From Design to Drama: My Journey with Theatre Management
Kaivalya Plays’s Theatre Management Fellowship was a one-of-its-kind training initiative focused on strategic management and creative administration in the field of theatre led by Varoon P. Anand (Artistic Director) and Gaurav Singh (Production Manager) in various capacities.
The Early Days; An Introduction
Coming from a product/graphic design background and studying and working in that field for the past 6 years I had close to no first hand experience in/with theatre but I decided to apply for the fellowship to learn more about arts management and apply the skills and learnings I gain from it in various aspects of my personal and professional life as I plan on working in the same field.
The fellowship was scheduled to take place during the lockdown period which became a great opportunity for everyone to be in different cities and corners of the country and work together as a team on a number of projects and shows.
The entire concept of meeting new people from different fields and places was a surreal experience especially during the lockdown. I got to meet a bunch of people who possess skills and knowledge of things that I had never worked with before, so it was the best time and opportunity for me to learn from all of them including all the fellows.
Fellowship Begins: Full Steam Ahead
The commencement of the fellowship happened with a ‘Fellowship Tracker’ before the actual orientation/on-boarding meeting which included a detailed schedule of a week-by-week plan of the entire duration of the fellowship and a list of on-going/new projects which the fellows could take up. This was a very helpful and interesting approach to sharing information with everyone and making sure everyone was on the same page. The Fellowship Tracker was intensely used over the period of 2.5 months for various projects and updates on the fellowship itself.
We all learnt various things on-the-job and worked with a ‘what works?’ approach which helped us to re-evaluate the decisions we took as a team on a regular basis. This made sure that everyone was fine with the kind of flow which was being used across all projects. It happened on many instances that a decision that we made initially as a team was eventually overturned by revisiting that aspect and asking ourselves ‘is this actually working?’. This gave us the freedom to explore and experiment various approaches to working towards a certain goal.
Building A Communication-First Team
Regular meetings and conversations made it easy to be on the same page and created transparency for everyone as several projects were worked on/executed simultaneously. These meetings took place twice or thrice in a week depending on the workload of the coming weeks. Apart from the team meetings, individual one-on-one meetings were also conducted for detailed conversations about various projects. All the meetings and sessions were always on google calendar so everyone knew what the day for a person looked like.
Mastering Digital Tools for Cultural Management
The week mostly ended with having internal and external learning sessions. The internal sessions were either conducted by Gaurav or Varoon. These were mostly tech-sessions where we went through various tools like Google Sheets, Google Chats, Google Classroom, Email Marketing, Social Media Management, Website Building, Promotions, Graphic Design, Payments & Ticketing and Data Management along with an endless list of other very helpful tools in detail.
Looking at these tools might feel like they are basic things which everyone knows about but when actually working with them you realise the depth and infinite ways and options of how they can be used and understanding how you can most effectively and efficiently use it to your advantage. All these tools helped me at various points during the fellowship to make my life easier in some way or the other, especially tools like Email Marketing, Graphic Design, Google Chats and Google Classroom.
Learning First-Hand with Experts
The external sessions included having practitioners from various fields and backgrounds talking and sharing their experiences with theatre. This also included them talking about best theatre practices and going in-depth with countless aspects of theatre, how to organize a festival and how to curate it, the legal aspects of theatre and looking at safety as well.
The external sessions ranged from Nasir talking about personal branding and festivals, Aakash Gupta about show touring, Atul Satya Koushik about law and finance management, Oddbird about theatre spaces, Prabhjot about an ecosystem to Spandana Bhowmick for archiving, Amitesh about grant writing, Sandbox about productions and curations, Yuki about theatre practices for communities, Vivek Rao about a theatre producer, Atul Kumar about evolution of theatre, Meneka Rodriguez about fundraising and Niranjan and Rishabh about legal contracts, licenses and IPR.
Becoming a "Theatre Manager"
During these 2.5 months I took up several projects and put my on-going learnings into practice.
The major big project or the entire vertical I worked on was ‘Improvisational Theatre’ aka ‘Improv’. Improv is a form of theatre which is performed unscripted or unplanned and spontaneously by the Improviser.
My improv management journey started with creating and curating a long list of improv groups/teams from across the world to eventually collaborate with. This included teams from the UK, USA, Canada, Spain, Mexico, The Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, UAE and India which came down to around 30-40 improv groups.
