Lessons from the theatre Festival 2017

Lalit Gupta
Unlike all good ideas that grow in time, the spirit of annual theatre festival has been allowed to be watered down by none other than its very organizer, the J&K Cultural Academy. Thanks to the mindless approach of Academy’s present-day policymakers, the recently concluded annual drama festival 2017 was stripped of its sanctity and complexion: the staging of selected 14-plays was allowed to be interspersed by other programs like literary conferences, facilitation programs etc.
Since its inception in the late 1960s, the annual theatre festival is credited to not only catalyzing the theatre culture in the winter capital but also a locus for new talent and avant-garde works. Time has come that J&K Cultural Academy following the national and international practices announces a fixed calendar of all its annual events and implements the same in letter and spirit for two main reasons: first to bestow respect and status to its own events and the other—especially applicable in J&K where theatre remains an amateur activity—to facilitate the young talent of school, college and University students along with the entire community of amateur stage actors, directors, scripts writers, music composers, singers, light, sound, set and costume designers, make-up artists and backstage personals, to plan in advance their time schedules to pursue the calling of their heart despite respective grueling academic and professional routines.
Erroneously labeled as district drama festival, the annual event is, in fact, an annual competition in which local theatre groups not only showcase the state of contemporary theatre practice but also vie with each other for awards in different categories. To add quality as well as spice to the event, it is time to introduce an invited category in the annual theatre festivals in which selected local groups with national standing like Natrang, Rangyug, and a few others from outside also should be invited to stage their plays during the annual theatre bonanza.
Academy’s much-touted public announcement of starting a Saturday Theatre Series wherein local groups were offered free space to hold shows at Abhinav Theatre has so far come to a naught. The Academy’s Drama section needs to be spruced up and the scheme is pursued vigorously with the local groups as other than giving a boost to theatre practice in winter capital, it also has the potential to become an attractive cultural event for civil society as well as outsiders. The State Depts. of Tourism and Education can be roped in to provide support.
Thanks to the hard work and perseverance for quality by local theatre groups led by Natrang and also others like Amateur, Samooh, Rangyug and Natya Kala Kunj, that today Jammu has a strong theatre culture and reckoned as one of the active centers of theatre in North India. It is therefore high time to rename the present Annual District Theatre festival as Jammu Theatre Festival and expand its flavors and features, so as to make it an annual attraction, a unique experience, for the theatre aficionados of the state as well as from the outside.
Amongst all art forms, theatre, by its unique character of challenging current values and ways of thinking, has been proven to be an effective medium for social commentary and change. But it is a sad story in J&K which reflects upon the lack of seriousness towards theatre on part of the State Govt. Unlike establishing in the mid-1960s in Jammu and Srinagar, the Institutes of Music and Fine Arts for honing young talent in visual arts and music and dance, it has so far failed to set up any such mechanism for training of theatre in the state.
With Cultural Academy also discontinuing the practice of holding its one-time prestigious theatre repertoires and workshop, it is now left mainly to the local theatre groups to organize training workshops for children and youth. Therefore it is high time that J&K State’s education department giving due place to the performing arts, introduces drama as a subject in the curricula of State and Central Universities as Post Graduate Departments of Theater so as to institutionalize