Social context

The Delhi Government announced a 14-hour ‘Janata Curfew’ (voluntary public curfew) on March 22. Until then we did not understand what was going to happen next. However, the situation around the world and the news of lockdowns and deaths gave us a worry that we are also going to be in lockdown.

My student lives in Delhi for work. He was also uncertain whether he would return home or not. I told him to come back. He had a plane fare. Still, he wanted to wait. Said he could return next week. But just after Sunday, the government announced a 21-days long lockdown.

At first, we thought it will over. Then everything will turn on again. But the lockdown was not over yet. Many people died, the news of losing relatives began to come. News started coming that many people had lost their jobs. The cries of the migrant workers could be heard. They wanted to return home. Wanted food. The situation of the rest of the day laborers is the same. Some committed suicide, some died in accidents. Once they were able to return home. Many lost their jobs. As a result, the situation was not very good.

Some people have repeatedly become angry against the state, against the government. They have abused. They have blamed the government for not getting proper help. They have become vocal about the corruption of rations. The price of goods has gone high. Even in family and social life, they have expressed anger over small things. Some people were afraid of getting coronavirus if they had a mild cold or fever. Different media and people were spreading different rumours about the virus. If someone next to the house has COVID-19, They have cursed. People have behaved rudely. Treated in such a way that COVID-19 is a curse, whoever has he is a sinner or an accused.

The doctors people used to call ‘robbers’ became ‘Gods’. Some people said that the gods people worshiped in the temple were asleep. All the temples were closed. People started worshiping doctors and nurses. People knew the police as ‘thugs’, but they also worked day and night to make people aware and keep people at home. In some tragic incidents, many innocent people have been beaten by the police. But it has also been observed that some police provided food to the needy. Many policemen, doctors, nurses and health workers have fallen ill or died while during lockdown duty.


Theatre and COVID-19

In the COVID-19 situation I have tried to reviewing the theatre. Because I think we are going through a tough situation that is, in a word, a historical episode of suffering. One won’t possibly find a person who has not been the victim of this misery. Everyone from child to old will remember this situation forever. And theatre is the mirror of society. The theatre has also responded to changes in social, political and economic conditions. Has adapted itself. Has changed itself. And such epidemic is bound to have an impact in theatre.

Before Group Theatre began in the 1940s, professional Commercial Theatre was flourishing in Bengal. Theatre Artists like Girish Chandra Ghosh, Ardhendu Shekhar Mustafi, Shishir Kumar Bhaduri, Amritalal Basu, Durgadas Bandyopadhyay used to earn money through theatre. Even after independence, its remnants remained for some time. Public Theatre was a field of earning money. Actors, directors and all those associated with the theatre used to earn money from the theatre. But the Group Theatre concept has taken the form of a non-profit organization. It has given importance to social responsibility as well as it has given recognition for doing good plays. Subsequent re-emergence of professional freelance actors, directors and technicians. But not for long. Many have chosen theatre as their profession. But this epidemic has given a shock to this thought. The theatre suddenly closed for about eight months. The world of theatre was plunged into darkness. Theatre halls and theatre institutions closed since March 2020 in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. Many organizations had to cancel or suspend shows and festivals.


Suffering of theatre artists

Professional theatre artists lost work. Many shows cancelled. Many professional artists became unemployed. Some have sold vegetables, some have sold fishes, some have sold tea, some have sold water at home. Forced to leave the theatre and go to another profession. Because the theatre was closed. Actors, directors, technicians all had a bad situation. Those who were just actors could not even go to act in serials or movies because the shooting was off. Some have returned home to cultivate vegetables. Someone did the transport work. The technicians lost their jobs due to the closure of the play. Some have sold flowers in the market. Someone droves Rikshaw. Those who could not go to other professions used to run their families with the money saved. No one knew what the future held. Professional artists also want to move away from this precarious profession. Some have created funds to keep theatre artists survive. But it can never last long.


Theatre during lockdown

The theatre was closed since the lockdown. But how can theatre artists like us survive without theatre? I started interviewing eminent theatre artists on Facebook Live. I started the program on their theatre journey, various theatrical discussions as well as what the future theatre could be.  It is not that I got much hope from their statements. Because everyone was uncertain about the future state of the theatre. The program became very admirable. Many were impressed by the program. Various organizations in the country and abroad started conducting such programs. I also organized an online solo acting competition to get the theatre artists engaging in acting. On the occasion of ‘World Environment Day’, Rabindra Nagar Natyaayudh organized an ‘Environmental Awareness Theatre’ competition. We also gave ‘prize money’ to the winners. I also made some awareness short films to prevent COVID-19. I did many such programs. Which also affected others. The most popular of these times was the ‘International V-Theatre Festival'(International Virtual Theatre Festival) organized by Rabindra Nagar Natyaayudh. Where renowned theatre companies from 11 countries participated. Their famous productions were broadcast premiere from the Facebook page and YouTube channel. Which was praised in various newspapers.


