Gurgaon the stage for experimental plays

Actor Shilpa Shukla

 

By Pratyush Patra, Times of India

It should come as a surprise when a well-known actor like Shilpa Shukla chooses Gurgaon over Delhi as a venue to stage her theatre comeback. But, the always-booked and exorbitantly priced Delhi auditoriums are making theatre artistes move to Gurgaon. Many of these artistes, staging avant-garde plays in the Millennium City, consider the corporate employees, who make up the majority of the audience, a safe bet. The city also gets these artistes venues at a discounted rate and sponsors. So, in the last couple of years, apart from the regular plays, many plays with different style of narrative, have been staged in Gurgaon.


Gurgaon audience is more receptive

Most stand-up comedians who have performed in the NCR have admitted that the corporate crowd of Gurgaon understands their jokes and acts better than Delhiites, it is not surprising that even theatre artistes consider Gurgaon a safer bet while staging a modern play with an unconventional narrative. “I like the audience in Gurgaon as they are more receptive. They come with open minds and do not have preconceived notions. They are a very dependable kind of audience,” says Shilpa, who played the protagonist in the solo play A Woman Alone, staged in Gurgaon last month. She adds, “All kinds of plays take place in Mandi House in Delhi. But an audience with a polished understanding of theatre comes to venues like the Epicentre in Gurgaon. The audience comes on time and they connect with you.”


Rishi Mehta, owner of Behroopiya Entertainers, a Gurgaon-based theatre company that has staged several plays like A Tale of Two Treaties (where one actor essayed ten characters), Madbeth (another solo show), Dulari Dhamal (a nautanki) and Run For Your Wife (an adaption of one of world’s longest running play), seconds Shilpa. “The audience in Gurgaon is well-travelled and it understands and appreciates the nuances of theatre” he says.


Mumbai-based Kaizaad Kotwal, co-director of The Vagina Monologues, says, “Our comic play is in its 13th year and audiences in Gurgaon had heard of the play and were keen to find out what it’s about. In 2013, when we first performed here, we sold out six shows in two days. Then in 2014, we got the same response. The audience has been very supportive of the play and even the Hindi version, which we have performed here, received accolades from the audience,” he says, adding, “Gurgaon audience is a mixture of those who appreciate the play and the message in a quiet way, and those who express their appreciation by laughing loudly, clapping and shouting.”

Delhi auditoriums are more expensive

While a commercial cultural show in the weekend costs `60,000 to `85,000 in places like Kamani and Siri Fort auditoriums in Delhi, Epicentre in Gurgaon charges nothing and instead becomes a venue partner. “A facility like that is not available in Delhi. There is a lot of capital investment and a large amount of financial risk before you even plan to stage a play in Delhi. Getting all the necessary permissions, marketing the product yourself, ticketing and other logistics that need to be dealt with make it difficult to perform in Delhi,” says Rishi.


“Venues in Mandi House have become very expensive. Epicentre, on the contrary, has been really kind to us. They said, ‘You just come and do your shows and we will see how things go with the ticket money’,” says Mohit Tripathi, the director of A Woman Alone.
Same sentiments are echoed by Kaizaad. “Delhi venues are great, but are much more expensive and harder to get because of their packed schedules,” he says.

No Hassles of pre-booking

 Shilpa says that artistes need a stage and an audience that understands their art and craft, and Gurgaon provides both. “Mandi House venues are pre-booked for a year, very expensive and over-exhausted. Gurgaon has a new base for an audience. I don’t know yeh audience Mandi House aayegi ya nahi,” she says.


Deadly Ties, the latest presentation by Gurgaon-based theatre company Urban Suburban Productions, blurred the distinction between actors and spectators. Most spectators got introduced to the genre of supper theatre, where dinner is part of the whole performance, in May this year. Vanessa Ohri, one of the founders of the company, says, “We have our audience, sponsors, cast and crew all in Gurgaon and thus, we have never felt the need to stage our plays in Delhi. Two auditoriums where we wanted to perform were Kamani Auditorium and India Habitat Centre, but when we went to do the booking, they were not available for a long time.” She adds that people from Delhi and Noida also come to see their productions in Gurgaon.

Theatre scene in Gurgaon is evolving fast

It’s common knowledge that in Delhi, with the presence of National School of Drama and a multitude of theatre groups, theatre has had a powerful existence backed by history. “Delhi audience has been witnessing some amazing theatre. The Gurgaon theatre scene is also evolving fast, even with limited venues available in the city. A lot of Gurgaonwallahs are not only interested in watching plays, but also aspire to act on stage. They want to learn theatre after their working hours,” says Rishi. Kaizaad adds, “Delhi’s scene is older and more established. But Gurgaon is getting some very exciting work and audiences here are open to all kinds of work as the audiences in Delhi are.” Most theatre companies also said that since the ticket rates in Gurgaon and Delhi are almost same, there is no major revenue loss.

 

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