Diving Deep Into The World of Theatre, Management (And Everything In The Middle)

The Strange Summer of 2020

When I first found out about the Theatre Management Fellowship by Kaivalya Plays, I was ecstatic at the mere fact that there was this opportunity that catered to training people in arts administration exclusively. I had lost my job to the pandemic, was just about wrapping my head around the ‘new normal’ and was quite anxious about the immediate future when the fellowship came along. I was also quite inquisitive because my only tryst with Kaivalya Plays up until that point had been watching their performance of Aguebao for Gender Bender 2019 in Bangalore, which I thought was an under-rehearsed execution of a rather brilliant idea. However, they made a very lasting second impression with the entire fellowship application process, their website and the exhaustive information that was made available to everybody interested. The questions that needed long-form answering as part of the application, really made me think hard, forcing me to imagine the realities of the post COVID world: what exactly I would do differently to put together a production post the pandemic, for example. And that is what further convinced me of the value of the fellowship and the credibility of its organisers.

The acceptance email I received as part of the Theatre Management Fellowship

I come with the experience of having independently managed theatre productions, tours & festivals for about an year and a half, and having managed events for an arts and culture venue for an year. As was clearly described in the agenda of the fellowship, my expectations from the fellowship were solid up-skilling and being able to envision a long-term path in the career of arts administration with special focus on theatre management. I was thrilled to get shortlisted and get called in for an interview. Varoon, the Artistic Director, and Gaurav, the Production Manager, were absolute professionals, made me feel extremely comfortable, with a fair bit of intimidation. I left the interview feeling great about myself and knowing for a fact that I wanted to learn from and work with these guys, fellowship or not. I also knew I had plenty to learn from the word go, as was evident from the selection email (see pic below) which came in shortly after, with a tentative calendar for the *whole* duration of the fellowship, complete with marked slots for collaborations that the fellows would be entrusted with pursuing once aboard. The importance of meticulous planning, clear communication and timely execution was very evident through the entire orientation and onboarding process for the fellowship. This level of professionalism in the theatre industry was quite precedental and aspirational.

The A to Z of Theatre Management

The following ten weeks were a crash course in digital skills, people skills & operational skills. When we started out, the format of the fellowship included:

One weekly team meeting to take stock of the week gone by and to lay out an agenda for the upcoming week - this seemed easy and simple but I did not realise how daunting and effective it can be to vocalise your weekly goals & accomplishments or a lack thereof in front of the entire team, week on week. Having the most supportive set of co-fellows made this extreme sport a lot less stressful.

The 5 Theatre Management Fellows (Olympic Medal Courtesy: Stuti Kanoongo)

One weekly tech session for specific digital upskilling - this is where I learnt the various inbuilt hacks of google sheets, how to build a website, how to navigate through the different payment portals, how to efficiently document data for easy accessibility, how to run a mass email campaign etc. We called it the Tools Bootcamp aka #GyanbyGaurav. These sessions also served as practice gigs for Gaurav’s very promising Youtube career.

Some of the digital tools for cultural management I used during the Fellowship

One weekly guest speaker session by a practitioner having expertise in different theatre management related areas - curation, production, festivals, tours, finance, safety, law, artist management, self management, corporate gigs, international collaborations, logistics, fundraising, archiving, venue management etc. And there was an equally long list of speakers we could not bring on board due to paucity of time. It was so heartening to see the willingness of all the speakers to share and engage with us. It also worked as a brilliant networking opportunity for the fellows as well as for Kaivalya. I had a bunch of favourites. The most unexpected one was with Mr. Atul Satya Kaushik. I wasn’t prepared for all the truth bombs and the very real and raw wisdom that he very generously offered. The one with Yuki Ellias was the most moving one, hands down. She instilled hope and confidence in me as a ‘young woman’ in theatre. Speaking to Menaka Rodriguez was eye opening, not just in terms of fundraising but also about just how passionate one can be about their work. It was inspirational. Vivek Rao taught me more than a thing or two about being meticulous, forthcoming and kind in this business. I was thrilled to close the series with Adv. Niranjan Kaur and Adv. Rishabh Sharma as it reaffirmed my faith in my legal education and left me feeling empowered to not only take care of myself but also my community.

Apart from these, there were several smaller project-based meetings almost everyday. The highlight of the communication blizzard that was our google chat forum and zoom meeting schedule board, was this dedicated chat room called #random. This often acted as the much needed respite for the bunch of workaholics that all of us were.

A glimpse of messages on Google Chat, the collaboration tool we used during the Fellowship

One of the most precious things I discovered during the fellowship was the relationship between Varoon and Gaurav:

And honestly, I think, Varoon and Gaurav as people in general: