Although the World Theatre Day, observed on March 27 was initiated by the International Theatre Institute (ITI) in 1961, it’s now an occasion that is celebrated worldwide beyond regional and institutional affiliations. It is as much a day of stocktaking and introspection about theatre’s continuing relevance in today’s world, as it is about celebrating an ever-moulting form that refuses to be cowered into submission. The observance by the ITI is much more formally organised, and an important aspect of it is the relaying of the year’s message. Over the years, many stalwarts of the global stage, including Nobel laureates such as Dario Fo or Pablo Neruda, have delivered the prestigious address, which is then translated into as many languages as possible and disseminated accordingly. This year’s choice is Carlos Celdrán, the exceptional Cuban director, playwright and academic known for his internationally feted group Argos Teatro, established in 1996.
The ITI’s website describes Argos Teatro’s output as aiming “to breathe new life into the canon of modern European theatre, with performances of Brecht, Beckett, Ibsen and Strindberg bringing European culture and tastes to a Latin American audience.” Based in Havana, Celdrán’s approach has been both relentlessly political and profoundly personal. Three decades in, his works haven’t lost any of their bite. 2017’s 10 Million was groundbreaking in the manner in which the psyche of a whole country was represented by the microcosm of a family that has lived through conflicts and consequences.
Last year’s starkly intimate Misterios y pequeñas piezas (Mysteries and Small Pieces) dealt with memory and its transience, and the interior worlds of actors and dramatists. Celdrán’s work as an esteemed pedagogue has also been particularly inspiring, and he has been part of faculties at several prestigious institutions in Cuba, South America and Europe.
There are other ‘world days’ associated with the performing arts in March. March 20 has been anointed the ‘World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People’ by ASSITEJ, the umbrella organisation for theatre for young audiences, while March 21 is ‘World Puppetry Day’. So the run-up to March 27 marks a veritable week of theatre that practitioners have embraced unconditionally. Groups across India will commemorate the day. In fact, the most results in English for the phrase ‘world theatre day’ in Google News appear to come from Indian publications reporting on premieres and panels from Kochi to Delhi.
In Mumbai, Rage Productions will present Drama Dhamaal, a multi-lingual melange of theatrical showcases — monologues, short plays, stand-up acts, the works — very similar to last year’s feverishly received 36 Ghante, that cut a large swathe across the theatre landscape and assembled dozens of eager practitioners under one roof for a one-off extravaganza. This year boasts of an equally diverse line-up, with seasoned war-horses rubbing shoulders with fresh recruits as professional equals joined by a common purpose and a shared calling. Bloodletting on stage, collectively or otherwise, might never be as entertaining or as immediate.
However the highlight of the evening would undoubtedly be the felicitation of nine exceptional theatre personalities, all women. If last year’s list of honourees was an ode to the resilience of those working tirelessly behind the scenes — from light technicians to make-up men, from security professionals to publicity gurus, from indispensable cogs in the wheel to prime movers — this year celebrates the indomitable spirit of working women in the arts who have nourished ambitions and responsibilities, careers and families, and institutions. Their names are Vijaya Mehta, Shanta Gokhale, Sulbha Arya, Nadira Babbar, Ruby Patel, Sarita Joshi, Dolly Thakore, Sabira Merchant and Rohini Hattangady.
It’s a roll call that is a testament to the perseverance and longevity of those whose achievements both transcend and exemplify their gender. Each one of them is a veritable institution in her own right, and continues to be actively involved in several creative avenues, the higher-profile film or television included, but they all nurse a special predilection for theatre, which has made them the doyennes that they are. Observing them on the same podium in an evening that’s likely to be a gift that never stops giving, would be a bolt of inspiration and affirmation for all those assembled. Fortunately, the format of the evening does allow for short addresses, so expect anecdotes of all vintages and truisms for the soul that might well armour those who have waded into the unremittingly unforgiving and equally gratifying profession that theatre is without a doubt.