Nikita Pinto, III B.A. English

In conversation with Farasha Pharis, President of the Dramatics Club, and Ananya Agrawalla, Treasurer, on what it takes to be a Stella Player.

In one corner, a couple of students paint posters, while a few work on last-minute adjustments on the stage, fixing the lights and placing the props. The actors take their places on stage, quickly rehearsing memorised lines from the script in their minds, ready to create magic with their words and flawless expressions.

The curtain rises. And the drama begins.

But as you look at the actors in their resplendent costumes, thoroughly accurate in the portrayal of the times, what you may fail to notice is, that this unique work of art, this little world of humongous possibilities isn’t just permeated by performers, but an entire cohesive unit, consisting of directors, producers, make-up artists, set and costume designers, marketing, and sponsorship managers.

Ananya says, “It’s a complete experience. It’s not just about acting or for people who want to act. There’s make-up, set design and other avenues for those who aren’t into acting.” The club, therefore, debunks the stereotypical myth surrounding theatre, being that its primary focus is on acting and stage performance. “Production is essential to a play. You get a chance to be on stage and behind the stage. For the Evam Theatricals, I got the opportunity to help with the props, which is important to any staged play,” she adds.

The Evam Theatricals is just one of the many activities that the club organised this academic year. Workshops in collaboration with popular theatre houses such as The Madras Players and Little Theatre take place every Saturday and Sunday and are open to everyone. The club is even planning on putting up a special performance on the 11th of February, as part of the Club Day celebrations.

Membership to the club is open to all; however, when production houses recruit from campus, there is a selection process involved. “We try to have a different audition process, so that [participants] can get diverse experiences. We’ve had script readings, monologues and other forms of auditioning,” explains Farasha.

The Drama Club isn’t the only club that engages in the performing arts on stage, yet it is rare to see performances of the group during college events, unlike other performing clubs. The reason behind this is the lack of time available to practise. “The slot we get for the cultural performances is too short. Plays need at least ten minutes,” says Farasha. Time is crucial for theatre, a key factor to an impactful performance. They, therefore, cannot perform as often as other clubs which can easily put up a performance within five or six minutes.  “We also can’t stick to the same forms. We have to come up with new dialogues and other ways of expression,” she adds.

The process of staging a play is a herculean task indeed, with several sub-committees such as script-writing, auditions, lighting, make-up, marketing, props and sponsorship; all which take up to a month to organise. Their favourite part of the process? Ananya says, “The entire thing! You see so much and you get exposure while giving others an opportunity.”

What is their biggest achievement? “Evam Theatricals,” they both agree in unison. “It was a first-of-a-kind in Chennai, a public performance that was completely done by the students. It was like having a show. We even had a different concept of judging the winners, by voting. The behind-the-stage team and the entire team did well. We had one of the best theatre houses in Chennai guiding us.” Ananya adds, “The response was very encouraging. We had a ton of volunteers and student participation was massive. Even the judges were fairly impressed as we were well-organized and ahead of time.”

Marketing, too, is essential as it gets the word around about their performances. The marketing head of the club, Trishia Santhus, emphasised on the importance of marketing in drawing large audiences, saying, “It’s tough, especially since this was a new venture. But we a got a lot of response; in fact, our page has gotten more people even after the show.”

All the office bearers agree that the Evam Theatricals gave them an entirely different experience than their usual performances at college. For one, they gained exposure to the inner-workings of theatre in the city. They were also involved in the backstage processes, something which they did not have much experience with previously.

Farasha says, “Working with Evam Theatricals has been great. We could conduct workshops and some of our students were even able to get an internship with the company. The participation was huge, with many of our members helping with the props and the backstage. The response was amazing; out of the 54 people who signed up, 5 got selected for the internship.”

On the subject of the major problems they encounter in the field of drama, Farasha highlights the issue of funding, saying, “It’s difficult to get sponsorship for theatre. For the Evam Theatricals, it was self-funding and we didn’t make much profit.” For smaller funds, they were able to rely on friends and family, but the majority of the resources received were self-funded. Sponsorship requires certain benefits that the club cannot do, like putting up a stall to promote a certain product. Therefore, the club members often have to resort to self-funding, which becomes an expensive process. However, the Stella management has been supportive of their cause as they were able to open a bank account for funds, which makes them, interestingly, the only club in college with a bank account.

The annual college play, put up by the Club, however, works differently. The club is fully responsible for all the procedures involved in staging the play, unlike their collaborations with outside companies where there is shared responsibility. Practice usually begins between October and November and the play is staged in early February. The members engage in a lot of exercises so as to understand their characters, and they learn how to dissect them using techniques of character analysis.

On the status of drama in Chennai, Ananya says, “There has been a lot of interest and talent these past three years. Many shows have been put up in the city, encouraging students to participate. It’s a good time to be in theatre, which has been evolving steadily in Chennai.”  While big banner production houses come to campuses, regional theatres do not appear to be progressing much. Both agree that there has been a loss, a setback when it comes to Tamil theatre, primarily because of the predominance of English theatre in the metropolitan city.

When asked about what plays they would like to stage in the future, Farasha says “Anything engaging like a mystery or a comedy; something that would capture the interest of the audience within a space of ten minutes.” Ananya says, “Generally, everyone looks for comedies as it is stress-relieving. Irrespective of whether the audience is distracted, or uninterested, the actor should be able to perform. But, at the same time, the audience should be respectful. It does take a lot of work and effort, and it’s (demotivating) when they talk or use their phones or don’t pay attention.”

As to why they love acting, Ananya says, “It’s about understanding yourself, a kind of realisation when you try to become another character. You become another person.” The feeling resonates with all members of the club, who find their experience as a Stella Player a thoroughly fulfilling one.

[Photo Source: Evam Theatricals Facebook Page.]

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