Few years ago, my good friend Gautam Dutta wrote this review article in one of the Bengali publications. While working on a new theater project, whenever I feel frustrated or dejected, I read this article and feel encouraged. I feel re-energized. Gautam and I had worked for Bengali Theater in USA for quite sometime and we, like all theater workers often have this feeling within us – is this worth it? All this hard work we put in to create a quality show, often seems to be hardly of any worth if we don’t have an audience.
But I don’t blame the audience who couldn’t get to come to see a play. First of all, not everybody likes theater. And for this, we theater people are the ones to blame. In order to survive the onslaught of popular entertainment mediums like film and television, we have made theater into an esoteric art form. Just like fine art has evolved to counter photography, or poetry has evolved to counter printed prose, modern theater has evolved to a form that is often incomprehensible and/or too obtuse. We have taken entertainment out of theater and made it into an intellectual jugglery act. And with this we have limited our audience pool. But I can assure you, our (ECTA’s) plays are not void of entertainment at all. Our plays over the years have made people laugh, made them cry and also made them think.
Secondly, these days we have umpteen options to enjoy quality entertainment sitting right in our home. And that too at a very affordable price. So what are we offering that can pull a person from his home out to the theater hall? One thing that theater offers is the feeling of social connectedness. We watch plays along with many others in a theater hall, we laugh together, we cry together. We can share our feelings. Community theaters like ours, help one feel connected with our community, a community of people with similar likes, similar tastes. We do have Facebooks and Google-pluses as our competition, but I think the human connection is something that cannot be replaced. An excited and stimulated discussion with friends after the play (or during intermission) with a delicious snack (like a fish chop or chicken roll) and a hot cup of tea is something that Facebook can never offer.
And finally, cost or should I say value for money, is another great impediment for a person to try theater. I understand, we are not competing with Broadway ticket prices. But when one has to buy tickets more for the sake of social and personal obligation, it starts to become a burden. I fully sympathize with the person who wants to come to see a play, a dance event, a musical soiree but finds that his monthly entertainment budget for the family is going out of bounds. I don’t have a magical solution for this, since people who put up these shows typically don’t do it for profit. But they have costs too. They have to pay the theater, the crew, meet the production costs and several other incidental expenses. I cannot say for other organizations, but at ECTA, we have decided that ticket price should never be a barrier for a genuine theater lover to come and see our plays. We do have a price printed on our tickets, but if any person feels that this is exceeding their budget, I would ask him/her to come and watch our play without bothering about ticket price. Pay whatever you can afford or think is the right amount, but please do come and enjoy the show. Money should not be a barrier between us.
We are doing theater to share our art with you, and without you this venture is worthless.
This is an excellent article SudiptaDa and I 100% agree to your point. The only concern I have is around the quality of the production and that must not degrade at the cost doing “a theater”. This will certainly pull out theater lovers and will certainly force me to ponder for other things instead of watching a theater. I came to NJ in 2003 because of few reasons and one the biggest one was I felt NJ as a Bengali cultural hub that I missed in Poughkeepsie or in Albany. For a greater period till date I enjoyed every bit of my stay. Excellent productions were all around. But unfortunately, in recent times the quality is compromised (I wanted to use the word degraded but that would be harsh for some dedicated souls). And this is a serious thing to me.
Also, as theater practitioners, all of us need to help each other’s productions using word of mouth at the least. And if you count the number of Bengali theater practitioners in NJ, they themselves will create a large pool of audience. But then not all of them want to watch other’s production!!
Best of Luck for “Othoba Ekti Chair ..”.
Thank you Indranil. But these days I hardly see that many Bengali theater productions in the area. One or two plays are staged in a year (except for one or two additional Pujo plays). Most people do not have the time to prepare a play, not even as a recreational activity. Even major Bengali clubs in the area do not spend the time and effort to stage a play. This was not the case during the early days you mention. I would never discourage a theater enthusiast from staging a production in the name of quality. I think from exercises like this, good theater can evolve. As for helping in publicity of the productions, I agree, each of us should do our best to spread the word and encourage people to attend the shows.