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Reinventing the theatre

Performing arts will at last have a proper place to be showcased. Prema Manmadhan visits Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre (JT pac) on the Choice School premises, which is almost ready for its inauguration

Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Dream space Jose Thomas, on the stage in the state-of-the-art theatre of JT pac on the Choice School premises

Visualise this: A school campus, with kids in uniform running around and teachers walking briskly about the corridors and school buses dropping off children or taking them home. The campus empties and quiet descends on the complex. With sundown, a di fferent sort of activity unfolds; the scene turns very adult. Cars start parking on the campus one by one. Art lovers, celebrities and the Page 3 crowd troop into the theatre on the first floor of a sprawling building as the curtain goes up. It’s a live show, and the performers are established names.

Almost ready

This scenario moves from blueprint to reality in a few months when JT pac (Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre) turns functional on the Choice School campus in Thripunithura. Jose Thomas, MD of the Choice group, actor Mohanlal and director T.K.Rajeev Kumar, whose organisational skills are well known, are involved in shaping this dream, with an army of creative artistes in various spheres working against time for its inauguration soon.

JT pac president Jose Thomas is all bullish about the venture, initiated by him and standing in the 700-seat theatre, nearing completion, with state-of-the-art acoustics and seating arrangements, he says, “Performing arts have no proper place to be staged today. We will fill that lacuna. Live shows are always more exciting than recorded ones. We will put up high quality shows by the best in the field, from within and outside the country, be it Kathakali, Baratanatyam, classical, folk or a play. We also intend to get into production. Funding will be through membership, tickets and sponsorship. The tickets are not going to be cheap, because we offer much more than a show in air conditioned comfort, an ambience for those interested and avenues for interaction.”

The minimum ticket rate will most likely be Rs. 400 for a two-hour show. Rates will depend on how popular the artiste is. Opportunities to interact and dine with celebrities, perhaps take photos as keepsakes, or to interact with the performing artiste are not add-ons. There will be a price tag for all these ‘extras’. But it will be an exclusive experience.

Saturday and Sunday are for performances, with repeat shows, but Monday to Thursday, the theatre will have programmes like seminars, workshops on contemporary dance, talk shows by eminent people, debates, quizzes which would be open to school kids anywhere. And Fridays will be reserved for conventions like doctors’ meets, says Jose Thomas.

Kathakali, performed with proper lighting and acoustic effects, will be very different from the way it is done now T.K.Rajeev Kumar, Director

Mohanlal, chairman of the venture, who loves a stage as much as a scene before the camera, is comfortable with live shows. You name it he does it, act, dance, don a Kathakali costume, do a full length Sanskrit drama in monologues, sing….So who better than him for an active ambassador of performing arts? (See box)

Our performing arts are dying because with changing times and technology, the right platform or ambience is not available for the artistes or audience. There’s more lip service than concrete action to counter this lament.

“As a result of that Gen Next has little exposure to these classical or folk arts. For instance, Kathakali, performed with proper lighting and acoustic effects will be very different from the way it is done now.

It will be a new aesthetic experience. The very fact that JT pac is situated in a school will give ample opportunities for children to be exposed to these arts, with the kind of workshops and interaction with artistes that kids get,” explains Rajeev Kumar, artistic director of the ambitious project. Rajeev’s vision for the theatre’s future seems clear.

Monthly festivals

Another plan he has in mind is having monthly festivals, devoting a whole month to one form of art, for instance January for Kathakali, February for folk art, March for theatre etc. Having a permanent art gallery, artistes in residence, story reading sessions, music therapy, research facilities for music, dance and other arts, scholarships and fellowships for the deserving, the possibilities are endless, he feels. This way, dying arts will be revived, new perspectives on several art forms created. In short, a new enlightened audience will be created for performing arts.

This will be a small step to ensure that these arts are rejuvenated in the entertainment sector, that they regain the popularity. Sruthi Sreedhar, who has a strong theatre background, is the curator of the theatre, who will execute the day to day functions. JT pac is all set to do a Broadway of sorts in Kochi.

Mohanlal to play Prospero

For Mohanlal, ‘Karnabharam’ was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, speaking those Sanskrit dialogues before experts in the language ‘sitting in the front row’ of the show. Chayamukhi came next as a stage production.

Now, Mohanlal, chairman of JT pac, will play Prospero, the protagonist in ‘The Tempest’ (Malayalam) to be directed by T.K.Rajeevkumar, its artistic director. Gopinath Muthukad will play the spirit Ariel. “The magical parts will be handled by Muthukad and it will be a very different interpretation of the bard’s play,” Mohanlal says. The stage is a passion that keeps this actor busy throughout. Mohanlal is gung ho about the possibilities of a high tech theatre like JT pac.

“It will be a visual treat, watching a performance here. We will have an altogether new culture here. There are good plays and audiences who lap them up in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. But here in Kerala, we do not have a proper theatre for it. JT pac will be a beginning. Even in our capital, Thiruvananthapuram, isn’t it sad that there is no proper space for performing arts? If a 100-piece orchestra wants to perform, where is the space? Tagore theatre was there when I was in school. There has been no change since then in facilities, when technology has developed so much.”

To what extent will his involvement be in the project? “It’s our baby and I will spend energy, time and work for it wholeheartedly,” says Mohanlal, who feels the Government must encourage such a venture.

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