In a new trend in international theatre, many directors are moving to Mumbai and calling it home.
Ever since Bob Christo, Bombay has been home to the “international actor”, who is usually a Caucasian. Today’s theatre scene boasts of many, including Zacharay Coffin, Anna Ador and the prolific Kallirroi Tziafeta. These actors have moved to the city, and now call it home.
However, this week a new trend seems to have been given birth on the city’s theatre scene. On the weekend, Australian theatre director Glenn Hayden opened yet another production, Bull, which opened to full houses at a variety of small intimate spaces. Tonight till Friday Canadian Alison Wong and American Timothy Nelson will open Haydn’s La Fidelta Premiata, at the Royal Opera House. And later in the year, the UK’s Paul Goodwin will open Lucrece at the NCPA. What makes all these productions unique is not merely the fact that they are helmed by International directors, but that they are helmed by international directors who keep returning to India.
Glenn’s love affair with India began in 2009, when he chaperoned a group of seven actors from Adelaide’s Urban Myth Theatre of Youth to tour Bombay with their play for kids The Pirate Ship. That also led to an outdoor piece with Indian actors for Thespo called Seven On Seven. Since then he has returned regularly, working with different companies, including Peas & Carrots, Ranga Pune, and Here and Now Theatre.
This is Alison’s third trip to India. It included bringing the Canadian Hip-Hopera Brotherhood, and also coming as part of Toronto based B-Current’s contingent to Thespo 17.
Paul Goodwin, came for the cricket! He was lured by the India-England Bombay Test Match of 2016. While here, he auditioned and recruited a student for Drama Centre London, conducted a workshop at the Thespo 18 Festival, and then returned last year to create a production of Lucrece with a mix of UK and Indian actors.
Then there’s Daniel Bartolini, an Italian Director who came to work on a project in 2015, and then returned a year later to work with actors in Delhi on a similar ‘audience specific’ piece. And word has it that French theatre director Ariane Mouchkine is scheduled to return after her experience with theatre makers in Pondicherry two years ago.
International directors have always enjoyed the challenge of working with Indian talent. John Capaletti, Eric Vigner, Toby Gough, have all come and built a production here…but only one. Usually this is an item they want to tick off their bucket list. However, these current relationships seem to run much deeper. Glenn, for one, has moved to India. Tim Supple, another UK theatre maker, has relocated with his family to India for the second time, after spending a year in Pondicherry. Timothy Nelson has spent many months touring the country and even learning Drupad in Bhopal.
In the last few years, India has become major presence in the global economy. This has led to better funding for Arts projects such as those listed above. But unlike earlier interactions with the folk arts, the nature of the current work being created by International directors is very much about rooting it in the urban psyche and making it part of the city’s theatre-scape. This makes it no longer a one-off ‘event’ but rather part of the regular production cycle of the year. This is likely to influence the kind of work we get to see, and more importantly expose actors to newer approaches to working and understanding. Perhaps Bombay is finally taking its first steps toward being part of the Global Arts Village!
The writer is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo.