Dramatics in the Digital Medium- Sarthak Padhi

From the Managing Editor’s Desk: As we end 2020 with a global pandemic still looming large, Sarthak Padhi shares his experience of how an art form such as theatre undergoes transformation in the lockdown aided by the digital medium. How does mode of enactment change when the stage is a virtual screen? What does it mean to reimagine audience engagement with theatre? Sarthak has some insights to share. Read on…

Virtual Script reading session of BITS Hindi Drama Club (Image Courtesy: Author)

The digital medium has changed the ways in which we communicate. It has not only formed new dynamics of how we express each other, but has also altered conventional forms of expression. In this article, I show how theatre as an art form has been transformed by the digital medium, especially during the lockdown.

Performing artists place a lot of emphasis on the stage. At the Drama Club of BITS Pilani, we worship the stage and have a strict stage and backstage decorum followed at all costs. We have our rituals before each play and a celebration once a play is staged. In other words, the stage is our lifeline and it connects every member of the club. The greatest drawback of shifting everything online was the absence of this very lifeline. Without the stage, there was a great sense of disconnect.

The plays that we perform range from forty-five minutes to two hours. An actor is expected to stay in character through the entire duration of the play, even if they aren’t on stage. It can be challenging for an actor to concentrate and stay in the character. An actor draws energy synergistically from other actors as they perform their respective roles on stage. We often play games like “Mirrors”, where we mirror each other’s actions while maintaining eye-contact, to practice establishing that synergy on stage. Another way in which the actor stays motivated is from live audience feedback. Both of these were absent in an online platform.

The effects of these were many-fold. First, our club was a diverse group of people with varying interests. When communicating with each other, we spoke a shared language of theatre. Personally, it was the stage that attracted me to theatre, without which I lacked the motivation to contribute. It took us four months to realize that, being the only drama club at our college, we couldn’t let the theatre culture to die out. It was around August that we started making changes in the way we approached theatre.

We started organizing weekly meets and turned to our alumni for guidance. For the more intense acting component, we organized weekly script reading sessions. Any play is preceded by a script-reading session in the presence of all club members as it gives the gist of the play to everyone not directly involved on stage. A script reading session is followed by the director’s word and assignment of roles.

We began more creative use of web platforms. Since our audience was limited to students of our college and those attending our fests, we never needed a strong online presence. This was the perfect opportunity for us to expand. An Instagram account was created, where we uploaded screenshots of our sessions to keep the audience. The inspiring comments replaced the applause in the auditorium. Platforms like Airmeet was used to talk to juniors interested in joining the club and to keep the ball rolling.

We organized various events to keep our audience engaged. An Alum Reach Meet was organized where they shared their experiences and discussed the future of Drama and brought renowned actors like Ali Faizal and Pankaj Tripathi as guest lecturers. Our alumni hosted workshops online to teach the basics of acting and production As these sessions were online, it gave our alumni more time to indulge in more technical aspects of theatre, including costume design and lights. The online platform did have its own drawbacks, but it also had its advantages. It brought with it a whole new avenue of flexibility and creative thought that accrues to recorded media. We recorded and uploaded monologues and are currently planning a short skit.

Session with veteran actor Pankaj Tripathi

We still have a long way to go. It is much harder to translate all that makes theatre so captivating to digital media. But we are hopeful for the future of not only the society in our college but for drama in general. Many of the prominent theatre houses like the National Theatre, London took to broadcasting their plays for free to keep the drama enthusiasts engaged. The recent lockdown brought about a radical change in the way the world viewed drama but once adjusted, the possibilities for drama in the digital medium are just endless.

Contributor

Sarthak Padhi is a second-year student at BITS Pilani. A drama and cartoon enthusiast, he spends a lot of his time being cynical about 2020 and making new workout plans every week with non-existent consistency. He also works as a graphic designer and has made contributed in various organizations on campus.

This article was commissioned by Subhanjali Saraswati

Blog of Digital Humanities Alliance for Research and Teaching Innovations(DHARTI), an initiative towards organising and facilitating digital practices in India