Podcast
Episode
4

Our Theatre Collective’s Vivek Vijayakumaran on how the show went on

For a performance art such as live theatre, a pandemic is the worst thing that can happen. But instead of closing the curtains on his theatre space, Vivek kept it alive by continuing to create through uncertainty. Listen to this podcast to find out how!

Episode Highlights

Virtual explorations of performances by theatre artists
Discovering the possibilities and reach of the digital medium
Making the most of adverse situations by thinking out of the box

Kishore: 

Welcome to Backstage with Zuddl I'm your host. Kishore from Zuddl's very own marketing team. And this is a podcast where we share eventful stories from thought leaders across industries to give you epic insights into the world of events and beyond.

So today, uh, it's a pleasure to have Vivek Vijayakumaran, the artistic director of Out Theatre Collective here with us. So Vivek, the stage is yours.

Tell us about your journey and maybe a little backstory about OTC as well. 

Vivek: Sure. Uh, hi Kishore. Happy to be here. See, uh, yeah, I, uh, I passed out as an engineer in 2006 in, uh, electric electronics. Oh. Um, after which I was placed in the, I worked there for about 15 months and then I quit my job early 2008. And since then I've been a fulltime Sierra practitioner. Wow. So that's 14 years. That's almost 14 years. Yeah. Wow. Awesome. And, uh, yeah, and shortly after I quit, um, I was, uh, directing a play and, uh, it was initially under another banner. Okay. And that banner had to be dissolved for some reasons. Um, and so we had to come up with a name for the collective to put up the play and that's how our theater collective really actually came up. 

Um, it was like a response to a situation that was in front of us. Right. Um, yeah. I, since we have been making work, um, but after that, uh, I also took a long time, um, in training myself and, uh, I somehow wasn't very inspired to go a drama school. Right. Um, that's also because I met, uh, Sen actor now in this, in the movies, um, at that juncture in my life. And when I met him, I was very convinced that he's my teacher. How did that happen? Like organically or, yeah, I was directing display and one of the actors in the play had trained with, so she told me that the way you speak and the, you know, conduct the session resonates with his way of doing work as well. Oh, nice. And I think, and since you're also looking for training, you should reach out to him.

Mm. So he wasn't, he wasn't in India at that point. Okay. Uh, so when we got some new studies back, um, she reached out and she connected me to him. I was taking a workshop in a Sam in Johar. Uh, so I went all the way and, uh, yeah, initially he was also, you know, a little skeptical to see if this guy is really interested in this. Uh, so he wasn't very, you know, uh, welcoming in the first two days. But after that it was, you know, it was completely the other thing in the sense that he was extremely generous with his time. Uh, so I would, you know, go with him to his room in the hotel, you eat meals together. And I went to the book of questions. So, and at that point I had admission to, uh, to a school in London for training.

But when I met him, I was so convinced that I let go of that. Wow. Uh, and I took on whatever he asked me to kinda start work on. And I find an opportunity to once in a while, sometimes when he's training or sometimes in where he, and then a conversation of training individuals in Bangalore, and some of kinda had that capacity to go into empty space and spend hours working on myself. Mm okay. Then slowly, uh, that journey took me to, uh, this called inker. Right. Uh, so I have had, and a half years of training in that form, I also had some training in Kalari uh, a little bit in Kudi Aatam. Um, so I kind of, you know, found that, um, my curiosity led me always to the body. Okay. And, uh, somehow because both my parents come from Kerala, um, something about any form from car, uh, I felt I would into that form a little more comfortably.

So I thought there was some information there for me. Sure. And then I happened to watch a performance and I was, you know, really moved by it. And I felt, I need to be able to bring in that quality of action as an actor. That's what took me to the form. Um, and in that period, 2012 was very important year for me. Uh, there was also the year I met another master called Al from manipur. Okay. Um, again, somebody else put me in, kinda told me about his work and that it also resonates in the way you approach your work with the body mm-hmm . So I went, I met him and both of us, you know, I think we really got along. Sure. And he was extremely generous with his time. I've been there about five times. Uh, but I've been very fortunate to also, uh, be included by him in, you know, in a lot of informal spaces, travel with him in performances have spent many, many hours talking.

