One of the doyens of Indian Theatre- Shernaz Patel needs no introduction. A prolific stage and film actor, Shernaz is also the co-founder of Rage Productions. Always encouraging original play writing, Shernaz spearheads Writer’s Bloc that mentors Indian playwrights and gives life and shape to their scripts.
We recently caught up with her and picked her brains about the current theatre scene in our country. Here’s what she had to say:
How and Why theatre?
I was born and raised in a theatre family. Theatre was a crucial part of my upbringing, all through school, college and drama society. So I never had an ‘aha!’ moment. Unlike other kids who had to fight their parents to let them pursue theatre, mine though disciplinarian allowed me do it with abundant blessings. My siblings and I used to spend our weekends doing theatre, get dragged to rehearsals, and play games backstage with props! In that way I’m very lucky, because stage felt like home quite early on in life.
How do you think theatre in India has evolved?
It’s nice to see a lot of young people getting involved in theatre, and that is true in all the cities that I’ve been to. One would think that with the mad growth of the internet, theatre would take a backseat. From what I’ve noticed, social media has helped people come down and watch more plays, in a sincere attempt to socialize and just get off their devices! Whether you’re watching a play or performing in it, there is a sense of community that live performances exude and I’m glad to see that feeling flourish.
Advice for aspiring theatre practitioners?
Get corporate support! Sadly, theatre remains to be a cottage industry stuck in a disappointing circle. The fact that it’s not a fully viable profession, affects the entirety of the production. Right from not getting enough time to practice due, to the quality of scripts produced, it’s like fighting a concrete wall. Which is why, find somebody who is willing to fund you without looking for major revenues and be truly willing to give theatre the patronage it deserves.
Future of Indian theatre?
For twenty years now people have been asking me if Indian theatre is dying, look at the irony! Theatre can never fade away. Every nook and corner of the country, every culture in our humungous diversity is brimming with traditional theatre. Our rituals, practices and lifestyle are heavily influenced by theatre. Sure, there will be ups and downs in the graph, but it will never be dead flat.
Why doesn’t India have enough contemporary playwrights?
We don’t do anything to develop theatre. To be more specific, we don’t develop the concept of writing for theatre in schools and colleges. If someone is extremely interested and has a gift for playwriting, they nourish themselves with great difficulty. We don’t even have people to teach these things! Add to that the lack of incentives, lack of money. I think this is where programs like Writer’s Bloc play a crucial role. Writer’s Bloc is an 18 month program where we nurture writers and stage their work. That is truly when a writer becomes a writer, when his work gets staged! We’ve been at it for fifteen years now, encouraging young playwrights, putting them on the pedestal they deserve to be put on. We’ve done 42 plays and worked with 50 writers, but we still have a long way to go!
How do we encourage future generations to pursue Theatre?
I’ve noticed theatre gets most love from communities where it’s been ingrained in their culture. By the time they’re 11 or 12 year old, it is essential to take kids to watch theatre, make it a part of their lives. Not just make them watch plays, but discuss the plays as well. Make them voice what they liked, disliked, what would they have done, what emotions they felt and so on. This practice is extremely important.
What would you like to #GetMore of?
Work! I’m on the constant lookout for quality work. And of course, the usual; money, love and lots of travel!