“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
The Covid pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have changed the way we do a lot of things. It has given us time and reason to introspect and examine our commitments to things we believe in. Organizations big and small have used the past two months to make tough decisions for their future.
In the arts and cultural sector, data indicates that almost every creative worker has lost income and opportunities. But the sector itself will weather the changes and emerge in forms old and new. With that in mind, Drama School Mumbai has made some changes too. Here is a snapshot of how the rest of 2020 and 2021 will look for us:
Pausing the PG Course: Back to the Beginning
The one year Post-graduate Course in Acting and Theatre-making is DSM’s flagship programme. Since 2013, nearly a hundred new actors and theatre-makers have emerged from this programme. Our alumni have gone on to found theatre companies, work in film and television and win awards. The admissions call this year had 128 people from nearly fifty different cities applying for the course, despite lockdown.
We had originally hoped to bring in not one, but two batches for the year 2020-2021. But Covid 19 presents us with uncertainties that cannot be ignored. Mumbai, our home base, is still under the Red Zone status. Intercity and interstate travel is being heavily controlled to prevent the spread of infection. Though WHO and the Ministry of Home Affairs have issued guidelines for resuming work and education post the lockdown, the sector still needs to come up with rigorous health and safety policies and protocols. In light of this situation, though tough, the most practical decision at the moment is to pause the PG Course. Thus, DSM will not be delivering a one year programme in acting and theatre-making in 2020 in the same manner as it has in the past years. We will instead proceed with this as a TRANSITION YEAR using the time between now and October to reimagine and begin offering programmes of study that will continue to represent our best intentions in forging a new generation of theatre-makers. More information on that in the next section.
Screenshots from Ben Samuels’ ongoing module with Batch 2019-20: Theatre: Transference and Transposition
TRANSITION AND BEYOND: New Models for Theatre-makers of the Future
While solving for the completion of the PG Course for the current batch, three key strands of thought emerged:
- Training for Acting and Performance-making in online and digital formats
- Global faculty and programmes becoming a serious possibility instead of a stop-gap measure
- Theatre as a conceptual model with principles that transcend the live medium
With these thoughts guiding our organizational development, several pathways emerged. Let’s look at them one by one:
Training in Acting and Performance-making:
As a training organization, in addition to the one-year course, DSM also offered Foundation Workshops for beginners and Advanced Workshops for mid-career professionals. In fact, intensive workshops were where DSM began its journey. In the TRANSITION YEAR, we are looking at diversifying short-format courses to include both in-person and online models. The in-person programmes being developed include
- Five Week training blocks that can be adapted to any physical space and style, thus becoming a travelling model of training that can be set-up in any city or rehearsal space
- Three and Six Month Programmes to be launched when the Pandemic restriction allow
- Short Performance and Theatre-making courses that work with scripts or devising as a methodology
In the online space, we imagine courses that can be offered synchronously, that is facilitator-trainee interaction happening in real-time as well as blended formats where students can access a video library and have live interactions with facilitators. The focus of these workshops would be similar to our Foundation Skills Workshops. Blended long-format courses that focus on playwriting and direction are also under development.
In addition, we are exploring how these modules can add up using a credit system towards a combined qualification like the PG Course.
The Global Faculty Programme
In lockdown, space and time became amorphous concepts, more so than they had consciously been in the past. In practical terms this means, learning together no longer needs to be restricted to a single physical space or even time-zone. And thus, advanced workshops with the best theatre has to offer globally are a very real windfall of our times.
The Global Faculty Programme is a series of workshops for mid-career practitioners that focus on advanced skills in theatre, acting and performance-making. Leveraging the international network DSM has cultivated through faculty and alumni, this programme will offer week-long workshops, offered through Zoom, for practitioners from everywhere.
DSM’s primary goal has always been to bring the best practices from across the world to theatre practice in India as well as create conduits that take Indian Theatre practices – traditional and contemporary to the world. Applying the same principles, we also hope to develop an online India Theatre Programme with leading practitioners and traditional masters of performance.
