Recognizing the Theatrecian within
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
( As You Like It 2/7)William Shakespeare
These are lines that are oft-quoted; some might even say the lines above are a tad clichéd.
However when it come to describing some individuals however, it’s not a cliché, just like Shakespeare will never be, because he was the original. Where we chase down the six figure salaries and yearn to participate in the rat race of life, these three individuals decided to tread the paths unknown. Tathagata Chowdhury, Kanak Gupta, and Dhruv Mookerji came together to work on their dream throwing caution to the winds.
“Theatrecian” was established in 2000 and Tathagata ran the sole proprietorship from 2000 to 2007; Dhruv and Kanak were part of the management team on honorary and/or project basis. Since 2007, “Theatrecian” has been re-registered as a Society. Kanak is the current President, Tathagata is the Secretary and Dhruv is the Treasurer, or as they like to call themselves the Joker, the Executer and the Dreamer. Theatrician has Seven Board Members; 25 regular actors and technicians aiming to produce 6 plays per year in India by 2010 produce 6 plays, and tour with 2 plays by 2011 in Asia/ Europe and their Vision for 2012 is to produce 2 plays in Middle East/ Europe, and have an auditorium in India.
Yourstory asked the trio what “Theatrecian” was all about. They replied “The main aim of “Theatrecian” is to develop and encourage all types of cultural and literary activities such as Music, Literature, painting, theatre, plays, cinema, dance, debate, script writing, Photography, Videography, Cinematography, Journalism Mass Communication. We encourage young talents to “recognize the Theatrecian within” and explore new horizons. Once upon a time, all we wanted to do was act on stage and learn more and more from all the experts around. Today, we recognize the fact that there are several talents around, simply waiting for that one chance, one moment to reach the stars.
It’s not everyday that you see a “Housefull” board outside a theatre auditorium in Kolkata; it’s even more un-common to see one for a city-based group’s performance. We presented three full scale productions last year, and are happy to say that all our shows were sold out! In fact, we have had to perform for social clubs and organizations on demand.”
“Theatrecian has focused over the years on making theatre a serious career option, and not just a passing fancy of college students or something that professionals do to add on to their curriculum vitae. We are passionate about the performing arts, but also recognize the business virtues and challenges that it presents. We run “Theatrecian” as professionally as possible, and today have created a niche for ourselves. We can proudly say that there are many young adults who have learnt the nuances of theatre, management, and life from “Theatrecian” and have gone on with their lives successfully- be it in the corporate world, the movies or a career in theatre itself.”
So how does an idea like “Theatrecian” come about? Sometime in September 2000 three friends got together and discussed their eagerness to do quality theatre in Kolkata... They beat the odds and presented their very first play on January 4, 2001, even getting a beating from a potential sponsor’s security guard in the process.
Says the trio “Since then, the dream has continued. Today, after forty productions, we remain the same bunch of “juvenile kids”, willing to get ridiculed by one and all, time and again- just to continue our dreams. From being shown the door by sponsors, to fighting heat, dust & rain to put up posters… from having to borrow furniture to put up plays to outright refusal by some of the better known names to get involved with us- today, we are recognized as one of the most prolific English theatre groups. The biggest challenges were balancing out “real” responsibilities with theatre, work, finding sponsors, generating interest & awareness amongst audiences, and execution of our dreams.”
“Yes, there were lots of differences; we constantly argued with each other. But the basis of all those differences was a collective, united goal- Theatrecian. We never put personal issues before the team. The good thing was that even when we were fighting with each other, those fights were about how best would the group benefit.”
They also told Yourstory how the scenario changed for them. When they began their venture most people did not believe that they would be successful. Whilst most people their age, were talking of family businesses, stocks & shares, becoming doctors & engineers, they were happily talking about going into the-out-of-work-theatre business. The trio relates “We were an exciting proposition for the media, who at many occasions called us pioneers in the field, and compared us to some veterans of the 1970s. The first major turning point was when we moved on from competing at college fests and realizing that we can do this on a professional basis, and we can do it as a career option. That is how it all began, and when most were speaking to college dramatics clubs for roles, we were approaching sponsors.”
