Kaivalya Plays gets SMART: : Attending a 3-Day Management Program for Cultural Organizations


The SMART (Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre) in its first two iterations functioned as a 10-day residential capacity building programme for theatre makers, which was conducted in three phases over a six month period with mentoring from senior practitioners. The 2020 “Covid version” was an online event held over three days without an extended mentorship programme beyond the 3 day series of workshops. The 3 days were divided into two sessions each day that covered:

  • Day 1 Session 1 - Reflection on the present state - guided by Neel Chaudhuri

  • Day 1 Session 2 - Outlining a broad vision - lead by Sunil Shanbag

  • Day 2 Session 1 - Unlimited Brainstorming - lead by Arundhati Ghosh

  • Day 2 Session 2 - SWOT Analysis - lead by Sudhanva Deshpande

  • Day 3 Session 1 - Visions Goals Objectives Outcomes - Mentors

  • Day 3 Session 2 - Extended discussions on Learnings and takeaways

Big Takeaways:

The biggest positive of attending SMART was to share a “space” with other theatre practitioners and vastly experienced makers. Even in a virtual space we were able to hear multiple concerns by other makers and the challenges that the older generation was facing in these new circumstances. There was a feeling of solidarity and concern for each other.

Kaivalya Plays attended SMART with three members, two of whom have been with the organization for less than a year. Participating together created a stronger bond between the team members through the exercises of SMART which addressed individual concerns of team members as well as collectively established the most important goals of the organization.

The SMART programme’s approach taught us to think about tackling problems with lateral solutions when we could not control the outcome. This was effective to morale but also opened up completely new avenues for how we could generate revenue.

Through SMART we learned that an individual’s goals within the organisation could be brought into the wider organisation’s goals and benefit the entire team.

The facilitators at SMART designed the programme to generate questions. While initially this was disconcerting, over the duration of the workshop we understood that this meant that the programme’s exercises and activities would generate our own questions to our own problems.

Areas of Concern:

SMART is primarily designed as a programme for arts practitioners who don the hat of “reluctant managers” to run their theatre companies. This can make it difficult for a team of dedicated arts managers to profit from it over a team of artists.

SMART is not a toolkit approach to management or administration of a theatre organization. At a time when technological tools, practices and practices are of paramount importance to most theatre organizations it was frustrating to be told that we would not walk away with tools that we could apply, but rather more questions. Thankfully, all the facilitators expressed willingness to speak to us separately and create a throughline for the questions that were raised for us over the length of the programme.

SMART is yet another arts management programme we have attended this year that puts an entrepreneurial approach at its forefront without any discussion on the role of institutional funding. Considering SMART itself is funded by the Goethe Relief fund, and facilitated by several grant and funding recipients that no mention is ever made on the role of fundraising versus artistic programming for revenue generation is disappointing.


Session 1 - Reflecting our Present State

I had been aware of SMART since its inception. The fact that Junoon and the IFA were initially involved in its creation in 2015 made it an attractive option to address the most neglected aspect of theatre (along with safety). This year, Kaivalya Plays signed up for the three day series of workshops in full force, with a team of three. Artistic Director, Varoon P. Anand; Communications Manager, Stuti Kanoongo; and Nuhar Bansal, our consulting project manager on the safety project but who plays a much larger role in the organisation. Our general manager is in the United Kingdom completing his Master’s in Advanced Theatre Practice but would receive real time updates from us through the day, and would participate in a daily debrief through Zoom.

Despite Kaivalya Plays being around since 2012, it’s only in the last 2 years that it has emerged as a realized and organised team. In 2018, it received its first grant, in 2019 it appeared at multiple festivals, received more grants and commissions, and in 2020, was one of the first Indian teams that started producing digital work, hosting workshops and appeared at the Re-connect festival in Iran. In 2020, Kaivalya Plays also launched the Theatre Management Fellowship to seek out qualified people to train and help Kaivalya Plays grow. From that programme, two of the fellows were now core team members and were going to be part of the team attending SMART. Stuti and Nuhar have been with Kaivala Plays for less than a year, and have not met each other or Varoon and Gaurav in person, but are already battle-hardened veterans of multiple productions, workshops and projects. So, Kaivalya Plays was already showing up with a strong management background to SMART, looking to understand how the most visible programme for theatre management operated and what we could gain.

Zoom workshops throw you into the fray immediately. You don’t meet and talk to one person at a time. You see everyone pop up on your screen all at once. When you speak, you speak to everyone. The benefit of this is not having to navigate the social pleasantries and anxiety as you wait for a room to start filling up. The downside is you don’t get to catch up with your friends one-on-one before everything kicks off. So, despite seeing Neel Chaudhuri from Tadpole, Manjari Kaul and Himani Pant from Art Blend, Prabhjot Singh from The Roots, Sudhanva Desphande of Jana Natya Manch, and Darshana Davé and Menaka Rodriguez from the IFA, we were only able to work with one speaker at a time.

After an extended introduction exercise from all the participants it was easy to notice some things had changed from previous years. There were more single practitioners, organizations represented by a single person, something that wouldn’t have happened before. The most surprising inclusion was Ankur, the theatre society of Delhi University’s SGTB-Khalsa. A highly regarded college theatre team defined by the fact that its members change every year.

During the orientation process, Neel Chaudhuri, speaking for SMART, informed us that over the next three days we would not go through a “toolkit approach”, rather focusing on asking questions that may not find an answer. Naturally, this was disconcerting and anxiety inducing, especially considering we had not yet received an agenda of sessions or activities for the next three days. Kaivalya Plays is an organization steeped in processes, tools and clearly defined agendas. One of the purposes of this is efficiency, but also to allow the team to prepare adequately and manage their own mental health. Not unusual for a company grounded in improvisation as its core artistic practice.

Neel then took us through a small exercise of looking at images to allow our minds to reflect on four separate ideas:

  1. Our individual relationship with our practice as artists

  2. Our the present state of our relationship with our own theatre group (beyond the pandemic)

  3. Think of the community in larger sense, within and outside of the theatre

  4. Our relationship with our audience