Transference and Transposition
The lockdown spawned a new generation of digital content almost overnight, with everyone from cultural behemoths like the Bolshoi and the London Symphony Orchestra to local acting aspirants putting work up online for consumption. The unprecedented creative wave led to reactions and responses from within and outside the community. But at DSM, it also brought to the fore questions regarding theatre as a medium itself. The most important of these was: How does theatre transpose into other mediums (and the digital space specifically) in a way that honours both the original medium and the medium in which it will newly function?
Ben Samuels; LISPA Alumnus and Artistic Director of Limbik Theatre, UK, Irawati Karnik; writer and playwright and Jehan Manekshaw; DSM School Head and are leading a joint collaborative exploration of this question. Though in its initial stages, the desired outcome from this exploration is the conceptualization of a global programme that brings practitioners together to explore the zeitgeist of our times through various mediums that exploit theatricality.
Groundwork for this course is already taking shape through a module being run with the current batch of students.
WRAPPING UP: Batch 2019-2020
Internally, with the current batch, we continued online classes through the lockdown. The annual production which was a week and a half from opening when the school shut amidst the Covid 19 pandemic. Director Kirtana Kumar worked with the students to put the Rhinoceros production “into a box” with the potential for an unboxing in September or October. The students meanwhile conceptualized, scripted and designed their final presentation pieces, remotely working in small groups. They explored themes of death, happiness and grief, discrimination and of course living the virtual life. Irawati Karnik; Lead Faculty: Research Strand, Neeraja Patwardhan; Costume Design Mentor and Saatvika Kantamneni; Production and Stage Management Mentor guided the students through this process. In any other year, these pieces would be staged publicly at the DSM year-end showcase Aadyant. At this point, the students may stage the pieces virtually. They will also use these pieces to make Production and Entrepreneurship Pitches to mentor Niloufer Sagar.
Additionally, an international faculty came together to support their learning with Benjamin Samuels, Daniel Goldman, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Abhishek Majumdar, Amy Russell (LISPA), Sophia Stepf (Berlin), Amitesh Grover leading sessions with the students. With Ben Samuels, the students are working on a module called Theatre-Making: Transference and Transposition. This module is focussed on discovering what makes theatre “theatre”, to identify and explore the awarenesses, skills and sensibilities of performance and theatre-making can be carried into other mediums and is step one in developing a global programme on the same topic.
DSM is also doing its best to provide for the mental health and welfare of the students with weekly check-ins, access to counsellors and office hours with school head Jehan Manekshaw and Faculty members Kallirroi Tziafeta and Irawati Karnik. Based on how the situation unfolds, Batch 2019-2020 will return for a Secondment between October this year and July 2021 with a functioning theatre organization. We hope that this secondment will give them a formal pedagogical mentorship and an opportunity to create a new piece of work with the organization.
We are also in the process of putting together a course for upskilling faculty members as we move further into the realm of digital pedagogy.
Proposed Timeline for Batch 2019-2020
|June||End of Teaching Modules||Teaching ends by mid-June
|July||Production Pitches||Aadyant Pieces and Production models created by students
|Creation Exercise||Building on the Theatre: Transference and Transposition Module|
|September – March 2021||Reconvene & Revive||Based on the situation, alumni returns to either:
– Unbox Rhinoceros Production
– Present Aadyant Pieces
– Stage a separate Alumni Production
THROUGH THE PIPE: Possibilities for the Future
As DSM consolidates the current processes, ensuring that our funds, programmes and health tide us over, we are also cognizant of the role we play in the performing arts sector. After all that has taken place over the past couple of months, we believe, now more than ever that access to training and exposure to the arts should not be dictated by financial, language and geographic barriers.
As this article goes up, DSM is leading a collaboration to create a range of theatre training programmes that can be accessed by everyone who wants to learn. Please do watch this space for more on Project Eklavya, where you can drive your learning no matter how far away your guru is.