Digital Theatre: In the technologically advanced world that we live in today, there is a constant attempt to make everything accessible with a mere click. Theatre, so far, has been the only exception to this digital world. Well, not anymore. Moving away from its traditional ‘live’ format, the stage is now available at a click too. A hybrid of cinema and plays, the new breed of theatre productions are accessible everywhere. On your laptop, ipad, mobile, in transit, so long as you have an internet connection.

Torch bearers of Digital Theatre 

The concept of merging the screen and stage has been the brainchild of actress, writer, director Nandita Das and serial entrepreneur Subodh Maskara. Under their initiative CinePlay, the duo produce plays specifically shot in a studio and present them as a digitally-immersive experience.

The Aim

To make theatre accessible to a wider audience. CinePlay has united talent from both spheres. Apart from actors from both theatre and film world, some of the productions are also being helmed by film directors like Santosh Sivan and Nagesh Kukunoor.  CinePlay productions are not only available on digital platforms but have also been doing the rounds of International festivals. The larger goal of this pioneering initiative is to venture into regional plays such as Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi plays and take Indian theatre with subtitles to a global audience.

CinePlay 

Along with their home production Between the Lines, Das and Maskara have produced iconic plays by playwrights Vijay Tendulkar and Mohan Rakesh as well as contemporary plays like Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like a Man and Siddharth Kumar’s The Job (The Interview), all with the technical edge of a film.

In it’s second phase CinePlay features some prominent film actors including Shreyas Talpade, Sonali Kulkarni and can be viewed on popular content portal- Hotstar.

Zee Theatre

Walking in the footsteps of CinePlay, TV giant Zee too started its own venture of making theatre digitalised under the banner Zee Theatre. They too exclusively shoot plays for the camera with a particular cast and crew for each production. Adding a tinge of small screen-ness by enhancing the sound effects. So while we have audience claps as background score, there are also the funny and dramatic sound effects as per the dialogues and punches. This pretty much makes Zee Theatre a hybrid of cinema, theatre and television. Pledging to produce over a 100 plays in the next three years, across myriad languages, Zee Theatre envisions to make them available on all mediums, from the internet and television to multiplexes.

Play My Play

This is yet another attempt to bring theatre to your doorsteps. However this digital platform believes in retaining theatre’s ‘live’ essence a little more than the others. Therefore, it presents live recordings of plays and also goes the extra mile of paying 50 percent of its subscription money to the theatre groups it showcases.

Advantages of Digital Theatre

Unlike cinema, theatre has had more of an educational value than just entertainment. Hence, making it accessible to a wider audience through a digital format is perhaps a positive move in the right direction. Furthermore, this is also an important way to preserve our iconic theatre talent. Digitalisation hopefully might also draw some monetary gain for theatre makers, long struggling for funds to keep this theatre alive. Then, there is also the chance of Indian theatre coming at par with Indian films, in terms of global popularity. Digital Theatre does have its advantages.

The Nay- Sayers

But personally, the most fascinating aspect of a play for me is watching actors live. As a theatre actor, I have been thrilled to feed on the instant energy of audiences while performing. As an audience member I have experienced the utter joy of being a part of the live performance. So if you ask me to choose between a live play and a digitalised play, I would probably root for the former.

Yes, there is disappointment of not being able to watch a play, just because it’s being performed in a different city. Yes, you do ruin most of the viewing experience if you are late in grabbing appropriate seats. Yes, there is a lot of planning and investment in watching a live play. Yet, theatre in its purest form is an enigmatic medium. No retakes, no rewind and no fast forward. Spontaneity is key. Digitalisation takes away this core appeal.

Digital Theatre is a progressive step in many ways but you can’t help but wonder if live performances will soon be extinct, like the feel of a newspaper that is rapidly vanishing from our hands. Only time will tell.

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