Clues of Designing a place of performance

The readings and video references we went through during the first part of the workshop, provided pointers to design with pandemic in perspective. Dr Rustom Bharucha’s reading shed light on how space design and management of Theater happened during the epidemics in past and how these can be dealt with in the present. In the book ‘Beyond the proscenium’, the interviews of Astad Deboo and Bansi Kaul give clues to the way they approach the performance space and the qualities of the space they work with or would like to work with during their performance. Conversation Series shed light on way the artists practice, how their practice was affected during the pandemic and how they envision the way their performances and performances in general would change post pandemic times.

Rustom Bharucha sheds light on the pandemic being a recurring event and that there have been instances where the theatres have been closed for years or in most of the instances, but they were open in few instances of plague or even war. Considering the current pandemic situation, he urges us to think outside the ‘black box’ theatre format. While discussing what is it that the pandemic is about, he identifies natural air ventilation, staggered seating for social distancing, a flexible performance space and cleaning and sanitizing devices and systems which can follow after each show as pointers to create a safe theatre space. He also gives 3 principles of impermanence, ecology, and humility to help break free from boundaries of the ‘black box’ theatre.

Astad Deboo prefers space which has certain built-in flexibility, and which gives a sense of expanse regardless of solo or group performance. He likes to work with heightsand identifies possibility of vertical variations and different heights at which one can perform as a requirement. He also points out the need of very smooth flooring for dance performance unlike of theatre performances.

Bansi Kaul tries to bring the features and elements of the space into the performance. For him, he tries to work with whatever elements are available on the site. He focuses on how geometry is created by such elements where then the bodies of the performers can relate to and explore the geometries created within the bodies and bodies and the space.  He focuses on sound as an element of design for the space. He says that the actors define and gauge the space by voice. He mentions ‘the greatest problem for the actor is when the space fails his voice, when he has to struggle to be herd by the audience. The actor doesn’t get exhausted because of physical work; he gets exhausted when his breathing fails.’

Himanshu Burte in his book ‘Space of engagement’ emphasizes that the place of performance as an institution must integrate transactional and symbolic goals with those related to place-person engagement. To further this, he suggests creation of educational and/or transactional activities. The place can create an engagement with workshops, training programs, film and documentary screenings, exhibitions, etc. which will be in educational capacity. He suggests café, a food place, or a library in the transactional capacity to enhance the engagement of the people to the place of performance.

The various artists and performance space owners in ‘The Conversation series’ gave a lot of cues for the needs of a performer and performance production keeping in mind the changing format and needs in the context of pandemic which a place of performance can consider.  A place of performance can be a place to create a chance to create a community to learn from – A place for jamming and experimentation. A performer needs a place to practice/ explore/ experiment in between 2 productions. A place of performance can include these needs. A place of performance can make way for both virtual and physical space. This can then become a place where artists (all-performers, designers, technical) enter frame of mind prepared both for offline and online.

All these references provided a foundation on which the design process could flourish. Now I am eager to see how the our sites shape up!