatre behind?