The global Covid-19 crisis has forced a new way of thinking, of imagining a no-contact creative-economy. There are a lot of thoughts at this time – some from digital pedagogy experts and some from those who have just started experiments within the online learning environment. We’ve put together some links and resources for you to check out at the end of the article.
We’ve also had to change the way we do things at DSM. Here is a snapshot elaborating our immediate responses.
What we are doing:
The first move was to put the annual production on hold. The annual production is a 6 week module, where students rehearse, stage and tour a full-length performance, directed by a professional from the industry. In the past directors like Mahesh Dattani, Sunil Shanbag, Sheena Khalid and Puja Sarup have worked with the students on everything from Shakespeare to Karnad. Read more about our productions here.
The students were supposed to open their annual production this week – Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros under the direction of Bangalore-based theatre-maker Kirtana Kumar (we recommend watching her TED talk about the vertality of theatre.) The production is currently on simmer as students share materials and insights on their WhatsApp group with the director. Kirtana also designed a reflection pack – that allows students to sit back and think about their personal growth – moments of discovery, vulnerabilities, shifts in thought patterns. It also challenges the students to definitively articulate their learning about staging nuances, technical design, form and genre – to literally extract themselves from the process and embed themselves in the learning. Each student answers these questions individually and then Kirtana sits with smaller groups going through the reflection to shape the theatre-maker within each student.
In the normal course of the year, post the annual production, students take on modules in Production & Entrepreneurship as well as Research & Praxis. This process is now also being driven by critical questions about what theatre-making means in digital times. What is theatrical? What is a shared live experience? Ultimately, as Head of School Jehan Manekshaw puts it, “Everything can be reconsidered (in this new situation). There are no parameters, no axioms. Everything is up for grabs. And the challenge really is how can we get the students to think about these things differently.”
The unexpected windfall from the whole situation has been the ease of access to experts from across the globe. The students have had online sessions with global practitioners like Ben Samuels, LISPA alumnus and director of DSM’s student production The Curious Climb of Cutter Chee; Daniel Goldman, alumnus of École de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq who directed Molière’s Tartuffe at DSM; Sophia Steph, German dramaturge and pedagogue; as well as NCPA’s Head of Theatre and Film, Bruce Guthrie. And many more such sessions are planned.
Kirtana also plans an online rehearsal this week – a run-through, followed by focus-group discussions and scene-work. The final objective will be for students to create original choreographies to music and bits from the text.
How the Students have responded:
Our students have gone back home and for the most part are glad to be home, glad to be safe. Initially, there was disappointment of course, but theatre is nothing if not the art of resilience and students bounced back quickly. They regularly attend sessions. DSM’s work at giving them as much exposure is commensurate with their hunger to take in as much as they can during this as yet un-understood moment of our history. They look forward to new learning and have also teamed up in pairs to do yoga, voice work/singing daily.
The students have also formed smaller groups to start work on their final pieces for the end of the year showcase – Aadyant – scheduled as of now for June/July. They focus on staying connected – ideating, brainstorming and conceptualizing together. They are being guided through this by Kallirroi Tziafeta and Irawati Karnik who mentor them remotely and have laid out a dramaturgical roadmap for them to refer.
There are difficulties of course, technical glitches, and broadband woes, but by and large, DSM faculty and students alike are taking on this new journey with positivity and enthusiasm.
Even the alumni have taken the initiative to collaborate despite social distancing. Please do check these videos they made of Indian language translations of Irish priest Richard Hendricks poem, Lockdown.
Check out the Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Konkani and Hindi versions of this verse full of hope on DSM’s YouTube.
What questions are we asking about the Future?
As Kirtana put in, “The situation forces us to be introspective, almost to a molecular level.”
But before we microscope in, let us not kid ourselves – a virus may have forced us to take stock of it, but the situation for the arts, especially theatre in economies like India has always been precarious. The lack of funding, global economic slowdowns and the lack of government support – none of this is new. What is new is the inability to congregate – physically at least. Conversely though, at this moment, there is a high consumption of art – books, films, series, video games, virtual tours of museums and live streams from the Bolshoi and National Theatre, UK. And we don’t know how permanent these two sides of the curve are.
Questions Ragini Singh-Khushwaha, DSM Executive Head, is considering at the moment “How does art respond to this change? How does the live experience evolve? How does an audience-dependent cultural economy evolve? Do we, (in theatre) rethink the way we distribute our work in order for audiences to consume?”
“The Apocalypse,” she says, “has captivated the imagination for a while.” (Since the 1950’s release of Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic horror novel I Am Legend, actually.) “And now, it’s a bunch of people sitting at home doing zhadu-pocha. In such a scenario, what does audience experience mean?” Interestingly, Ragini mentions Journalism as the new art. And case in point is the recent podcast episode that literally blew-up the internet, Reply All’s The Case of the Missing Hit. Give it a listen and perhaps we can have a conversation about new formats for dramatic experiences.
In her recent newsletter, Manojna Yeluri, founder of Artistik License, a legal and business consultancy for artists and creative professionals, speaks about the need to “get clear as to why we’re creators and creative professionals, so we can figure out how and what to leverage, in a market that’s going to value things a little differently.” So the question here is,
What are we going to sell, who will buy and how can we get the creative economy flowing again?
Theatre is a public artform that relies on physical, mental and emotional collaboration and synergy – first between performers in a rehearsal room and then between the ensemble and the audience in a performance space. And now that the physical has been taken out of the equation, is the mental and emotional possible? Is theatre, an art that has been dying for centuries, finally dead? Will it rise on the 22nd day as a droid projecting images of actors separated by space but united by intention? Or will this lead to the genesis of a new theatre of access; where language, ability, capacity, even space and time are no longer barriers?
The truth is, no one knows. We know that theatre has survived wars, genocides and pandemics in the past. We believe that it will survive this. And though sometimes anxiety overwhelms us with thoughts of economic instability and uncertainties of this new reality, we are hopeful, that as theatre-makers and audiences, one way or the other, we will return to the stage.
Resources and Further Reading:
On Teaching Online:
- Teaching Drama Online / Remotely: A Growing List of FREE Tools & Resources for Distance Learning
- Distance Learning with Theatrefolk
- Resources For Teaching Online: Open-source resources for performance-related disciplines
- Virtual Theatre Education Resources: Crowdsourced List of lesson plans, digital resources, videos, and virtual content for any age group
- Digital Theatre+: Productions from across the world, unique backstage insights, practitioner interviews and written analysis
Arts and Culture:
- Bolshoi Theatre Live-stream
- National Theatre Podcasts
- National Theatre Live-stream
- Hampstead Theatre Live-stream
- Theatre-making in Virtual Spaces: WTF’s Virtual Plays Club
- The Guardian’s List of Top shows online
- Immersive Theatre Live Stream
- London Symphony Orchestra: Streaming from the Archives
- Visiting Museums and Galleries online
- Global Folk Music Archive
- Window to the Virtual World: Goethe India’s Curated List of Online Events
- Arts, Culture and Histories of India: Sahapedia’s YouTube Channel
Corona: Impact & Strategies
- London Business School’s Pandemic Webinars
- Boston Consulting Group’s Insights in to the Covid Crisis
- Coronavirus: Resources: Arts, Culture and Cultural Mobility
- The Economic Impact Of Coronavirus On The Arts And Culture Sector
- Artists’ Literacies Institute Covid 19 Economic Impacts Project
- Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance: What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time
- Yuval Noah Harari: the world after coronavirus