'The digital repository of theatre may become more quantitative in the future' — Krishna Kumar, Masquerade, Chennai
Masquerade's Krishna Kumar almost jumped the virtual reality wagon 15 years back, when Eric Miller and he had thought of using a wall as a stage projection and link it up with a performer in the US. However, in the present scenario, Krishna Kumar considers the online upload of theatrical content as a digital cache that he expects to be "more quantified in the days to come".
But he does believe that pandemic's effect on theatre would not be financially crippling, "as most artistes hold day jobs". That said, he does expect more artistes to collaborate with each other, to minimise resources. Krishna Kumar elaborates this point, and much more in a conversation with us about the effect of lockdown on the theatre industry. Excerpts:
Theatre organisations around the world are releasing their content online and making them available to the public. From your point of view, how much digital access does Chennai's audience have to your content, and what more can be done from your side to broaden the scope, with regards to both quantity of your body of work online and its reach among the masses?
Till now, as a live medium of communion, theatre has limited itself to considering uploading of content online as an extension of real-time publicity material. So had we. On YouTube, for example, we have a few clips of some of our past works that we uploaded, for both public consumption, performers' nostalgia, and as a sort of record. I guess the lockdown has triggered anxiety among artists seeking more digital presence like people doing panic buys of groceries. It's unlikely to change our belief about digital repository in the post-lockdown phase. It will and would remain a digital cache, probably more quantitative in the coming days.
In what ways and how much can this pandemic and the lockdown affect the theatre industry?
I guess the effects of the pandemic on the theatre industry is divided; much more in cases where people claim this art form as their sole source of income. With regards to the English theatre environment in Chennai, the effects are not likely to be crippling financially because most people hold other day jobs. Event organisers and management companies, yes perhaps. Of course, I am talking in purely financial terms. From the artistic angle point of view, artistes have found a way to have their motivation sustained through the use of digital social platforms.
What are the major changes that you are anticipating in Chennai's theatre scene, once things get better?
More artistes may come together than before to collaborate in order to minimise the required resources and optimize viewership. Also, I expect them to quantify the digitisation of their works in the future.
Will there be a change in approach towards the medium of showcasing your work? Can we expect to see more innovative ways in which you can reach your audience (virtual and augmented reality for example)?
Masquerade would not and has never been averse to exploring newer ways of show-casting. I consciously use the word as a coinage, because, now, like screencasting and screen sharing from smartphones to TV, we are virtualising our content. Who knows, we may even produce exclusive show-casting content. In fact, almost 15 years back, Eric Miller and I very fleetingly toyed with virtual stage-sharing at his older studio. By using the wall as a stage projection, he tied to link up with a performer friend of his in the US. It was like the timing of utmost perfection, where your realtime fingers and the virtual fingers of online performer come into contact and you have to simulate in you the sensory experience for your audience. I didn't, due to circumstances, proceed with it. Eric probably did. As for AR, I limit my experiences with that technology to Ingress and Pokémon (laughs)!
Do you have any new productions in the pipeline? And, what will be the first play from your stable once the ball gets rolling again?
Yes, we were doing promo and starting to run through for a Chekhov double-bill for World Theatre Day on March 27. That'd be our first post-lockdown presentation. After that, I'm starting to work on my design and requirements for a watershed play in Marathi and Indian modern theatre. In English, of course, there's a play called Ek Shoonya Bajirao (Bajirao, A Cipher) by late CT Khanolkar.
Lastly, how have you been spending your lockdown time at home? Could you share some interesting anecdotes?
Since our World Theatre Day celebrations were redirected online, on March 27 we had performed readings streamed on IG Live in seven phases. We did seven 25-minute sessions of two actor short plays, and we aggregated around 1,000 plus views. Since then, we've been doing storytelling and reading for kids sometimes. Personally, I read and upload poems on IGTV. Also, some of these content have been up on Masquerade’s YouTube channel. Besides, we've been conducting our rehearsals via Zoom thrice a week. In fact, we'd need just three to four days after the curfew to hit the ground with our production, with just a little bit of integration. So, fingers crossed!
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