In its first edition in 2007, Atelier Campus Theatre (ACT) festival had just five troupes participating. It was, then, taking its first baby steps in realising its founding father Kuljeet Singh’s vision: to nurture and provide a platform for young theatre talent in college campuses at the National Capital Region. For, when Singh, a prominent theatre personality, graduated from Delhi University, he says, there were only three or four campus theatre troupes in the Capital.
Now, in its 11th edition, the organisers of ACT call it the “most sought after theatre festival in the campus theatre circuit across the country.” The numbers indicate its exponential growth: the ongoing edition of the festival, according to its manager Gaurav Suri, received 90 entries (80 from NCR and a few from other countries) and, for the first time, it is being held across five cities — New Delhi (February 24 to March 3), Chandigarh (March 7 to March 9), Kolkata (March 15 to March 17), Bengaluru (March 22 to March 24) and Mumbai (March 30 and March 31).
The occurrence of this edition itself is a proof of its swelling popularity. For, after the 10th edition (in 2017), according to the Suri, the organising team planned bring down the curtain on ACT, thinking it has served its purpose. But umpteen unexpected calls followed, enquiring the absence of the festival in 2018 and requesting for its resumption.
“The response this year has been fantastic,” says Suri. In its Delhi chapter, 80-90% of the seats were filled everyday at the Indian Habitat Centre. In a street performance in a college in Ghaziabad, students skipped classes to watch the play. In Kolkata, a show was repeated due to public demand.
For a college group, says Suri, this is overwhelming.
First time in Bengaluru
Bengaluru was one of the planned venues in its 10th edition but it was scrapped at the last minute due to a logistical issue. This year, the festival will make its appearance for the first time in South India.
Echoes on the Shore (by Atelier Campus Theatre Collective), Poems and 21st Century (by Ramjas College) will be held across three venues — Shoonya, Vyoma ArtSpace and Yours Truly Theatre in the city.
All three plays are politically and socially relevant, says Singh, the director-and-curator of the event. These were among the 22 plays that made the cut from 90 entries.
“There was an entry from Islamabad and we liked the play, too. But we couldn’t have them over because of security fears,” he adds.
Singh, however, finds delight in the festival’s South India debut. Its spread, he says, will continue.
“In the following editions, we would like to go to Pune, Chennai, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir as well. We would like to make this pan-India because campus theatre is radically different from the so-called professional theatre. The students have courage. They challenge norms. The form and content are fresh. It is not their bread and butter; they do what they do out of passion. It must be nurtured.”
He wants to do across the country what he did in its capital.