56 years old Shernaz Patel is a theatre sensation, a talented actress, the Artistic Director of Aadyam and one of the founders of India’s leading theatre production company Rage. The multi-talented Patel spoke to LuxeBook on the effect of the current crisis on theatre, and the future of the theatre scene.
The current pandemic has crippled the world’s entertainment industry immensely, especially the business of live performances, as in the world of theatre, social distancing is not possible.
Before the pandemic set in, Shernaz Patel had a busy schedule with performances lined up three-to-four months in advance. She was occupied with shows in Bengaluru, a tour of The Siddhus of Upward Juhu all through Northern India, managing the Bawas Got Talent Show; and the first show of Aadyam was slated to open in July.
”The live entertainment industry is going to be one of the last sectors to open up. Initially, we thought that by September theatres would be up and running,” says Patel, but now feels that theatres may not open up this year at all. This has affected not only the production houses and the actors, but also people who work behind the scenes—the make-up team, lighting unit, the ushers, set designers and a few others. They are probably the worst affected due to lack of stage performances.
The actor-director also points out that newcomers who came to Mumbai to achieve their acting dreams have been forced to return to their respective hometowns as they can’t afford the high home rent in the megapolis.
“The real strugglers during this pandemic are the rural theatre folks. For example, the theatre mobile from Assam spends around three months rehearsing and spend the rest of the year travelling and performing with over 1,000 actors. However, currently, their work has been put on hold,” says Patel.
The digital leap Theatres have been experimenting with the digital medium and have been live streaming performances. In Patel’s words, ‘TV meets theatre’ is the new norm. She expresses that everyone is trying to use the Zoom app to the best of their ability to sustain theatre life during these tough times.
”Zoom, especially, supports plays that are written in two different spaces as it offers the option to do a split-screen whilst on call,” says Patel. Although, she believes that the current situation of zoom entertainment cannot be labelled as theatre.
“Even though people are going live, the actors are still performing in their respective homes and looking onto a screen, instead of an audience. The beauty of theatre is that you can make a leap of imagination and Zoom does not make this possible,” she adds.
Even though Patel does not believe that Zoom can ever replace live performances, she supports the creativity that drives these ideas as people need a way to express themselves. She accepts that the current situation is like digital storytelling and that theatre companies worldwide have to reinvent and survive, as that is the only option.
Need for streamlining Theatre, overall, is a disorganised sector, as there is no government body or an organisation that’s created to protect the theatrewallas or to draft guidelines for the workers of this industry. “Hence, a pocket of producers will come together and make the decisions regarding what we should do,” says the noted actor.
Once the pandemic ceases to exist, a change in business strategies to recover the losses will be tough.”In terms of sponsorship, theatre is the last thing people sponsor, she says. She further adds that ticket pricing will have to be lower, as no one is going to have the money to afford a higher ticket price. After all, “The goal is for people to come and to get them to stop being afraid and come gather in a space,” she adds.
Uncertain future Social distancing in an auditorium is not feasible for economic reasons and the number of actors present on set would also need to be considered. “People may create smaller shows with four to five actors and a grand show can only happen once the virus has a cure,” opines Patel.
She believes that one must use this time to better their skills and find new interests. Patel too, has been indulging in world theatre. “I’ve been watching a lot of plays online as all big theatres companies around the world have been posting really brilliant shows,” she says.
Moving forward Watching multiple shows from the National Theatre of London, she has enjoyed watching One Man Two Governors and Frankenstein and some good old musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Phantom of the Opera.
Patel concludes on a positive note—”This too shall pass. We are going through a dark tunnel and we will come out of this.”