'Tis the Season to be Onstage: A look at upcoming theatre festivals

As practitioners of art and theatre or even writing, one is always faced with a moment of doubt because you begin to think about whether something has been done before. It’s not very easy to digest, but truth be told, it probably has been done before. And that’s OKAY. Because when it comes to documenting art and traditions of performance practices, one also considers different voices and perspectives that add to a particular tradition. It is upto us, readers and spectators, to recognize these new voices and for this purpose, theatre festivals are a great platform.
For all the theatre practitioners who may be looking for a chance at gaining some visibility do check out some of these festivals this winter season:




When October

Where: NCPA, Mumbai


While it’s already a little too late to apply for this festival, theatre companies should keep in mind that NCPA has some of the most prestigious stages and the patrons are generally people who have a lot of influence. Thus, for the average theatre practitioner, this is a great space to try and build your network.

Prithvi Theatre Festival

When: November
Where: Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai


Prithvi Theatre has established itself as a cultural hub and an enviable performance space that most artists yearn after because of its professional, technical setup and brilliant acoustics. The Prithvi Theatre Festival was first held in 1983, five years after the venue’s establishment. One can spot here on any occasion, at least one or more of the eminent personalities from the film industry who also have strong ties to theatre such as Naseeruddin Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Vinay Pathak and Lilette Dubey. The Theatre Festival itself, has grown a lot over the years exploring different themes and celebrating the work of people who’ve made invaluable contributions to the world of theatre. They also provide space for platform performances outside the auditorium and thus theatre practitioners who wish to get some visibility could use this space for fringe pieces. In the last few years, the Prithvi Festival has also expanded itself to provide a platform for music, thus inviting a new set of artists as well as audience.


Nandikar Festival


When: December
Where: Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkatta


Nandikar’s National Theatre Festival was started in 1984. It is arranged annually in Kolkata, India, between 16 and 25 December. The main objective that drives the organizers of this festival is the need to create a space which helps facilitate cultural integration in India and also to provide a forum to artistes from different parts of the country where they can engage in creative discussion and exchange notes or collaborate.


International Theatre Festival of Kerala


When: January

Where: Thrissur, Kerala


This is, without a doubt, one of the best theatre festivals in the country primarily because of the way it’s curated and the range of performances one can witness at this festival. ITFoK has really proved to be a catalyst with respect to creating an audience and culture for theatre. According to Pranav Raj, who was involved with ITFoK, this space also helped draw out more conservative audiences who, because of great exposure, have now built their own vocabulary to appreciate and critique theatre. For its 10th edition, ITFoK has chosen the theme, “Theatre of the Marginalized: Reclaiming the Margins” thereby inviting creative interpretations of these “margins”.


Bharat Rang Mahotsav


When: February

Where: NSD, Delhi


Bharat Rang Mahotsav was established a decade ago by the National School of Drama to stimulate the growth and development of theatre across the country. Originally a national festival showcasing the work of the most creative theatre workers in India, it has evolved to international scope, hosting theatre companies from around the world, and is now the largest theatre festival of Asia. The 16th Mahotsav will include several national and international performances, and various associated events in a wrap-around program.

Deepika Arvind who performed her play, “No rest in the kingdom” at the Old World Theatre Festival explains that what draws spectators to theatre festivals is the fact that one gets to see a range of work at the same time and at the same place. For the artist too, she says, “A lot of the stuff gets taken care of; the economics really work out and you don’t have to push for publicity as much.” The latter is especially true for those performing at festivals such as the Ranga Shankar Theatre Festival in Bangalore and The Hindu Theatre Festival  in Chennai because the festivals itself have a following of their own. Apart from the logistical advantages, Arvind talks about how performing and touring with theatre festivals proved to be useful because your work reaches new audiences and you learn how to adapt to different contexts.
Pranav Raj, shares some information on how the process of applying to or registering with a festival takes place. It differs to an extent. Some invite participants based on recommendations but most send out calls for submissions i.e performance videos which are then screened and then the participants are shortlisted. There is always the possibility that regional work is not represented adequately but to counter that one could establish a committee of sorts that scouts out regional talent like Thespo does, for youth theatre.  



The Festive Spirit: An interview with Prasad Vanarase

interviewed and written by Arwa Janjali


Vidyanidhee Vanarase (Prasad) has been a recognised name in the theatre circuit in Pune. After playing different roles such as a teacher, director, arts and cultural manager… he has an exciting addition to his theatre profile – Founder Director of the International Association for Performing Arts and Research (IAPAR).

IAPAR is the first-of-its-kind initiative in Pune city to bring together theatre practitioners and arts educators from across the globe. Its annual IAPAR International Theatre Festival has become the most looked forward to event ever since its launch last year.

In conversation with Prasad on IAPAR’s theatre extravaganza and the blooming trend of festivals in the country.


What’s the idea behind having an international theatre festival in Pune?

