Performing arts and theater in the city of Pune finds its roots from the golden era of performances at Bal Gandharv Rang Mandir. Yet, Pune has always gravitated towards regional theater and the outstanding work in Marathi is ample testimony to the quality of theater in Pune.
However, English theater has been conspicuous by its limited following and if at all, restricted to a select audience of true aficionados. However, there are a few die-hard groups who think otherwise and believe that they can build a following for English theater.
Pune365 caught up with Isha Pungaliya and Vasudev Menon who are working towards building the popularity for quality English theater in the city.
The Drama Queen was hence formed to bring English theater to the people in the city. A female dominated group of theater artists, they have been performing the iconic plays of William Shakespeare.
“We do not intentionally look for females. During our initial days when we were looking for artists, most of the people who auditioned were largely women and it seems as though that the girls are keener when it comes to English theater,” says co-founder and film maker, Isha.
“I think this is so even in colleges where it is largely the girls who take up literature. Hence, we often cross cast, (women playing male roles) and that has been our policy throughout.
We do not look at role allocation in terms of gender. We named the group The Drama Queen because there is no gender when it comes to performance. As an actor, you are gender-less and while playing with the connotation of being a drama queen, we decided to name it so. However, we don’t intend changing the name, even if we get more men”
The first play that the English theater group performed was The Tempest by William Shakespeare in November 2016. They have been doing Merchant of Venice and Hamlet along with reading performances with scenes and monologues from various Shakespearean plays.
English theater has always had a select limited following in comparison to the regional theater scene in the city.
Speaking about their idea of an English theater group and starting off with only Shakespearean plays, Isha says, “Once you do Shakespeare, you will understand how well it teaches language and its uses.
Along with being great plays in itself, they actually teach you a lot in terms of performance, language, meaning etc. For us, it was going back to something that was not being being popularised in Pune.
The Pune English theater space has not seen much of Shakespeare. This was a revival of sorts, but at the same time, we were also learning which was also one of the motives to choose it. The plays also teach us to enjoy theater. We have seen our performers grow through it.”
Explaining how they deal with the limited audiences that can identify with Shakespeare, she says, “We only think that plays like these are difficult to understand as their words are placed differently way. Yes, the fact that it is Shakespearean does takes a toll.
“Here there are two aspect to deal with, firstly when the artist understands the language perfectly, they convey the message perfectly through expressions, emotions and performance. Secondly, it easy for any layman with a little knowledge of English to understand the play.
There are certain monologues that aren’t that easy to understand but then the whole idea is also to bring people to start reading and watching his plays.”
“It has a challenge to expand our audiences because not everyone feels comfortable going for such plays, but at the same time we have seen our audience grow. As our group is gaining popularity, people are okay to shed their inhibitions and try something new.
We want to make a space where people go and watch quality English theater with as much ease as they are with any other language.
“Over the years, people have shifted from just watching the culturally rich Marathi theater to something as periodic as our plays.
In Pune, people love cultural activities and entertainment and if we are giving them quality work, they are going to explore their horizons.
“However, the audiences are currently limited to college or junior college kids, people interested in art and theater or those who have exposure to English cultural practices.
We also believe that theater is for performance and shouldn’t be limited to books. We want to make it an experience of going beyond the books and experiencing the plays in person for school kids.”
Sharing her expansion ideas and her views on the current theater scene in the city, she says, “It is not that we aren’t going to go beyond it, we are interested in doing other similar plays later in time. So far, we have been doing Shakespeare, but now we are trying to do something original along with moving to the post-modern era, all in English for sure.”
“The performances and pool of actors in Marathi theater is excellent, but I personally feel that they are not exploring much in terms of forms, themes and content.
“Overall, there is not enough exploration in the form of theater and there is so much to be still done and we are hoping that we can make help fuel that change,” she signs of.
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