Conference of the Indian Society of Theatre Research

by: Dr. Ajay Joshi

The FLAME School of Performing Arts hosted the 8th Conference of the Indian Society of Theatre Research (ISTR) from 9th to 11th February 2012 at their sprawling campus at Lavle, Pune. The theme of the conference, 'Indian Theatre and Pedagogy – National and International Perspective' attracted more than 100 papers, divided into two sections of the General Category and the Scholars Category. This conference was unique as it had a heady mixture of theatre practitioners and academicians, mingling together to put forth their views and personal experiences enriching the cause of the issue. Handled by a remarkably competent team at the campus, it showcased organisational skill and was a runaway success.

ISTR was established eight years ago with the sole intention of creating a platform for theatre scholars, academicians and practitioners to come together and delve into issues pertaining to theatre and its practices. It was also an avenue to encourage young researchers to hone their skills at research and have an outlet to share their work and experiences. Starting off with an air of apprehension about its practicability, it has gained momentum, which was evident from the turnout and also the growing interest over the years. It has now become a registered body which will soon have a constitution in place to aid its functioning. Each year a different venue is short listed for the conference which has travelled to places like Hyderabad, Jaipur, Anand and Delhi.


The conference was inaugurated by Shri Mohan Agashe in the presence of President of FLAME, Professor Indira Parikh, President of ISTR, Professor Ravi Chaturvedi, General Secretary of ISTR, Professor B. Anantkrishnan, Professpor Vidyanidhi Vanarase and a host of practitioners and academicians from across the country. With the lighting of the auspicious lamp and ringing of the bell (so apt for a theatre related conference), it took off on a very positive note of warmth and camaraderie.

In her welcome speech Indira Parikh outlined the objectives of FLAME.

"We strive to create a landscape of learning. With four main schools running on the campus, viz: Business, Communication, Liberal Education and the latest Performing Arts, FLAME is all about knowledge, wisdom and performance. Set in a nature friendly ambience, it strives to harness the bubbling energy and enthusiasm of the youth and open avenues for them to explore. I hope this conference captures the spirit and essence of research leading to collaborations."

In his keynote address, Dr. Mohan Agashe gave his sweeping observations covering the topic both from the viewpoint of practitioners and academicians.

"There is no shortcut to hard work in this field. That theory needs to be read is undisputable but for a performer it is the riyaz and repeated practice that will plod him on. Students should make mistakes but take care that they are not repetitive. Education today is lopsided, concentrating more on cognitive development. Each student must identify his interest, and then check for his ability to do that and also search for his passion. Pedagogy has to strike a balance between these three. There is a marked difference between organised or institutional education and the Gurukul system principally because their focus and approach are varied. I feel that along with the emotional and cognitive development, the five senses also need to be developed, which are important for a performer and audience alike. In a class there are students with different abilities, grasping power and understanding levels. Teachers must cater to the extreme ends too and not only concentrate on the brighter students."

Ravi Chaturvedi enlightened those present on the Vision and Mission of ISTR, while Professor Ananthkrishnan gave the annual report. The vote of thanks was given by Professor Vidyanidhi Vanarase. The inaugural function was followed by paper presentations. Concluding the day's proceedings were three performances by students of the 1st and 2nd year of the Department Of performing Arts, FLAME.

  1. The Bald Soprano, Directed by Jeffrey Sichel, UNESCO ITI Chair
  2. Hawalat, written by Sarweshwar Dayal Saxena
  3. Bade Bhaisahab, written by Munshi Premchand.

A performance at the ISTR conference


Unlike the previous years, this conference had organised a plenary session at the beginning of each day. On this day the audience was addressed by noted scholar, critic, thinker, playwright and writer Dr. Sadanand More. He took those present on an insightful journey of pedagogy before the advent of the institutional setup. Drawing references from the Gurukal system, influences of religious movements like the Bhakti movement and the Chaitanya Sampradaya in Bengal, various cults etc, the information was enlightening. He explained:

"In the initial years theatre was looked down upon and done by migrant workers. The establishment of teaching institutes is a colonial hangover. Before that performing artistes moved about to do their acts, and teaching followed the oral tradition. Religious movements encouraged artistic engagements to promote the cause of the group. Each village had their own individual theatres. Before theatre came to Maharashtra, it was Tanjore which probably was a school in itself with the rulers not only patronising art activities but also actively taking part in it. Here teaching was imparted by the rulers and also the religious groups. Initially it was the 'Talim Master' who ran the theatre performance and the word 'Director' came in much later. The job of pedagogy was very difficult in the period before the institutions came along. Here teaching was done through practical experiences."

He went on to talk of the Marathi Theatre and the pedagogy used here by different institutions, actors, directors, etc. The day closed with the play Ladi Najaraiya, based on a short story Das Din Ka Anshan by Harishankar Parsai. It was written by Abhiram Bhadkamkar and directed by Vidyanidhee Vanarase.

A performance at the ISTR conference


The th
ird and concluding day had the plenary session addressed by Professor Kirti Jain of the National School of Drama (Theatre Pedagogy – National Perspective); Shri Satish Alekar (Theatre Pedagogy – Regional Perspective) and Vidyanidhee Vanarase (Idea of Liberal Education and Innovative Programme in Performing Arts).

According to Kirti Jain:

"There are many problematic areas we encounter when we are working at the National level. At the National School of Drama we select about 23 students each year who come from varied backgrounds both culturally and academically. Being a postgraduate course, it becomes difficult to identify the pegging point while designing the curriculum. And then language also becomes an issue. True that the students are exposed to a lot of theatre work both nationally and internationally. We are still uncertain of the careers they will choose, especially regarding the medium – theatre, cinema or television. At one end we are concerned about their basic survival after the course and then also realise the need to specialise. Each year is different as we are unsure of what we can expect from the batch. This makes any kind of standardisation difficult. The age old dilemma of how much theory and how much practical work remains unsolved though we grope in our own ways to come to some kind of a consensus. Many other issues like which traditional form to teach the students, how to balance between western and regional teaching methodologies, how to create a modern actor, etc keeps us engaged. And since there is no system in place of teacher training, each comes with his own experience and expertise, which could also be problematic. I personally feel that artistes should attempt to work in their own areas and cultural specificities and develop local sensibilities rather than all wanting to join the National School of Drama. We are faced with many such issues and are constantly trying to face them and some way out."

Taking on this cue Satish Alekar added:

"Regionally it is extremely difficult to set up a workable model for theatre training. There are so many universities offering theatre related courses which are defunct. Most departments have to fend for themselves without any aid or support from the State Governments. Ironically no thought goes into setting up a Drama Department. You have a Tabla and a Tanpura and it is on! In theatre training there is no structured grammar. It is very objective and evolves from personal experiences. I personally don't believe in the demarcation of national and regional theatres. We look towards the NSD to act as a big brother and give what support they can. While starting the Lalit Kala Kendra we started with nothing but hope. But today we are recognised in the country and abroad and have worked our way around, though much is still desired."

Vidyanidhee went on to talk of the concept of liberal education and the philosophy on which FLAME stands. The third day saw the staging of the play The Barber's Shop by O. Henry, performed by Curio, a group from Rajasthan.

The paper presentations over the three days were an interesting assortment. Since practitioners shared a common platform with the academicians it brought about a freshness and variety. Dancers, singers, actors, directors, theatre organisers, teachers, students, academicians shared their concerns about theatre pedagogy. National and regional perspectives were delved into:

* Using Lezim as an actor

* Being a student

* Puppetry as a form of theatre

* Theatre as a tool for classroom teaching

* Teaching costume design

* Bloom's taxonomy in theatre courses

* Silence in Drama – the lost pedagogy

* Pedagogy in university Departments

* Working with Natya Shastra

* A Pedagogue on Pedagogy

* Teaching Stanislavski for Indian theatre

and such topics were up for presentation.

Heated discussions and debates, students in awe of some well researched and thought provoking papers, senior practitioners sharing their uninterrupted views, practitioners and academicians sharing their concerns, actors getting their acts straight for a memorable performance in the evening, leisurely chats over hot cups of chai and the mesmerising ambience at FLAME, made these three days unforgettable. Many issues were raised and probable solutions discussed. There are attempts to get these papers published which would be an invaluable documentation of varied thoughts and processes.

Dr Ajay Joshi is a practicing dentist, with a PhD on theatre criticism and an MA in Journalism and Mass communication. He has freelanced as a theatre journalist for publications like Times of India, Indian Express, Saakal, PtNotes, Himal etc. He is involved in theatre as a media person, organiser, coordinator, judge and teacher.


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At ( this year, the expansion of the archive reflects its interests and intentions. Through 2012, there is an effort to create a performing arts archive;'s time-based annotation capability offers ways of investigating performance and its processes at various levels. aims to collaborate with various arts institutions and initiatives who share its interest in open access and the various possibilities that emerge at the crossroads of video and text. In the past few months, we have added to the archive footage from an Odissi festival and the Spaces Seminar in Ninasam (videos and transcripts here). Besides this, we have been collaborating with Ranan and Jana Natya Manch to make their archives publicly accessible on the internet. We are looking to work with researchers, transcribers and interns who would be interested in annotating the video material that has emerged from these initiatives.

We also invite other arts institutions who may be interested in collaborating on this public domain arts initiative in a similar manner. Please write to for details.

A complete list of video materials that are to be annotated: India Theatre Forum – Presentations and discussions from the Spaces Seminar , March 2012. Interviews and performances from the International Odissi Dance Festival Footage from Jana Natya Manch, Delhi (Talks, plays and extended footage) Footage from Ranan, Calcutta (Talks and lecture demonstrations) Ignite Seminar – Postnatyam Collective – Gati Dance Forum Documentary – Dancing at 80 – Habib Tanvir and Naya Theatre Dastangoi footage Other ongoing projects within

We will be working on annotating and making public documentary footage from the Shared Footage Group (SFG). A self-organised group that came together in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage in 2002, SFG spent close to a year extensively interviewing witnesses and documenting the destruction and relief efforts. 2013 marks a hundred years of Indian cinema, so there are some using to explore new dimensions in cinema studies.

About (Public Access Digital Media Archive) – is an online archive of densely text-annotated video material, primarily footage and not-finished films. We see as a way of opening up a set of images, intentions and effects present in video footage, that conventions of video-making, editing and spectatorship have tended to suppress. The design of the archive makes possible various types of "viewing", and contextualisation: from an overview of themes and timelines to much closer readings of transcribed dialogue and geographical locations, to layers of "writing" on top of the image material.


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