New alternative to theatre: Reliance on technology 

The situation after lockdown and unlock is being marked as ‘New Normal’. It is not what we still accepted as normal or this is different normal. We are forced to distance between ourselves six feet and get used to the face-mask. We have become accustomed to washing our hands repeatedly. Our social-political-economic position is not the same as before. We are getting frustrated day by day. Once upon a time we are learning to adapt to this ‘New Normal’ situation. We are no longer optimistic about going back to the way it was. Because the stimuli of our consciousness are being forced to accept this ‘Normality’. It is an era change. It is COVID-19 era.

As a ‘New Normal’ theatre we may have to look for alternative theatre mediums. As we all know, theatre is a living medium. Where there is direct communication between the audience and the actor. But in this lockdown, we have learned to be accustomed to watching and showing dramas on mobile or laptop using internet. Some new apps are being used to watch and show dramas. Some people are showing the drama by uploading the video of the drama on YouTube. National and international dramas are being seen sitting at home. We can call this new theatre ‘Digital Theatre’.  Technology is playing an important role in ticket sales to performance.

At the time, those who thought the show would continue were turning to digital medium. They are using live-streamed. This is a new addition to our theatre. Where the artists are also changing themselves. Government and non-government organizations virtual workshops on COVID-19 situations are being held around the world. hey have started showing videos of plays at Facebook and YouTube from their archives Since lockdown. They are also conducting online interviews, workshops and webinar.

New problems in theatre: Surviving the theatre in COVID-19  

Researchers say the second wave is coming again, the effects of coronavirus will continue to grow. Countries around the world are reporting record-high numbers of infections. Many countries’ governments have announced new restrictions on the increase in COVID-19. They have again decided to shut down all theatre halls, opera houses and concert halls.

The government has advised all citizens to refrain from all unnecessary travel. Even sitting at home to watch Durga Puja. In this October was Durga Puja. One of the largest celebrations in the country. Where millions of visitors go out to see the pandals and Durga idols. This year also people have flocked to the puja pandals to see the idols and pandals. Ignoring the effects and resistance of the coronavirus, many are doing whatever it pleases.

In India, the government also has begun looking for alternatives to long-days lockdowns to combat future coronavirus outbreaks in the country. Tried to give special rules at the lockdown and unlock stage. At first, permission was given for open air drama shows. After that rest of theatres were reopened for everyone.

The shows and theatre festivals, which used to be held last year, is almost closed today. Many renowned international theatre festivals are closed. The mentality and money to do a theatre festival has decreased. Everyone is looking towards the future when everything will be normal. Although we have to give up hope that we will not be able to return to our previous state right now. Because everything has changed around. Countless theatre artists have lost their jobs. But it is very worrying how we will survive financially.

Our theatre is not be profitable. Before lockdown, it was impossible to run a theatre by selling tickets. Government grants and sponsors are desperately needed to keep the theatre going. Now the number of audience seats has decreased in compliance with the hygiene rules. It is not that the audiences have become more interested in watching the drama. The show has to do so. There is no hope of profit. Only losses.

It is very important to advertise and promote an event. There is a lot of cost to doing a show. From fare of hall to honorariums for artists, travel expenses, refreshments etc. a lot of cost for all. Audience seats have been reduced in compliance with the hygiene rules. Even after this, if the audiences do not come, it is fact for the organizations to suffer financial loss.

The theatre must be profitable in order to keep the theatre alive. But now we have lost our sponsors. We have lost audiences. The rest is government grants. It is also limited and it is uncertain who will get the grant in the near future and who will not. As a result, we have to look for alternative ways.

A few days ago, I went to buy the necessary makeup equipment and the seller there said that in previous years it was huge crowded at this time. Lots of makeup and costume equipment, masks etc. were sold. This time it is not being sold that much. Few people are coming because the show is closed. Theatre and Jatra(folk theatre) makeup equipment are almost not being sold.

In this situation, the government also has a responsibility to save the artists. Although the government is doing a lot to keep the artists alive. Giving financial grants. Today many artists are unemployed. Someone is forced to beg. Someone is working in another profession. Not only are actors and technicians in bad situations, but also those who make costumes, make sets, make and sell makeup equipment.


Some possibilities  

Many organizations are changing their rehearsal room a bit and making it a place of performance by arranging black curtains, lights, green room etc. They are inviting different organizations to organize performances, workshops and festivals there.

Although many companies done this kind of work long ago. They bought a place somewhere in the village or town and built a theatre space. It was a dream then. They planned and built that theatre space very well. Slowly. In this case, there is a tendency to quickly transform a stage.



There is no point in bringing back old plays. Because it has no resemblance to the current situation. The economic condition of the theatre artists is not the same as before. The theatre groups are in the same situation. If we start doing old structure, we will sink deeper into despair. We need to experiment with the theatre of the new age. No capitalist would want to come to us right now. As a result, we have to be self-employed to keep ourselves alive. In our group, we are forming a small group to make the play production. Earlier, about 20 to 35 actors and technicians were involved in a production. But now there is a problem in doing as such that.

If theatre is a mirror of time, then it should have new subjects and new forms. The purpose of any play production, to spread message, it is not possible to convey the message to many audiences now. Theatre is not just leisure entertainment. It has a social existence. Reflects society. Makes people aware. Teaches to think. Those of us who think that theatre is good for society, that it has a role in society, must want the show must go on.

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