“Very soon and thankfully so, we realized that the honeymoon period with the audience, media and sponsors won’t last forever; when after our initial few productions were lapped up by audiences and critics alike, there was a slight murmur of “what else can Theatrecian offer”…and before it could become a full fledged point of discussion and argument, we re-invented ourselves. Rather than simply satisfying our creative instincts, we tried finding a balance with the pulse of the audience. And since then, we have made a conscious effort to not take any of our coordinates for granted. This realization, which happened sometime around our first non-original play (The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter, directed by Dhruv Mookerji) can be looked at as another turning point in our business.”
“Another major turning point was the year 2007, when all the founding members returned to the City of Joy and decided that it was high time that theatre was run professionally in Kolkata.”
So with success coming after such difficulties and in the face of stiff opposition, was there ever a time when these stalwarts of the performing arts felt like exiting the stage
Kanak says “After being involved in the foundation years, I moved out of the country to pursue my higher education in 2003. I come from an established business family, and was expected to run that! I chose to ignore the signals, and decided to carve a niche for myself. I studied for an MBA in the States, got a job in Hamburg, worked for three years after that in London- but there was something always missing. I would come home for Christmas and New Year, and traditionally, we’ve had plays on January 4th. At every single one of the performances, I was always jealous of the team taking part. I joined the Richmond Shakespeare Society of Great Britain, worked with the Company of Angels, did workshops with Mike C Vaughan of the Royal Shakespeare Company but could never really fulfill the desire inside for doing high quality theatre. You can’t do theatre “part time” in the UK. Either you’re in, or you’re out. And the fear of paying rent in pounds never let me leave my regular consulting job.
“Given my HR and Strategy education & work experience, I would send emails to TC & Co about how theatre could be run professionally, and would put in my two-cents about every production. Every email was cordially answered, though there always an undertone of “Alright Mr. Wise-Guy, lets see you do this!”
“Destiny, is not without a sense of humor. In 2007, my then employers presented me with an opportunity to lead the business expansion to the Middle East and India. I casually mentioned that I’d like to stay in Kolkata and not Mumbai, and they said “OK”. That was it! I was coming back home. I spoke to TC about “Theatrecian” again. We discussed things in detail, and were convinced that two heads would be better than one. We decided to keep our day jobs until the time we saw it being absolutely necessary. I still have what you call my day job, and as a team, we have divided responsibilities, and efficiently handle Theatrecian work by making strong use of our insomnia.”
Dhruv replies” Even when I was doing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics at Stephens, my main focus was the Shakespeare Society; the acting bug bit me very early in life, and I don’t think I have or will ever consider a profession/ job outside of the creative fields. I have acted, trained and worked with some of the best in India and the UK. And I hope that one day if I could achieve 10% of what the greats’ have, I would have done a fair job”
To this Tathagata adds “I don’t think I have considered moving out of the industry ever or would ever do that. Yes, to learn more I encourage my team members working with other groups and all over the world, but at the core of it all is Theatrecian. Whilst I consult and freelance for films and media, I don’t see myself doing anything but taking Theatrecian to new heights.”
Kanak believes the entire show is motivated by two reasons: one is a very emotional reason and the other is a focused business strategy.
On the emotional side: “Theatrecian is something that we started, and have seen it go through a lot. So many people, so many changes…. Like I mentioned, I worked with other groups and people. Sooner or later, I realized that Theatrecian and me have an association for life. And TC has been one of my closest friends and colleagues. The emotions were always targeted towards achieving more for something that is so close to your heart…and to make your friends/ colleagues proud. Every time we lacked experience and focus, our adrenaline rush and enthusiasm has come forth and saved the day!”