I have been hosting theatre festivals since 1999, including the Prithvi International Theatre Festival in Pune in the year 2000. All that experience made me realise that this kind of celebration is important beyond just a celebration. As it becomes an interesting platform where artists can come together, perform and talk to each other besides watching each other’s work, attending workshops together and so on.

Also, the more I attended festivals abroad, the more I felt that this kind of atmosphere needs to be created in India. And although we do have occasional festivals in the country already, Pune didn’t have any place where actors from India and other countries can look forward to performing and interacting. Despite being called the cultural capital. Hence, we initiated IAPAR (International Association for Performing Arts and Research) Festival last year.

As for the idea behind the festival, in the long run I look at it growing into an arts festival spanning two to three weeks and not just a theatre fest. Theatre will always remain an integral part of it but it will feature other art forms as well. We have already started incorporating music and dance in some performances. This year, an international band will be presenting a platform performance on the inaugural day of the international section. Last year, we had a 15 minutes platform performance called Transit which has eventually evolved into a full-fledged production called In Transit. So this year, we are featuring In Transit at the festival.  


How has the response to the festival been so far?

As far as the audience is concerned, all shows were houseful. I only get uneasy when theatre practitioners don’t come regularly to see the performances. I would like to see more and more theatre practitioners in the audience.  


Is there a target audience for this festival?

We are trying to reach out to more and more youngsters from across the country as we feel they should get an opportunity to be a part of the festival. We have invited students from five universities this year to come attend the festival. It is more like bringing something to the city for young people. They should be able to see the various possibilities of a performance, the different ways of performing. Last year, we were able to accommodate 60 students without charging them a penny for the festival.

Keeping youngsters in mind, you have also introduced an inter-collegiate play reading competition this year. But the only language allowed for the plays is Marathi. Why the insistence on just one language?

It’s not like we don’t want other languages but this year it is only in Marathi as we don’t know what response we are going to get. If it’s multiple languages and 10 entries, it becomes very difficult and unfair to compare a Hindi reader to an English reader or a Marathi reader. And since it’s a competition and play reading, language matters. Also, considering its Pune, we thought of having Marathi as one would read in a language one feels comfortable in. Next year, we might have a separate section for Hindi or English plays.  


Most masterclasses and workshops at the festival are also by international artists. Has language been a barrier there?

Yes, it is.  So we make sure we have a good translator at all the sessions. Generally, we have two people along with the facilitator. One who understands and speaks the language of the facilitator and the other who understands and speaks the language of the audience.


The focus has also been on creating a network for academics through this festival. Is that mainly to do with theatre education?

It is primarily to do with the way theatre is taught at any platform. Whether it’s schools, colleges or theatre departments at universities. For example, The Indian Society for Theatre Research (ISTR) has professors coming together and reading papers, etc. But their study has no connection with the practice. Practitioners meet at festivals and keep demeaning the academic part of the performing arts education. And this conflict between the practitioners and academicians has been a long tradition world over. We are trying to make an effort to bridge that gap.

So this year, we are hosting the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and having a young critics’ forum at the festival, which is in collaboration with the Indian section of IATC. There would be a weeklong workshop for young critics from all over the world who would be interacting with Indian theatre practitioners, theatre critics and the performers at the festival. The idea is to allow academicians to have a comfortable access to the performers. For them to understand the creative process. Similarly, performers also need to understand that the critics have a probing approach to their work and it’s important that their work gets articulated.

Also, IAPAR is the only Indian member institution of the UNESCO – UNITWIN Network for Higher Education in Performing Arts. And we are trying to get people from across the globe to collaborate with IAPAR so that it is beneficial for the students here. However, we are not looking at creating another infrastructure with respect to a formal institution as such.  


We are truly in a day and age of festivals, what with them mushrooming all over the country. What is the future of this festival trend in India according to you?

The festival culture in Europe has existed for many years now. But one of the reasons why festivals are mushrooming in India is because of the grant given by the Ministry of Culture to host festivals. That’s played a major role. However, the question is whether one’s mission and vision is clear enough to sustain the festival irrespective of the funding from the government. That is something which we will know over a period of time. So this mushrooming could be a temporary phase which would eventually fade out.

Having said that, festivals are beneficial for performers, who don’t find enough performance opportunities in their own city. So on one hand, it is good that festivals are creating performance opportunities but, on the other, one has to wait and watch how many of these festivals actually survive.


Lastly, what do you think of the current theatre culture in Pune?

The theatre culture is very vibrant in Pune at present. It’s interesting how practitioners are exploring and experimenting with multiple alternate spaces. And still doing good and honest theatre. There is a lot happening, but again, how much of it will survive, only time will tell.


In the meanwhile, here is the amazing line-up at the  IAPAR Internal Theatre Festival 2017. Book tickets right here.

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Photo via Gratisography

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