SINGAPORE – There will be applause and curtains opening in the background. But instead of walking on stage, the cast of Chambhar Chaukashiche Natak (The Play Of Nosey Parker) will play their roles from home, waiting for cues to go on screen.
On Monday (May 25) afternoon, the play will be presented on video conferencing platform Zoom, in a virtual theatre production by Maharashtra Mandal Singapore (MMS). The non-profit organisation hosts arts performances regularly to showcase the culture of Maharashtra state in the west of India.
For the play, 10 actors aged between seven and 19 first met during auditions in late January, but had attended just five rehearsals before the circuit breaker measures kicked in.
Undeterred, the team of more than 24 – including musicians, crew and costume designers – began brainstorming ways the show could go on, online.
The “young and tech-savvy” cast adapted quickly to Zoom, though challenges persisted, says director Swapna Mirashi, 43.
Showing movement, for example, is heavily limited by the “small window” of the webcam, a problem exacerbated by the action-oriented script.
The comedic tale by Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkar tells of a kingdom plunged into crisis when its young prince’s feet start burning from the sun’s heat. Agitated by his son’s incessant crying, the king commands his prime minister to put the fire out through a series of bizarre ways, including stitching a giant umbrella and shooting at the sun.
To bring these scenes to life, lyricist Jui Chitale used stage directions to write a rap, for which 17-year-old actor Rushabh Parasnis created a beat he will perform live.
“We are making the most of what we have, such as close-up views of facial expressions and use of audio,” says Ms Swapna. “Like in the battle scene, the kids shake their laptops to simulate the sound of cannonballs.”
Actors and parents also assembled parts of their costumes according to instructions from costume designer Aparna Temurnikar, although she couriered the more elaborate headgear to them.
For example, 19-year-old Utkarsh Thakur, who plays the army general, made his armour out of mounting board, while the mother of the 15-year-old playing the prime minister stitched his costume together.
The script was also modified to remove physical interactions like handshakes, and multiples of certain props made so they could be “passed” among characters.
“Everything – from the angle of the actor’s cameras to their home lighting – makes a difference,” says producer Nalini Thite, 45, who added that “a lot of energy” has gone into making sure the technology runs smoothly.
Actors will switch their cameras on and off the way one would enter and exit the stage, so the audience is encouraged to watch the play in grid view.
The team has been rehearsing online every Sunday since the end of April, and also started meeting from 4.30 to 6pm every weekday for the past two weeks.
Chambhar Chaukashiche Natak will be performed in Marathi, with an English playbill available for download. It is scheduled to begin at 4.30pm and expected to run for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Interested viewers can register for free here.
The last children’s play by MMS was held in 2018, together with that year’s adults play. Some 200 people attended the event at the Global Indian International School’s campus in Punggol.
MMS vice-president Ashish Pujari, 46, says: “It may not be possible to recreate the stage entirely, but we hope to bring the essence of theatre not just through acting, but also with music, dance and costumes.”
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