On the business side: “I recognize the enormous potential in theatre as a business. There is a massive demand for quality entertainment, and there is a strong and deliberate focus to not only fulfill the demand, but also make people addicted to Theatrecian. We are working very hard to meet our set objectives, and expand the brand name to different parts of India and across the world. We see the United Kingdom as a cultural melting point, and we know that in order to be recognized amongst the very best, we need to have a strong presence there. The entertainment market in India is at growth stage with an 18 % growth in 2007-2008 Future prospects are positive, largely because of changing demographic and social trends: besides the rise in income levels, the younger demographic is also fuelling the demand for quality entertainment, and a venue to participate in the performing arts. On the regulatory side too, State Governments are moving to encouraging culture & the arts, and promoting various routes for the same. All of the above factors auger well for the burgeoning of theatre and “Theatrecian” at an impressive rate.”
Yourstory asked them who they you consider as their Inspiration / Role Model? The trio replied “Many actors! As a child, I was the dancing and acting star of the family. In fact, there are videos of me enacting Amitabh Bachchan scenes, and dancing to Mithun Chakraborty songs as a 9 year old. There was a strong influence of dance, music and the arts during the school days. Then came in accolades in form of awards and prizes, and exposure to western music and movies; I would mimic actors, wrestlers, politicians, musicians, teachers, friends, do stand-up comedy nights… you name it.”
TC: “I have been on stage since I was four years old. Art and performance that has been in me ever since; it has been in my genes and getting attracted to the entertainment industry has always been the “obvious” step; I have been inspired by my readings and interaction with industry personnel. On the big names, those mentioned by Kanak and many more whom I have met and worked with. One name who inspires me most is Mr. Bachchan”
Kanak: “I would say observing people in the entertainment industry and the corporate world has proved be my source of inspiration. Movie folk like Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Mr. Bachchan, Edward Norton, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Kishore Kumar, Chris Nolan, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick, and businessmen such as Mr. L N Mittal, Mr. Ratan Tata, Mr. Warren Buffet, Mr. Steve Jobs and Mr. Shah Rukh Khan have made the maximum impact. Movies influence me!”
“Theatrecian” as a venture has cost advantage, brand value, a team with diversified experience, creativity and a wide network simply, because it has been in the market for 7 years now. More over, “Theatrecian” enjoys a First-mover advantage over competitors. When it started off, there were hardly were any English plays happening in Kolkata. Long established players had gone quiet and missing for a while and the re-entry of these established players meant that there was a lineage of 30years backing them up. The target was to generate high quality entertainment on a regular basis while turning a profit. The target audience and clientele knew about Theatrecian more than others in the field. With a fairly localized management team, they already had a set support group. With varied input and a fairly young, broad minded team, the ideas keep burgeoning and that augurs well for Theatrecian!
Theatrecian knows its strengths and weaknesses; the vision remains to get more organized and run the business more professionally. According to the threesome”We know our product; we also know our resources. We constantly endeavor to do better with every training session, and every play. We understand we have come thus far on guts, instincts and enthusiasm, and now we need to achieve more by means of carefully utilizing our resources. However, our focus remains the same as it was when we started off: to provide quality entertainment and keep the theatre flag flying high.”
The three also had a world of advice for any who would follow in their footsteps.
“Live the dream... whatever you do, don’t get scared. It’s not simply taking risks, or being passionate or having social influence. To achieve even a moderate level of success, one has to combine the various elements and put in lots of hard work. Have a contingency plan ready. Select the core team and fundamentals carefully. Always plan ahead of time, and extensively. And for every plan A, have a plan B, C and D.
Remember, when we started off, people ridiculed us. Theatre wouldn’t buy you bread. If you believe in your product & services, proudly back yourself. Mere wants and desires would get you about somewhere, but to go the distance you have to be organized, and have to constantly improve upon yourself.
Don’t take failures personally; don’t take success seriously. Be clear with your vision, (and make sure your accountants know everything you do). No one said it would be easy, and trust us, it is not. Learn to eat that frog. If there are two frogs, eat the uglier one first!