And he was also somebody who, who encouraged me, um, on this journey of doing theater, uh, because I was in a phase where I was training in KU and trying to make this play called Bema. Ah right. Which is quite popular now. Yeah. So can was a very important person who, uh, motivated me. Sure. Uh, and yeah, BMA was a very significant play in the journey of collective also. And, uh, when I started out and I wanted to look at training, there weren't many avenues for training, you know, serious training in Bango. Okay. So I, myself that I do reach a place like that. I should make myself available to upcoming actors, uh, as a trainer, uh, and the creation of the play, he, in some sense was, you know, one level of culmination of my training and applying my training into creating a work.

So I, after that is when I looked at, uh, you know, training actors. So I started with a one month module then that went on to one year modules. Uh, and then after 2019, um, it's been, uh, more like, you know, like a 10 day workshops. Sure. So different modules like that. Mm. Um, so in that, in that way, we have about four or five training program reps, which we run at art theater collective. Sure. And, uh, 2000, 19 and thousand 18, sorry. Um, when I was training a bunch of actors in that one year program, we put up a small performance at an mid 20 in that. And, uh, the CEO of a company happened to be there, from invisible bed. Right. Uh, so he liked the work and, uh, another generous patron came our way and he said, I have an office close by.

We finish working at 7:00 PM. If you want to come and move the tables around and make space, if you think, if you have a space for your rehearsal. Okay. So that's how we went to this particular space, which, uh, after a month and a half, he moved his office downstairs. That's how that got free. That's not, that's how that got free. And that later now is our theater studio. Sure. And you've always had this thing for alternate spaces as compared to say around, not initially. Um, but I think more because after we found, I mean, our rather we, we, we got this, our place is our theater studio. Uh, because once you get a space, then, you know, a bunch of possibilities open up in front of you just until then you are always looking at a space to go do a rehearsal and then leave.

Got it. But now when you have a space, all, you know, all the time with you and having had the journey and you are also, you know, um, joining along with fellow theater practitioners, so struggling for space is very real and felt. And I'm also somebody who works with other teams sure. As an actor. Uh, so immediately we also wanted to share the space with other people, other practitioners, um, but we are also located, uh, you know, in a residential area. So there are also lots of restrictions to the usage in the way we can use the space. So bearing that in mind, um, we've been able to share the space with other theater teams, um, also host some intimate, short performances. Awesome. Um, first under our training programs, invite people to take training programs and then also create work, meaning our rehearsals also happen at the studio.

Kishore

Sure. Yeah. So it's more than just for your practice. 

Vivek

Absolutely. Okay. Absolutely. And, okay, so to set context, to like many of us were super clueless about how life would change. Right. I think, especially what fascinated me is that theater is so dependent on the physical venue. Right. Uh, that, how was it for you? Like, I'm sure you had either plays lined up or maybe you guys were going to perform somewhere else. Right. Um, how was it for you the experience of getting into this pandemic and right. Yeah. I mean, uh, to make it a little more interesting. Maybe I was in Italy when the pandemic broke. Oh. So I was at this place where I was doing a master at the work jerseys and Thomas, so finishing towards end, um, 28th step was our last date. Um, so by then I think around the 20th is when the news kinda started catching up in Italy.

And luckily we were in a middle, not, not too north. Right. Uh uh, and you know, I, I also, I was also going to the work center for the second time. And the first time it was a very, it was an event for me, um, in my artistic practice cause I reached a certain kinda saturation and it was a place of opening to going deeper, uh, into the practice. And I came, we came back in, I mean, when I came back in 2000 is when we started having these workshops and model of formats. Uh, and we also had many other initiatives at the studio. So thousand 20 was to, I went again to kinda, um, get a more clear understanding of the practice over there. Sure. So I was coming back lot of plants. Uh, in fact, we were ready to jump into producing a play.

We were also running a crowd funding camp at that point. Um, and all of that kinda, you know, came into the beginning of the pandemic. So clearly our dates that we had got at the venue here, you know, had to be given up the workshop plan, people schedules, all of that had to be canceled. So initially when you come back, you know, how it was, it was of course, very, very new, like for everybody else. Um, I'm a very outdoor person I like to go out to do work. Sure. So now suddenly I'm inside the house. Um, and like I was saying, my, my curiosity always tends from the body. So it's to do, do something physically, which is also not the case now. Yeah. So initially, yeah. I mean, I was in, in a space of denial in the sense that, you know, we can't do any work, we just have to wait for things to open up.

Sure. Uh, and I was very convinced about it, that there cannot be anything on the virtual, in the virtual space with theater. And I know those knew how long is would go. Yeah, exactly. I, at least at that point I thought, okay, another two months maybe be back and everything, you know? Um, but it just happened that one of the students trained with me kinda reached tolog OK. And SOS on WhatsApp. And I saw that that process was bringing a change in her performance. Oh, okay. So there was a value add. Exactly, exactly. So I thought, OK, maybe this is helping, you know, it's being useful in some sense. So then I opened some of people and then people came on board and then that slowly became, took the shape of a new workshop module. Okay. And then there were many applicants, I think I there's a lot of demand what, like I did about six batches, I think.

Right. Uh, and then slowly, what we saw is that from these six batches, there was some interesting performances. And, uh, and then you saw an opportunity, which is that, you know, otherwise you always have people who are in town who come and watch a performance. Yeah. You know, and once you've left college, you know, many of your friends are settled abroad. Um, and they always know of your work, but they don't get an opportunity to see your work individual. Exactly. So we thought, and they, and many such virtual performances were happening. Right. Coupled with, you know, uh, the, uh, the owner of our studio is very kind enough. And he agreed to slash the rent of the studio by half or during that time during yeah. Cause there was no revenue generation, there was no activity at the studio. Uh, but still they were, we still had to raise the 50% sure.

And uh, some of us are also full time practitioners. Yeah. Um, so we thought, okay, we, we could put together some of these performances from this acting solo, this workshop that, uh, kinda came up with an put virtual show ticket online, we didn't do a ticket show. We did a show by contribution sure. Via zoom. Uh, so honestly I wasn't expecting too much of a, but interestingly people from different parts of the country logging in, uh, you know, and, uh, I think we are close to a hundred people. Okay. Uh, we did four shows. We, we first did two shows then because we got a good response. We did that again. Mm. Uh, so to connect with people, you know, across continents and to have them as an audience, and then also listen to them speak after the, after the performance was really unique and we heartfelt.

Sure. Um, and they also made their contributions in some way or the other that was possible. Uh, so yeah, in that sense, when I look back, we, we could, we wouldn't have imagined or done anything like that if not for the pandemic. Yeah. Yeah. And I think, uh, though, when you started, as you said, you were in, and I think you still decided you are anyway going to yeah, absolutely. I mean, and one of the reasons, again for that is that cause of the studio, cause there is a space and, uh, there is another thing that I could tell you here, which is that, uh, in fact we were, we were very busy doing the pandemic with working. Okay. Um, and that happened cause of two things. One is that my team, um, kinda also came along and said, let's try and imagine what we can do with the camera.

Sure. And my brother, the previous just gifted me an iPhone. Okay. So I thought, OK, I have a good camera at hand. Yeah. So maybe we can try something. Sure. So we made something which was about two pawns and a chessboard talking to each other. Okay. It was also the time that the, uh, the movement was happening, black lives matter was happening in the us. And there generally, you know, talk about all of that. The China invasion was happening and about that happening. And uh, we thought it could be a good opportunity for us to respond to it in a playful manner. And that's how we came up with this work. It was called PI and that got a lot of traction. Mm. Uh, we, we made it, you know, in, in one of our members house with the Tripo and putting the, uh, the iPhone and making some little edits, we did it like a play, wrote a script, worked on the script, rehearsed, it, shot it sure.

