All of last year, starting with the nationwide lockdown in March, one spent the weekends watching performances and lectures from the archives of the National Centre of the Performing Arts (NCPA) on its digital channels. While that was a novel experience, watching the institution go digital, one did crave for the live performances in NCPA's Tata Theatre. And now, after one-and-a-half years, Mumbai's premier cultural institution is throwing its doors open once again with a host of cultural events, starting with Prashant Damle's Marathi play, Eka Lagnachi Pudhchi Gosht. The weekend will see a host of musical soirees with a ‘Blast from the Past’ with Louiz Banks and a performance by the SOI Chamber Orchestra. Khushroo N Suntook, chairman, NCPA, shares the inspiration behind the curation of events and the safety protocols in place as the institution opens today. Edited excerpts:
If you could elaborate on the protocols in place for the reopening of the NCPA?
We have ensured that all our employees and ushers are fully vaccinated. Our safety protocols have been designed in adherence to the rules laid down by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Added to those are our own precautionary measures. There are regular temperature checks upon entry, and sanitiser and wipes have been made available on the premises. Adequate social distancing, regular sanitisation of all our venues, green rooms and washrooms, and deep cleaning of the theatres after every performance with minimal to no physical contact is part of the sanitisation regimen at the NCPA.
Currently, we are operating at 50 percent occupancy with alternate seating. In addition to compulsory and proper use of masks and physical distancing on the premises as well as in the theatres, the audience, artistes and crew members go through temperature checks upon entry too. Measures have been put in place for adequate physical distancing during intervals and safe consumption of refreshments. E-tickets are being issued online and at the box office to avoid physical handling of tickets.
How did the past one-and-a-half years serve as a time of reflection, and also innovation, for the institution? What are the learnings from this that are being applied now?
The last one-and-a-half years have not been easy for the world of culture. Several performing arts centres and artistes made the switch to the online medium, opening up avenues for art lovers to access works they couldn’t in the past. The 18-month hiatus was a period to gather our forces and plan for the future. Early on in the lockdown, the need to utilise the period to work towards creating a digital platform to take the NCPA’s vast archival treasures and newly recorded productions to a worldwide audience was recognised. We organised several online programmes and wherever possible, teachers taught by way of electronic media.
But, at the same time, performances are meant to be experienced live and with our ever-increasing dependence on all things digital, online fatigue is being experienced. Audiences are as eager to watch performances in theatres as artistes are ready to bounce back. The current scenario and the way ahead for the performing arts seem to be a mix of both online as well as live audience. From the digital platform to curating live performances, the NCPA is ready to welcome back patrons to its spaces and bring new audiences into its fold.
Could you talk about the curation of events for the opening of the NCPA?
We will be reopening with a well-known Marathi play by a renowned name in Marathi theatre, Prashant Damle. Our resident musicians of the Symphony Orchestra of India are ready with a curated programme for the opening concert by the SOI Chamber Orchestra led by Marat Bisengaliev. Eminent artistes from our Indian Music, Dance and International Music genres including Rashid Khan, Mallika Sarabhai, Rama Vaidyanathan and Louiz Banks, who have all been waiting to make the return to the theatres a memorable one, will be performing at the NCPA during our opening events.