The Shri Ram play, which had its 66th edition this year, is Delhi's landmark theatre event staged each year from Dussehra to Dhanteras Photo credit: Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra

Your best act: How to make a career in theatre

Not just actors, the stage is open to a wide range of talented people. We tell you the skills you need to be a theatre artist and the training institutes that produce the best

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

This musical drama is timeless after more than 60 years and has been watched by Indian Presidents and Prime Ministers: we are talking about the 66th edition of ‘Shri Ram’, a production by Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi.

“For a regular at Shri Ram, there is a new learning every time, the minutest of details when pondered upon, open an all-new chapter for one to imbibe and take home with,” said Bhawna Katoch, a 33-year-old school teacher and theatre fan.

The drama has performances of Bharatanatyam, Kalaripayattu, Mayurbhanj Chau and North Indian folk dances and it uses music based on Hindustani classical ragas. Something new is added to the play every year without changing the essence and reverence it commands. “The setting and age from Satyug to Kalyug have changed considerably, but the challenges and struggles still exist. The show emphasizes human values, brotherhood, unconditional love and respect for elders which are evergreen emotions,” said Shobha Deepak Singh, director and vice chairperson, Shriram Bharaitya Kala Kendra.

How to become a theatre artist

Theatre comprises acting, writing, scripting, set designing, lighting, sound recording, and other skills. “A theatre artist is different from TV or movie actors as they do not get a second chance to perform. They use songs, musicals, poems, drama, dance, speech to exhibit their art. They must be able to follow the director’s instructions. Because they must work as a group as well as alone, they must have excellent teamwork skills,” said Siddharth Khanna, a Delhi-based theatre director, actor and producer.

Delhi’s National School of Drama (NSD) is a premier institute offering theatre courses, including a three-year diploma course in dramatic arts. It was set up by the state-funded Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1959 and became an independent school in 1975.

Lucknow’s Bhartendu Natya Akademi was established in 1975. It takes in 20 students every year for a two-year full-time diploma programme in theatre. Ninasam in Karnataka’s Shivamogga city started as a theatre institute in 1980 and it provides 10-month diploma programmes. Other institutions include the Drama School Mumbai (DSM), School of Drama and Fine Arts, Thrissur, Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, Asian Academy of Film and Theatre, Noida, and Barry John Acting Studio in Delhi.

“Mumbai’s theatre scene offers a plethora of opportunities for curious artists. We have the mecca of theatre art at Prithvi, the birthplace and nursery for many of the artists we admire. Organizations like Drama School Mumbai and Q Theatre Productions (QTP) offer a lot of learning opportunities,” said Asad Lalljee, chief executive officer of Avid Learning and Curator, Royal Opera House Mumbai.

“Upcoming artists should volunteer at these places and grab opportunities that come their way, even if it’s backstage. Hands-on learning and watching a lot of theatre are the best ways to hone your craft. Also, keep an eye out for Avid Learning’s theatre workshops,” he said.

To take the stage

Theatre’s broad genres include comedy, tragedy, drama, and melodrama: a play could have either of them or combine elements.

“Street theatre, which generally conveys a strong socio-political message, is a popular genre. But the most entertaining and generic one is musicals. It’s close to the cinema and a good way to get new people in. That is how big theatres like Broadway function. Besides, an interesting thing called experimental theatre is coming up in metros. This is all about being minimalist–one actor plays, there are basic furniture or props on set. I have seen lovely plays of two actors with just a table or just a bed. It tests the acting ability of the actor. But you do end up saving a lot of money as you don’t hire extravagant furniture or expensive props,” said Raveesh Jaiswal, founder and director at Bombay Theatre Company.

What is a successful play? According to Jaiswal, “There is a decent production cost that goes into making a play. Commercially, the play needs to be successful and one must be able to recover the return on investment on the play. What matters is how well it has been received, which festivals it has gone to, how many people are talking about the play. If you are doing a number of plays and a good number of audiences keeps coming consistently then that is important. Prestigious theatre awards only add to your success.”

A theatre artist must be skilled in singing and dancing, and have the stamina for long shows.

Sunit Tandon, director of IHC and a theatre actor and producer, said: “I have always done theatre as a passion. The question is if you are interested in theatre, any kind of exposure is good. Once you are bitten by that bug of watching plays and then bitten by the bug of performing, that is enough to set you off. But you have to find that activity interesting in itself, rewarding in itself—for going and watching plays of different kinds or even performing of any kind, that is what will propel you.

It’s a very time-consuming activity—you can’t say I don’t have time for rehearsals every day or I don’t have time to memorize my lines. It’s a craft you have to consistently fine tune.”

Drama colleges

Course Details 

National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi

NSD was set up by the Sangeet Natak Academy in 1959 and became an
independent school in 1975. Their three-year, full-time Diploma Course in Dramatic Arts accommodates 20 students. The first-year fee for the diploma is
around Rs 16,860.

Bhartendu Natya Akademi, Lucknow

It was established in 1975. Only 20 students are allowed to enrol in
the two-year, full-time diploma programme in theatre training offered by the
institute. The total admission fee to be deposited to enrol in this institute
is around Rs 17,000.

Ninasam, Karnataka

The theatre institute started in 1980. It provides 10-month-long
diploma programmes. 20 students are allowed per class. The fees to be paid by
the selected students while attending the training is around Rs 14,000.

Drama School Mumbai, Mumbai

DSM was founded in 2013. The course fees for the PG course is
approximately Rs 4 lakh.

School of Drama and Fine Arts, Thrissur

It was founded in 1977 as a Department of the University of Calicut.
Courses offered range from a PG Diploma in Acting to a PG Diploma to M. Phil
and Ph.D in Theatre Arts. The maximum number of seats in a class is 20. The
yearly fee for various courses range from Rs 947 to Rs 1,347.

Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata

It was established in 1995. The Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting has been funding the institution. Courses offered include
Direction and Screenplay Writing, Cinematography, etc. The admission fee is
around Rs 6,988.

Barry John Acting Studio, Mumbai

Barry John Acting Studio in Mumbai, was established in 1999 in Noida.
The fee for a certificate in acting is around Rs 59,000.

Asian Academy of Film and Theatre, Noida

It was established in 1993. Asian Society of Film & Television is
one of the main sponsors responsible for the inception of the AAFT. The fee
for theatre courses is around Rs 200,000.

Source: TechSci Research

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