As opposed to presenting in front of an audience, that's what we did. Uh, so that got a lot of traction. So we made a couple more works and then we got some media attention as well, so they didn't interview with us. So that got a little more traction. So that was very nice. Uh, so that was that, so that we made three digital creations like that. Okay. Um, which kept us busy with creation and sharing with audiences virtually. Sure. And there was another script that we were working on through 2019 and, uh, we weren't giving it too much importance, you know, because it was just an extension of a workshop. Okay. It was developing like a solo and you kept developing this as you were doing other things, as well as you, as I was doing other things and it was a solo, but, and now when the pandemic hit and it's a solo, right.

Yeah. And I live close to the studio, so I thought maybe we should, you know, pay more attention to this. There's a possibility I can go alone to the studio on it. So we got cracking on that. And, uh, by early may we, the script, uh, we also found a very interesting collaborator who I wanted to work with Uhhuh to help me create it as a performance. And I was acting it me and another collaborator, both of us. Okay. So between and October is when we created that play. This is 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20. Okay. We created that play. And, uh, when the first wave was kinda had settled down a little bit, we had some informal showings of the play sure. At the studio. So yeah. So in that way, if we see like, you know, we made a new solo work, we made three digital works.

Wow. And we also had, you know, four shows of this one virtual performance. Okay. Uh, which was, yeah. We put together four solo pieces, which came from the workshop. Sure. So 2020 that was very busy. OK. And how did it continue on, like from second wave, you already had some basic understanding of virtual I'm guessing. Exactly. Um, yeah. But somehow after that, uh, after the first wave of, since things had opened up bit, you also gotta taste. No, it was before. So once that was possible, uh, more work happened at the studio in person. Yeah. In person the second wave. Yes. They keep us locked in some time. Uh, but that was a time for, for us to, um, come up with another kind of a workshop. Okay. Um, called uh, through the lens where we offered a workshop about analyzing place. Okay. So, so, uh, so we also, it also helped us reached out to people who were interested in the theater, but not necessarily with performance.

Okay. Be perform, not actors research, but exactly enthusiast. Yeah. So who like to reanalyze, uh, people from backgrounds of teaching. Okay. Uh, or people who are more, you know, back of doing some of analytical work. Okay. So those kinda people found very interesting to look at plays and dissect them. OK. So then we had about fives of that running in 2021. Okay. So how was that then? Like, what was the format? So the format was that I came up with the framework to analyze the place. Uh, so I would share the framework. Oh. And I would kinda of also share how one could use it. Okay. And they would make their observations based on the framework. Then we meet together once in a while and you share the framework framework and I kinda facilitate that meeting. Okay. To kinda help the participant get a little more deeper insight into the play.

Okay. So this happened at the, when you no, no. This online, online, whenever it is possible to meet offline, we did meet like a hybrid, like a hybrid model. So the acting solo, which was the workshop, which we conceived in 2020, that also became a hybrid model in 21, whenever we could meet the studio, that thing. And 20, 21 and compare 2020 was, uh, you know, was a little more open in terms of stepping out and doing things. Yeah. So we could also have some of our 2019 workshops wow. In the space in 2021. Okay. Right. Uh, so for me, as I look back, uh, 2020 was a lot more restricted. 21 was a little, much better. 22 is a lot better. So it seems to be slowly. Yeah. It seems to be improv yeah. Here after, uh, yeah. That's awesome. I mean, there, I I've heard of many, I mean, just from the music circle, I heard of couple of venues, which just shut et cetera.

Right. Yeah. So in a way it was great that you somehow kept it thinking differently maybe, or because theater is, I mean, in my imagination as far from the virtual room, as I can imagine. Cause it's all about being in the moment. Absolutely. That's pretty awesome. Yeah. I mean, that's true. Actually, there are so many people, so many spaces which, which got locked up. Yeah. Uh, I, here, I must mention, uh, Han from be, it was because of the support that we, you know, he, he allow the, the rent to be reduced by 50% that we were also able to hold onto it. And at the same time, I think over the last few years with the work that we've been doing, uh, mid workshops or, you know, training programs or hosting performance, et cetera, I think there is some kinda human capital that's also yeah.

