At a time when theatre practitioners of all hues have had to wait in the wings for the stage to come alive again, some theatre directors and groups are trying to keep the scene rejuvenated by going online with plays and talks.
Nireeksha Women’s Theatre, based in Thiruvananthapuram, for instance, has been organising a series of talks related to women, theatre and the pandemic since October 21, the first of which was by eminent theatre person Anamika Haskar.
“As of now, we have completed 15 talks on different aspects of the same topic by organisers, producers, actors, directors, activists and so on. Theatreperson Srilatha Kadavil, women studies’ expert Mini Sukumaran, president of Rangaprabhath Children’s Theatre, KS Geetha, professional theatre artiste Manju Reji and so on were some of our speakers,” explains E Rajeshwari, co-founder of Nireeksha and theatre activist.
They observed that during the lockdown women had to bear the brunt of the lack of space to practise their art and financially too it was a tough phase as there were no stages. Moreover, many women who took to the stage had to face and overcome opposition from family and relatives. So when they were deprived of a space to practise their art, they were forced to do it in the confines of their home, says Rajeshwari.
Another important issue was the accessibility of online facilities as not many had the necessary infrastructure to participate in online activities. Many women also pointed out that the lockdown had erased their privacy even within their homes as the entire family was cooped up at home during the height of the lockdown.
As a response to the pandemic-related issues raised by many of the women theatre practitioners, Nireeksha decided to organise an online festival of plays, ‘Women Artists’ Visual Expression’ (Wave), which begins on December 25.
The only criteria was that the play had to be between 15 to 20 minutes in duration and had to have a woman’s perspective. There was no restriction on theme or format but the script and direction had to be by women. Actors could include men too.
“The women were invited to stage a play wherever they wanted, shoot it on their mobile or camera and share it with us. That is how ‘Wave’ was conceptualised,” explains Rajeshwari.
‘Wave’ has eight plays of 15- 20-minute duration, which will be uploaded on Nireeksha’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and website from December 25 to January 1, 2021. A remuneration of ₹4,000 will be paid for the published plays.
To their pleasant surprise, all the plays turned out to be solo themes enacted by women from different walks of life and of all ages. “As the theme develops, we are not sure if the solo play will evolve into something else. But as of now, this is how their themes have been envisaged,” says Rajeshwari. Athira V P, Divya Gopinath, Garggi Ananthan, Kanchan Avchare, Pooja Mohanraj, Shajeela Subaida, Sherly Shaiju, and Sobha Panchamam are the eight theatre practitioners participating in Wave.
While Athira, Divya and Garggi are active in cinema and theatre and have showcased their acting chops in critically-acclaimed films, Kanchan, Shajeela, Sherly, Pooja and Sobha are theatre activists from all over Kerala.
“We don’t plan to stop with this eight-day fete. If there are other women theatre practitioners who would like to participate, they are welcome to record a video and send it to Nireeksha on our Facebook page or by Whatsapp,” explains Rajeshwari.
She highlights that many generous sponsors have donated wholeheartedly to support Nireeksha’s attempt to involve women theatrepersons.
Nireeksha is already envisioning a second edition of Wave involving men theatrepersons to come up with feminist plays. They are already in talks with certain theatrepersons to conceptualise such a festival.
The plays are open to all on their Facebook page and it has not been monetised.