However, with the advent of technology, theatre may have lost its charm. So who shall rekindle the light of live performances in the country? ‘Yours Truly’ answers just that.
In conversation with Nandini Rao, co-founder of Yours Truly (YT), Abhilasha Dafria finds out for YourStory.in how the only theatre group in India to specialise in a variety of interactive theatre formats, Yours Truly, works at customising theatre for the urban audiences.
Also, Nandini Rao was one of the finalists at British Council’s Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Awards, 2011. To know more about the Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Awards, click here. Follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards (YCE) on Facebook.
Tell us in detail about Yours Truly Theatre.
In 2003 Yours Truly (YT) Theatre was started by me along with Ranji David. We both are the co-founders and Artistic Directors of the theatre company.
Yours Truly Theatre is at the forefront of interactive and improvisational theatre in India. The company specializes in all the international formats of interactive theatre. With our extensive understanding of interactive and improv theatre and our deep knowledge of Indian audience sensibilities, we have devised and customized new formats of interactive theatre to cater to the Indian Urban Audience.
The theatre company was started to harness the power of applied improvisational and participatory theatre for change, and theatre for development with our initiatives. Some of the initiatives include Yours Truly theatre at campus for student community, YT angle for children and Show for cause. We have also been applying this into the corporate world not only for purpose of employee engagements and entertainment, but also as an intervention to help tackle organizational issues.
Where did this concept emerge from?
We had been trained in improv and interactive theatre by our panel of international mentors. With that experience and specialisation, we saw a huge scope of theatre being applied. The name ‘Yours Truly Theatre’ truly represents the spirit of interactive theatre, where its audiences’ reactions are played back for them. ‘Life unscripted’ really represents the spirit of improvisation and living the moment.
As we are an interactive theatre group, for us, our audiences are the main source of input and we take their views, opinions, emotions, fears, memories and give them colour and give it back to them again. So we are just the mirror, just a catalyst for reflection and ‘Yours Truly’ brings in that trust, personal touch and builds the bond which we share with our audiences.
Where do you perform these interactive shows? How are you using theatre for change?
Yours truly theatre is based in Bangalore and is well known in India for our innovative, entertaining and thought provoking productions. We believe in taking theatre to people who have no physical, financial or social access to theatre and entertainment, so we are associated with many NGO's and perform shows at hospitals, hospices, destitute homes, labour camps, juvenile homes and more. Our initiative, “Ytac - Theatre at Campus” reaches out to youth at campuses. We perform shows based on student issues like peer pressure, addiction and serious ones like suicidal tendencies and more at various campuses and reach out to all age groups of students. Our second initiative, “Ytangle – Yours truly theatre: angle for children” aims to provide quality entertainment to children. So we visit many schools and perform interactive theatre performances for children which are thought-provoking and inspiring.
Besides, we also have a theatre for corporates - Yours truly is committed to using interactive theatre as a medium in corporate set up for purposes like conflict management, change management, and other organizational issues. We also address issues which needs open platform to discuss issues and get the target crowd sensitized about them.
Could you tell us in detail what programs one may witness as your audience?
Right now we have two mega productions’ Bhagwaan Dhoondo’ and ‘Common Man ver.2.0’ both done in an interactive format of theatre called ‘Complete the Story’. Other than these we also do a performance called ‘Bangalur’u’holic’ where real life stories from Bangalore are shared and audiences get to see them transformed into a play on the spot along with lights and music. Our studio space is now converted into an intimate performing space which can accommodate 75 audiences. So from November we are kick starting an interactive theatre performance every Sunday at this space where audience will get to see one theme every month. Nov 2011 is all about ‘spooky tales’. Audience will get to see all our other formats of theatre regularly now, from Mushira theatre to Black rainbow project, theatre sports to forum theatre, from duplicity to perspective theatre. They can just drop into our space on any Sunday and they will be treated with an exciting interactive theatre performance.
Where do you have your main auditorium?
We are based out of Bangalore and our studio and intimate performing space is right in the heart of the city at CMH road, 2 kms away from MG Road. Our space is called ALMA.
We have mentors who are form Australia, US and Germany and we have been constantly collaborating with international artists. The latest one was with ‘String Theatre, London’ . We had hosted their performances at Bangalore. They specialise in long string marinates puppet theatre. The shows were houseful. We are looking forward to collaborating with more artists around the globe and also showcase the unique Indian Interactive and Improv theatre to the world.
Do you customise your content w.r.t domestic market?