Come through. So it's very palpable that many people apart from people at collecting also feel for the space. Sure. So they also contribute, they also are concerned. They also do their bit to make sure that the space continues, uh, which in turn fuels us right. With the work that we do. Um, so that way it's been extremely gratifying. I think that the meaning of the, our, in our theater is just absolutely. I mean, that's, that is the, that was the reason when we also, you know, came up with that name. I thought, you know, when we say our theater, another person, when they take the name, they also feel like it's their theater, their own. Yeah. It, it also belongs to them as much as it belongs to anybody else. Yes. Yeah.

Kishore

Another thing I wanted to chat with you about was so in general, uh, a lot how a play looks is the production.

Right. Right. So typically in an alternate space like yours, how do you, what are the different things that you think about the event production? And do you have like a production team that, uh, sets up your, uh, you know, uh, set, so to speak for a play, right? Yeah. Um, so because we have, when we are located at the studio, mm-hmm, , um, the good thing and the bad thing is that the good thing is that, uh, you know, with when, when, when you are working in a environment, then you also tend to get more creative with those restrictions and how you play with it. Sure. At the same time, uh, what it can also do, which I try to be aware of being in the same space or a long period of time can also kinda box your imagination to the space. Yeah. So I also make sure that I find opportunities to go and work in other spaces just for practices, just for, just to kinda decondition myself.

Sure. Because I think as a, as a practicing artist, it's very important for me that every time I come to the studio, I go there maybe every, every day or every other day, that I'm able to enter the space with some kind, with some amount of not moving. Mm, sure. So that I'm able to see the space fresh. Yeah. It must spark something in your head. Right. Yeah. And I think it's important for me to keep the artists in me alive. Sure. And that's also the reason why we invite performances and we also always encourage them to space the way you want to use it. Sure, sure. So sometimes the orientation is completely different. Mm. Uh, so it completely, you know, brings the new imagination of how it could be used. Right. Be even a rehearsal. Um, so trying to break it as much as possible, cause at the end of the day, it's also just four walls.

Sure. But to see, you know, how exit or to the window, for example. Oh, okay. And not necessarily through the door. OK. Um, but sorry to come, coming to answer to you. I mean, answering your question about the production team, I think the production team comes for a particular play, right. Uh, there isn't the production team with art, the collective throughout, it's like an ad hoc set. It's an ad. Yeah. When we have a play, we put a, we kinda put a team together, uh, and how much we, what kinda team we can put together is also determined by the kinda funds we have. And fundraising for us is like an everyday challenge um, because to keep the integrity of the work is very important. I think that we are supported by patrons. Sure. And, uh, we also ran a campaign earlier this year to save the space in some sense because, uh, like I, residential space.

Yeah. So there are always this of right. And, uh, it's not in the least of our interest that our work should disturb anybody. Sure. Uh, so when that got a little concerning, uh, we raised some funds and we were very overwhelmed by the response we got before the, uh, the time that we had, uh, on the fundraising platform to raise the funds much that we manage to raise really reach our target. So we got some sound level of soundproofing done at the studio, so it's been fine. We're a lot better after that. Uh, so that challenges, I think always are there. Um, so the ideas to be, I think, um, as dynamic as you can yeah. Uh, to be aware of how everything is shifting around you. And I think to be able to work from a place of, uh, seeing the space, do a larger function mm-hmm , uh, and not just serve us in that sense, but maybe serve people, all kinds of people.

Sure. Uh, and, and, and really to create a safe and non-judgmental space for people to come to train, to share, to meet. Um, yeah. And in, in such actioning, do some function in the direction of building, uh, you know, a certain movement of people coming together. Sure. Um, to support each other, to listen to each other. Right. Which I think is some spaces are far and few yeah. Some spaces are shrinking. So I find it also a lot more important to yeah. Kinda work towards keeping them that and coupled with, uh, I think a lot of people have also really started paying attention. Like I'm talking about nine to fives. Right. Started paying attention to say their hobbies. Right. Cause once they were like limited to their house, right. They were like, okay, I need to have something else that right. Right. Right. Adds a dimension to my life.