We connected with almost all the teams through social media/email to invite them to attend our weekly ‘Open Space - Online Improv Space’ where anyone can come to play games and enjoy themselves. A lot of people from these teams did attend Open Space regularly. You can sign up for an upcoming session here.
We participated/performed in 3 major improv shows during this time. The first one being Improv Comedy Bangalore’s 5 year birthday bash which went on for 24 hours. Kaivalya Plays performed for 1.5 hours in the event. The show was a part of Kaivalya Play’s interactive theatre production ‘Unravel’. A team of 8 people came together to perform a very moving improv piece on mental health.
We also orchestrated another improv show from scratch in a collaboration with No Script Attached. The show was based on the shaadi theme ‘Spontaneous Shaadi’, where the two teams played the roles of people, the groom’s side and the bride’s side. It was an interactive show and was live streamed to almost a 100 people on zoom and was a great success.
Kaivalya Plays collaborated with Dubai Improv Tribe in a podcast format where both the teams played various games only after knowing each other for 2 weeks through social media and Open Space. The podcast is available on Spotify along with various other platforms.
Managing My First Cultural Projects Independently
Open Space under the improv vertical is a regular weekly space where people from all over the world could come and be a part of. My part here included announcing the next event on social media (instagram posts, instagram stories, facebook page, facebook groups) every week, sending out reminder mails to people who have registered for that week’s session 30 minutes before and sending a follow up email to them after the session was done along with links where they can get more information about Kaivalya Plays’s projects. During these months we saw regular participation from several attendees. There were 700+ registrations and 400+ unique people who attended Open Space over a span of 17 weeks.
Kaivalya Plays launched the 2nd edition of A1 Improv Workshops during the lockdown. The workshop was an introduction into the improv world and a training programme for people at the initial stage of learning improv. The workshop was conducted over a period of 3 weeks with 9 hours of facilitator-led training and 3 hours of open-space improv rehearsals.
I managed the back end part of the workshop including :
Sending out mails informing people about the workshop to get sign-ups, social media announcements of the workshops, dates and days, information about the sessions and information about the facilitators.
Making a list of all the registrants and sending out emails to them with all the information regarding the workshops. That includes pre and post workshop emails.
Working as a moderator during the workshops to help anyone with tech issues or any other issues in general.
Documenting the workshops by taking pictures and uploading them for others in the team to see.
I played the role of production support in Kaivalya Plays’s first ever spanish digital production, ‘Luz Negra’. The point where I came in, the play was almost ready in terms of the script, actors, lines etc. I along with Medha (Theatre Management 2020 Fellow) worked on and helped with aspects like researching for embassies of Spanish speaking countries to reach out to them for fundings and for audience reach and creating a database for streaming/listing platforms for the play. I worked on creatives as well to announce the play, the playwright, characters, story, clips etc. Luz Negra was performed live digitally on 2 consecutive days and was viewed by more than 1k people.
Apart from directly working on these projects and verticals, I also handled social media for Kaivalya Plays along with Gaurav. This included planning and scheduling of various creatives from a range of projects that we worked on or which Kaivalya Plays undertook before the fellowship.
This included creating posts, stories, covers and events for facebook and instagram for projects like Education vertical, Head Space, Open Space, Luz Negra, Improv collaborations, Improv workshops, Hans Christian Andersen, Digital workshops.
Some more of my learnings from the fellowship were how to work as a team while keeping everyone in the loop and moving forward. The importance of taking the lead on a project to balance out the load on everyone. We were able to work and succeed in all these projects because of the joint efforts of everyone on the team.
A combination of all these things made my experience here at Kaivalya Plays a very fruitful one. All the learnings and skills that I gained and polished here will be with me forever even when I move on to other ventures irrespective of theatre or not. The knowledge imparted by Varoon and Gaurav is something that I will cherish for many years to come, as they are going to be the base of my management life ahead. Working with the other fellows as a team was a very different yet a beautiful experience because of everything being digital and I hope to work with everyone physically in the future too.
Overall I’m very grateful for Kaivalya Plays for providing me with this platform where I could experiment, make mistakes and learn from literally everyone that I met, worked with and spoke to virtually during these few months.
Interested in learning more about the Theatre Management Fellowship by Kaivalya Plays? The next cohort will begin in December 2021. Learn more and sign up for updates here.