Yes, very much. We believe we need to adapt and talk the language of the common man. Infact, we have come up with formats of theatre which suit Indian taste and sensibilities. So weather its ‘complete the story’ or ‘mushiara’ theatre, we all have something strongly Indian about them. Also since the stories, reactions and feelings of the audience are main inputs for our performance, our improv performance do include all of Indian spices flavoured and seasoned with perfection.
How big is your team?
Since 2003, we have trained more than 500 people in basic theatre and acting workshop and at any given time we have around 70 people in our team who invest time for rehearsals and performance of Your Truly Theatre. With over 300 interactive theatre performances, a team of around 100 members, 9 advisory board members and 7 international mentors, Yours Truly Theatre is now taking Indian improvisational theatre to audiences nationally and internationally.
Any interesting feedback you have got from the audience that you’d like to share?
Audiences have always appreciated our work. After one of our shows, one of the audience member talked up to us and told us about how his life and what we portrayed in the play was similar and he felt watching the play would help him take better decisions in what he was going through. And of course the most common reaction is “How is it possible for actors to create plays on the spot?”
Which locations have you performed at so far, and are there any interesting trends that you would like to share with us?
We have performed across Indian cities like in Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi and Indore. We are keen to take our work across India. Urban Indian population almost thinks similar but in rural India when we perform the dynamics, issues, and needs are different.
Could you take us back to your first performance?
First YT performance was at Mysore. We were invited by artists from Mysore to perform an interactive theatre show. It was one of the most memorable experiences, as the audience enthusiastically shared their reactions and watched them being performed. From then to now, there has been no looking back. We do average of 40-50 show a year at various locations and diverse set of audiences.
What were the challenges you faced while starting up? Tell us about the initial hurdles that you faced?
Theatre is all about challenges, whether it’s finding the committed people, whether it’s about finding a decent rehearsals space, or getting right dates to perform or, the most important one, getting audiences to come and see your work. When we started Yours Truly Theatre, we had no place to rehearse and we used to rehearse in car garages or terraces. From there, today we have our own studio and a intimate performing space. We started with handful of enthusiastic members and today we have trained more than 500 members in basic acting and theatre and there are 60-70 members who are voluntarily willing to invest time with Yours Truly theatre. We now also have regular audiences who watch us and all our shows go houseful.
Did you fundraise to startup? If not, are you looking at getting funded now?
Yours Truly theatre started as a self funded organisation, which of course means, it took time for us to grow. However now with so much experience in hand we are looking for support which will help us go to next level, without having to compromise on our Art.
How does your revenue model work?
Ticketed Performances, shows and workshops with corporates and our training division are our main revenue generator. Of course now we have our intimate performing space. For us, it’s always about the right balance between artistic quotient and commercial success for using theatre for entertainment and at the same time apply theatre for change Sustaining and surviving at the same time while making investments for future growth and substance.
How do you market Yours Truly’s offerings?
Our work is extremely experiential so our audiences are our main evangelist and of course word of mouth in our industry works the best. We of course do get good support from all media who support art and culture. Social media is the thing for us and works wonders. We are touching 2k fans on our FB page and this helps us to keep in touch with our audience on regular basis.
Can you share with us some interesting trends about the market that you are trying to capture?
Technology has taken over our lives and digital medium can give better results than a live performance in terms of realism, star power, mega budgets. So if theatre has to survive and bring audiences back- Theatre has to innovate. Interactive and improv theatre do exactly what a film or TV or mobile can’t provide. That is- an intimate, interactive personal experience. In a world where TV, mobile, video games are isolating people, live performance is the way for people to come together. Theatre is seeing a come-back as more people are opting to watch a performance than be a couch potato. We hope many more opt to watch and support theatre and experience the magic and power of interactive and improv theatre.
How do you see the creative/fine arts/ theatre industry in India emerge five years from now? Any tips for budding creative entrepreneurs?
India is a melting pot of various artists across the globe. Now we can see international productions coming down to India and there are loads of artists across the globe who are now keen to collaborate with Indian artists. We need to utilise this opportunity and produce international quality productions with, of course, keeping the unique Indianism. Innovation and creativity is the key for any art- the more the artists are ready to break the shells and experiment, the better it is for the art world. Balancing art and finance is like walking on a tight rope- we cant get carried away with the lure of profits by compromising on art; however its very important for artists to understand the markets, understand target audience and not get too caught up in personal artistic journey, forgetting that finally it will have to connect to audiences.
For further information, please check out YoursTruly Theatre