‘The lockdown has given us an opportunity to innovate our content and form’ — Karthik A, Crea-Shakthi, Chennai

With an app, an online club for budding playwrights and other upcoming projects, Crea-Shakthi has their chart sorted for the immediate future
A still from Baemaani
A still from Baemaani

Crea-Shakthi, one of Chennai’s leading theatre companies, had already begun preparing for a virtual presence long before the coronavirus pandemic started.

Two years ago, they commenced the development of their first app, now called Crea-Play and available in the Google Play and Apple stores. The app carries a cache of the group’s drama-based content, like scripts and role-play illustrated books, that are available in multiple formats. 

We spoke with Karthik A, the creative head of the company, to find out more about the app, and their views about how the lockdown will affect the theatre world. Excerpts: 

<em>Karthik A</em>
Karthik A

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?

Making one’s content available to the audience is an exercise that is required irrespective of whether there is a lockdown or not. We, at Crea-Shakthi, have been actively working on this, and over the last two years, we have created Crea-Play, a story-based learning application, which is now live on Google Play Store and the Apple store.

We have a repository of close to 800 play scripts on the app and we’re making these available in the video, audio and read-along format for children across the world. In addition, we’ve now become a publishing house, creating role-play illustrated books for children. These are available for consumption on the app, and once the lockdown is lifted, we’ll be shipping physical copies to our audiences as well. The application will not only have stories to be consumed in a multi-format experience but will have also activities and classes for children to register and engage in.

We’ve also been running an online playwrighting initiative, called the Junior Playwright Club, for the last eight weeks, where children in the 6-18 age group have created close to 180 original play scripts.

These are some of the initiatives we’ve taken over the last few years, and we continue to develop more such initiatives. For us, broadening scope has to be a discipline, irrespective, of what the scene is, with a goal to reach more people and make the craft accessible to the masses.

<em><strong>The Tempest</strong></em>
The Tempest

In what ways and how much can this pandemic and the lockdown affect the theatre industry?  

The pandemic has shaken up the performing art industry across the globe and has given all of us food for thought in how we take our art to the people. With live shows being cancelled, online avenues have suddenly opened up overnight in different countries. The truth is, storytelling, be it through theatre, dance or music or through any art form, in the digital format, is here to stay. We’re living in a digital world, and it’s time we embraced every device as a stage, although, with caution and responsibility. But at the core of it all, whether it is online or live on stage, the story being performed doesn’t change. The content can still have a lasting impact on your audiences. It’s just the form that has changed and it is also the responsibility of us, artists, to evolve with times to make this an accessible-for-all craft.

The pandemic and its effects can be viewed as a setback or as an opportunity. Personally, I believe it has provided a great perspective on how we model our content and its reachability and has given us an opportunity to innovate, both, in content and form.

What are the major changes that you are anticipating in Chennai's theatre scene, once things get better? 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)? 

We’re already seeing these innovative ways being put into practice. And once this becomes the hygiene, people will start getting comfortable with this format, both, the creator and the audience.

Live shows will be continued to be staged. We’re in the city of performing arts after all, but we will also see, both, the artist and the audience embracing newer forms of interaction across various artforms. A lot of which was already happening across the globe, including India and Chennai, but the pandemic, simply, forced the speed at which these changes are implemented.


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?

We’re actively working on creating productions during this lockdown. And they will be uploaded on to the Crea-Play app as and when they are up for viewing.

Creation has to happen irrespective of the lockdown. It is only the stage that will vary. For now, it is only online; later it will be a combination of live and online. And all our plays on Crea-Play will be available in the live production format once the lockdown is lifted.

Lastly, how has team Crea-Shakthi been spending the lockdown time at home? 

This has been a very interesting period for all of us. I guess you can keep a creator idle only for so long. Some of the creators in the company have been working on some very interesting projects. Some have opened up story creation to their families, making it an inclusive exercise. A lot of parents and grandparents, who never had the chance to be storytellers, are now acting in our videos, making it a true community-driven exercise. Which, in my opinion, is needed, for a community to stick together, as we get past trying times, such as these.

You can contact the writer at karan.pillai@newindianexpress.com or follow him on Twitter @karan_pillai

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