Watch for free: A global, online the@ter festiv@l on Sunday

It promises to be a unique experience, a collaboration between theatre activists spread across several continents and with subtitles. And it is free. Is this the future?

Watch for free: A global, online the@ter festiv@l on Sunday
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Siddhi Jain

Geography is now history in theatre, says Sumit Lai Roy, Festival Co-Director and Founder Member, The Red Curtain International, which has announced the finalists for their ‘Good The@ter Festival and Awards’ which takes place online on November 21, 22, 28 and 29.

“We think of theatre as performance chemistry that happens when the audience and the actors share the same time and space. We have renamed digital performances that do not shut out the audience (i.e., they are not pre-recorded broadcasts) and call it the@ter,” he explains.

The performances are digital. And to ensure funds do not get eroded in banking transactions, The Red Curtain International is now headquartered in the USA.

“In three months, we raised more funds to give to worthy causes than we did in doing three years of performing in Kolkata. Geography is now history, as far as the@ter goes,” Dr Paul Lopez, Festival Co-Director, Atlanta, USA quipped. Did they find the quality of live theatre in online shows?

“Body language is a crucial part of theatre as it is with the@ter. The audience and the actor must be able to sense each other for it to be genuine theatre. The Festival that we’ve put together showcases the@ter from around the world. The audience can sense the actor and the actor can sense the audience. All performances are in real-time, though they will be happening from different parts of the world. More than 90 per cent of the performance is not pre-recorded. It is as genuine as the theatre that the Greeks pioneered. The actors feed off the audience’s reactions. The@ter does not shut the audience out,” Roy adds from Kolkata.

What about the digital divide? “Online the@ter, we feel, is more accessible than proscenium theatre but less accessible than street theatre. There is already a divide in theatre. Those who can afford to hire halls with sophisticated lights, sound and acoustics. And those who can’t,” he explains.

One of the finalists, from India, has actors who will be performing in Tamil, but the world will be able to understand them for two reasons. Body language is the primary language of the@ter. And Zoom allows for subtitles (called Closed Captioning) to be done live. These four actors from Tamil Nadu, from marginalized sections of society, will now have a global audience, without the costs of travel, Roy points out.

“We started doing live online plays from April 2020. So far we’ve done three productions and managed to attract the attention of audiences across the globe who donated generously. Where we had four hundred audience donors before we now have a list of over 900 unique ids, people from five continents who want to support good theater for a good cause,” said Dr Lopez.

“We found the talent you will see featured in the Festival, online. We simply searched for Zoom Plays, ePlays, online theater and found more than 100 productions that fit the criteria of not being pre-recorded. From July to October, we saw these shows as the members of the audience would have seen them. At least three performance members of The Red Curtain had to rate the Finalists as better than any production that we had done. So, what you will see in The Red Curtain Good The@ter Festival are productions by global talent that we rate as better than what we have done so far,” Dyu D’Cunha, Festival Co-Director, Sydney, Australia added. Keep your fingers crossed.

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