So I think it's a great time for people are looking for creative outlets, keep their mental health in check yeah. Express themselves. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. That way. It's quite awesome. Uh, there was one more thing I wanted to ask you is, uh, what is the like, I mean, either Bangu or nationwide can, what is, how is the scene? Is it recovering now the theater scene, that place is opening up hundred percent. Yeah. I think, yeah. I think it is, uh, I'm also hearing about lots of theater festivals planning to restart in the second half of this year, which didn't happen last year. I think which yeah. Most of the theater festivals either tried to go digital or did not happen. Okay. Um, so now in like Bango, I can clearly see people coming back to the theater, so, which is an encouraging sign. Um, and, uh, as far as you know, um, so yeah, in that sense, people are coming back.

Another mark shift that you also see is that, you know, now this thing of digital performances is like a new segment, which is opened up. Sure. So even though people are coming to the theaters, many people I know have found a lot of value, uh, in creating work in the medium. So I think, uh, that digital medium is going to stay sure. Right. Breaks the geography of like having to be there too. Yeah, sure. Yeah. Yeah. And also, also making work, keeping those, um, um, you know, keeping those, uh, definitions of making in mind. Sure. Like when you make digital content, then you also have other possibilities sure. Which you cannot have in the theater. Right. Right. So, cause it kinda moves towards the place of film. You can edit sure. You know, things frame went so and so forth. So, uh, many festivals now have a digital segment.

Oh, okay. So the festivals did not even think that there was a possibility of digital work. All of them are making space for okay. Here is the room where you'll have screening or digital works. Okay. And these are theater festivals. These are theater festivals. Absolutely. Okay. Where life performance that's, that's a big change. Exactly. So I think that is a big change that you, that you see. And I think it's going to stay, I think more explorations are gonna sure. Yeah. More forms are gonna to emerge. Uh, and I, myself, not really fond of that. Yeah. Yeah. But still, I mean, uh, when you see people, uh, in and making things which affect the new move by. Yeah. Yeah, of course. So I, I have seen very interesting work in the digital medium as well. Mm OK. Yeah. That's pretty awesome. Yeah. Anything you guys have coming up like food.

Yeah. So like I was telling you the production that we had to cancel in 2020, right? Yeah. That's what we working on right now. OK. Uh, in fact, we were working on it, um, in, in briefly in 2021. Like I like, yeah. Looking back, I think these two years also helped us hone the script. Yeah. A lot more work with the actors train better. So we have a much more refined script now than what we had in 20. So that way I'm, I'm very happy. Yeah. Um, so yeah, we're getting into production in fact from the coming Monday oh, OK. And we're opening in the second week of June. OK. Yeah. And the possibilities of like say taking a play cause the country, et cetera, have opened up. So I'm guessing I'm hoping to, yeah. Uh, definitely smaller venues are opening up lesser people, 50, 60 people.

But this particular place is, is as far as art collective and I'm concerned slightly an ambitious work. Okay. Um, many, many months of prep has gone into it, both in terms of writing, creating a set prop, et cetera. It's not really elaborate, but it's a little technically tricky. Mm. So to crack that has been, has not been easy. Okay. Um, so yeah, this is a play for a, for a bigger stage. Got it. Um, designed like that. Sure. Um, so yeah, so we are getting into that now hoping to travel with it. Yeah. To other parts of India and the later half of the year. 

Kishore Awesome. I hope to see you guys do that as well. Yeah. Thank you. oh, that's the end of our chat. I hope you had fun. Yes, I did. Thank you very much for having me. Thanks for coming over. 

Vivek

My pleasure. And yeah. Thank you guys for listening.

Kishore

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Meet the guest

Vivek Vijayakumaran

Artistic Director, Our Theatre Collective (Bengaluru)

Theatre Worker, Actor, Trainer, Director & Writer. Heads the management and running of Our Theatre Studio (Bengaluru) with members of the collective. Recipient of Inlaks India Theatre Award 2012. He was featured in Forbes India life (Oct ,2015 issue) as one of the 12 theatre practitioners who are pushing boundaries and innovating in India.

Meet the guest

hosted by

Kishore CS

Content Lead, Zuddl

Kishore is part of Zuddl’s very own Marketing team. A content creator and enthusiast since 2012, Kishore’s experience ranges from web content and internal communications to copywriting and brand identity.

Kishore CS, Content Lead, Zuddl