In over four decades, there has rarely been a time when the Mumbai-based Prithvi Theatre did not host a performance. The last seven months, however, have been incredibly difficult for theatre performers. Like others, the theatre in Juhu, which celebrates its 42nd anniversary this month, is adapting and embracing the “new normal” with a series of digital workshops. Helmed by some of the most renowned names from the world of performing arts, such as Neeraj Kabi, Sheena Khalid, Makarand Deshpande, Om Katare and Puja Sarup, the 20 digital classes range from sessions on creative writing to acting and storytelling, for children as well as adults.
“With the total lockdown, and even now, with the easing of restrictions, things are anything but normal. No summertime workshops at Prithvi this year, no shows, no audience, so we decided to reach out to the children and adults in the only other way possible—through the internet,” says Kunal Kapoor, trustee, Prithvi Theatre. He admits it hasn’t been easy. “However, the whole Prithvi team just put their heads down and worked hard towards the ‘new normal’ in an attempt to somehow extend the Prithvi experience, the core values, across the digital space and try and maintain the personal intimacy we are known for.”
Kabi, a multiple award-winning theatre and film actor and acting coach, is gearing up for his workshops but says the online experience cannot compare with a live acting workshop. “Acting, like any art form, requires to be learnt in a particular physical space and physical rhythm,” he says. The physical vibration between teacher and student is crucial; there are multiple details that a teacher can correct or make a student aware of when teaching live. “Teaching an art form is not about making the student merely understand but experience and feel as well. These qualities can never be achieved online,” he says.
He does agree, however, that there is a need to adapt to this new-found space. “The challenge would be to retain the very soul of the teaching process and philosophy,” he says. Kabi can take heart from Danish Husain’s Qissebaazi workshop in October for Prithvi, which had participants not only from towns like Ranchi and Lucknow but also from countries such as Canada, Germany and Singapore, in the 20-60 age group. “It was an extremely fulfilling session. The participants brought their own stories and learnings, and it enriched us collectively. Participative, collaborative workshops have a 360-degrees effect. Everybody learns,” says Husain. Emboldened, he is scheduling a second round of storytelling workshops.
Trishla Patel, who started holding online workshops a month into the lockdown, believes social media has been a saviour. “The world became a community like never before,” she says, adding that she started her online experience with a three-day workshop for children with research editor and content writer Merle Almeida. “Day 1 was a disaster. Day 2 and 3 were a breeze. I realised that all we needed was good Wi-Fi, some patience, fewer kids within the right age bracket and lots of love, and we were good to go,” she says.
She is conducting two workshops for Prithvi—one for children, The Imaginary Window, and another for adults, Acting ka Keeda, with actor and director Hidayat Sami. “Online theatre is a necessary stop-gap and is here to stay. But it’s not permanent. Nothing ever is,” says the actor, writer and director. “We, as actors, need to perform to stay in touch with ourselves, be it on a little window on a screen or a stage when time heals our world. But until then, we will play with whatever form allows us to stay in touch with what we do as artists. Online-offline, the riyaaz (practice) continues,” she says.
Workshops@Prithvi are being held till 13 December. For the full schedule and bookings, visit Prithvitheatre.org.
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based writer.