My Experience In A "Virtual" Theatre Management Fellowship
The Kaivalya Plays Theatre Management Fellowship came to me at a time when I was questioning my interests and practice looking at months of lockdown induced uncertainty, lack of work and vision. Never before had I heard of a program in India dedicated to Theatre Management and I was absolutely thrilled at the thought of endless possibilities and discourse with like-minded people. Though I was apprehensive about a ‘Theatre’ Management Fellowship that would happen virtually, since the only theatre I have known has been intimate, live, tangible, I applied with an enthusiasm I was missing since being confined at home.
Ready, Set and Go; The Early Days
The next two and a half months came as a surprise. Not only did I find myself intensely involved (which was a blessing as opposed to staying in bed endlessly all day), I had come across a cohort of individuals who were also interested in the administrative side of the arts, who shared similar questions about the importance and functioning of theatre management, the anxieties associated with the lack of structure or framework and intense love of making theatre happen.
Learning With Industry Practictioners
One part of the Fellowship consisted of external sessions with professionals in the field and purview of theatre management, be it producers, archivists or lawyers. Twice a week we invited people working in areas that we thought were indispensable to Theatre Management for a 2 hour long conversation where we bombarded them with questions about what responsibilities they have, how much they get paid, what are the challenges they face and any best practices they follow after years of experience.
We were joined by Amitesh Grover for a talk on curation and grants, Yuki Ellias for community-building projects and work with corporates, Sandbox Collective for touring and show management and Menaka Rodriguez from IFA for fund-raising amongst others for compelling and informative sessions. An area completely unexplored to me was archiving, for which we invited Spandana Bhowmik from IFA.
Though all sessions provided magnanimous learnings, I was spellbound by the almost romantic relationship Spandana has with archives and stories that material tell. She shared with us the importance of archiving, the best practices and what one should be looking at during the process. These intimate sessions with all external speakers have been invaluable in terms of the knowledge and experience they shared with us as well as the connections and network made with stalwarts in the industry.
Kaivalya Plays plans to publish a one-of-a-kind book on Theatre Management with all the learnings from these guest sessions for people who are just putting their foot in the door of arts administration, who have the same questions we did, due to the lack of a structure, program or framework for the same in out country. The book is scheduled to be out sometime between December 2020 - January 2021.
Getting Hands-On With Virtual Theatre
The other part of the program required us to work with Kaivalya Plays on their current and upcoming projects. Having worked with an arts services organisation for 3 years I had managed and toured shows, organised workshops and helped curate festivals. It took me a while to realise that the very same things were possible to do in the new reality of the online world. Shows were not just being shown online, they were being created for the digital space. Gaurav Singh from Kaivalya Plays directed Luz Negra, a unique digital production in Spanish, which I helped market and publicise. Kaivalya Plays also launched the #Digital4PerformingArts workshop series, a month-long initiative of affordable, practical training sessions covering specific tools and technologies needed to manage, grow, and scale a performing arts group, festival, or venue. These have been the most tangible learnings from the Fellowship for me.
These workshops coupled with weekly tech training sessions equipped us with tools to efficiently market through emails and WhatsApp, manage and organise a theatre company or individual’s data in a way that makes it easily accessible, use social media optimally for branding and create a website without hiring a website developer. As evidence of how tangible and useful these workshops and sessions were, here are some pointers in 3 areas that you could use now!
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Working on projects and collaborations that Kaivalya Plays was involved in made me realise the endless potential of theatre and sharing possible virtually. Not only was the barrier of geography out of the picture, I saw a new community which would otherwise not go for a performance or workshop come together each week for Improv sessions. Essentially, the workings of a performance or workshop were similar online; schedules were made, rehearsals would happen over Zoom calls and so would cast parties, people were made to wait in the ‘waiting room’ till we had a ‘GO’ from the director/facilitator, marketing would happen similarly except now we could also target audiences from other countries!
Exploring The Artist Within
I had the opportunity to work on Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving artists from around the country and also one from Poland! I not only got the chance to manage the devising phase of the production but also had the privilege of working with the artists as a fellow performer. This opened me up to the possibilities of what form performance can take online, how the elements of set, sound, lights are still applicable in the virtual world and there was so much more that could be explored using the camera. It sure was tough to schedule rehearsals and meetings given everybody in the team was in a different city and one in a different time zone! But how often does one get the opportunity to work with amazing artists in such a capacity unless massive funding were involved?
Safety: Taking A Step Back
As an artist and individual I have been preoccupied with questions about safety and dynamics at workspaces. I am proud to say that I got to associate with a team that gives so much importance to safety and communication. We, as a team, put down guidelines for ourselves, be it with regard to work hours or mode of communication. Would like to share some here:
Mondays are off. No messages, updates, no work-related chats on the day off.
If you do need to send a message on a day off, please mention FYI No action required or action required by X date
Have a gap of 30 minutes between two different meetings.
Avoid scheduling 2 events on the same day
Use Google Chat as the primary mode of communication over text.
Keep track of others’ personal events and preoccupations so as to not schedule an event then or expect an immediate response/action that time.
Set realistic deadlines rather than wishful keeping in mind days off
Support each other during workshops and meetings in case of absence, bad internet connection, tech support.
Create contracts with people working directly with Kaivalya Plays specifying period of work, remuneration, responsibilities, etc.
Documents are accessible to everyone on Google Classrooms to maintain visibility. The team is encouraged to communicate through common channels/rooms on Google Chat.
Practicing ‘Yes and…’ in everyday professional communications - helps make conversation a lot easier. Disagreements are more comfortable.
Health before the project. People over work. Take time off if required.
These came about when we realised even though we spoke about safety we did not have guidelines to fall back on ourselves. When we hit roadblocks, we took time to re-evaluate where we went wrong and how a framework we create or ourselves can help make the process more transparent and easy.
Digital Collaboration Tools To The Rescue
Google Chat and Classrooms have been life changing revelations. To create separate channels on Chat such as #projects for project related communication, #random for predominantly sharing GIFs and gossip, #knowledge to share resources made it a breeze to access information. It was also a separate platform where all communication regarding work was happening as compared to WhatsApp which is also more intimate and personal. Google Classroom is where we put all our resources in terms of links, applications, videos and other documentation to maintain accessibility and visibility. It also allows for easy collaboration and has a great system to segment files in projects and other categories.
I have found a family of people who share my seemingly obscure interests in theatre management and administration in Kaivalya Plays and its first cohort of the Theatre Management Fellowship. As strange as it is to have only worked with this amazingly diverse bunch virtually, I know I can always fall back on them to bounce off ideas, to collaborate, to always question and try to make the arts industry more organised and safe for everybody.
I am deeply thankful to Kaivalya Plays for creating a space for such discourse and to my fellow Fellows for making this such an intensive yet heartwarming experience.
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.