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Sameera Iyengar, Sanjna Kapoor, and Sudhanva Deshpande on SMART, India's first theatre management program

Francesca Ferrario
22nd Feb 2015
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SMART is India’s first theatre management program. It is promoted by the theatre network Theatre Forum (ITF), and managed by India Foundation for the Art and the theatre organization Junoon. It aims to build capacity in theatre groups to think and work strategically, believing that their artistic potential can be enhanced only through effective management.

The mentors include Sameera Iyengar (course Director), Arundhati Ghosh, Sanjna Kapoor, Sudhanva Deshpande, Sunil Shanbag, and Swati Apte; and the project has been run under the guidance of Milena DragićevićŠešić.


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Last month, the first part of the project was completed. It consisted of a 10 day intensive workshop where 29 participants from 17 theatre groups all across the country shared their personal experiences and learnt from experts, enhancing an unprecedented debate about theatre management.

In the next few months, the participants are required to apply the learning they acquired during the program to their respective theatre companies. In August this year, they will meet again in Mumbai to present the strategic plans they have formulated and implemented.


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The course director, Sameera Iyengar (who co-founded the theatre organization Junoon with Sanjna Kapoor), explains that the program comes out of a compelling necessity to reform the organization of theatre. “Theatre is changing because the audience is changing,” she says, adding, “Like never before, India has recently become a ‘cash country’ bringing along more welfare and more opportunities to spend.” She explains that the number of people who attend theatre in cities has dramatically increased in the past decades. “The challenge from our space is how to keep this momentum. We need to turn the audience not only into payers but into art lovers,” she continues and says that theatre management aims precisely at delivering every detail of the theatre experience in the best way possible.Sanjna Kapoor adds that theatre is gaining pace not only in urban areas, but in rural areas as well. “In Assam, you’ve got the Mobile Theatre for example, which work a lot in villages,” she says. This theatre is known for discarding the common belief that theatre artists are ill paid, especially in rural areas. A professional organization will give further authority to theatre helping it become a respectful institution for delivering culture.

The organization team underlines that SMART has been crafted to meet the needs of local theatres based on indigenous knowledge. They argue that, “probably for the first time in Asia, the program addresses the needs of theatre practice from the ground up.”


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SMART, therefore, does not aim to teach “how to” solutions for managing theatre companies; rather, it encourages creative and strategic thinking through activities and discussions.

Giving up any concept of hierarchy was fundamental during the 10-day workshop. Sanjana argues that “this program is about giving up your certainties and open up to new learning.” It promotes exchange of knowledge, experiences, and opinions, among theatre groups. Pragmatism and the acknowledgement that everybody – including the teachers of the course – have a lot to learn, are at the core of SMART.

The stress is greatly on the ‘do-it-yourself’ module, which is promoted through the following structure of activities:

1. Vision & Essential Core Values

2. Group Sustainability

3. Audience Building

4. Communications

5. Financial Management

6. Resource Mobilisation

7. Administration

The cost of the program is highly subsidized by sponsors and donors and costs Rs 15,000 for two people from each theatre organization.

Sanjna continues, “There are people who suggest we should become like the British. Having equity, unions, but this is trying to run before you even start to crawl. We are just at the beginning. This theatre we’re looking at is very young.”


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Sudhanva Deshpande, who has been part of the left-wing street theatre Jana Natya Manch for all his life, explains that even in this unconventional type of theatre the circumstances shows are performed have changed. “Earlier people had regular nine-to-five jobs. Now, they don’t. Both actors and audience have changed their habits and made everything more complicated.”Jana Natya Manch exemplifies how the most different types of theatres have all issues related to management.

SMART is first of all a platform to gather theatre performers with the same issue (theatre management). It is still at its very early stage and more tangible results will show after the participants of the 10 day workshop will apply what they learnt to their respective companies.

The team comments that, “The learning from each other has been immense. And we are looking forward to the continued learning and growing that is bound to happen during the course.” However, one thing is sure, “Knowledge and expertise must come from theatre itself, the many ways in which it has been practiced here for centuries.”

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