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Mar 27, 2024 | 3 min read

World Theatre Day Address 2024

Shama Zaidi

Acts of love

Why would anyone want to do theatre?

I find myself asking this question every now and then when I think about where we are today. Once a professional occupation, theatre now predominantly exists in the amateur space. That is not to say that it lacks in quality, but more so, quantity. The amount of work that you are able to generate, not just the variety of shows, but the number of shows you can put together, and put together sustainably, determines whether you are deemed as professional or not. Simply put - are you able to live off what you are doing.

And unlike classical dancers and singers who are able to create and perform their art independently, thereby finding an outlet in festival performances and cultural events, theatre makers need one another. Theatre has always been a group effort. It needs people and therefore is demanding of resources, finances and infrastructure. Hard things to gather when the returns don’t promise much.

So why then, IS there a next generation of theatre makers? Because theatre is a group effort.

Throughout our lives we seek connection. Tirelessly looking for those who understand, endlessly attempting to understand. And words can only bridge so much distance. But working together to create something so closely inspired by how we live, feel and exist - that says something about connection. Afterall, is there any greater act of love, than to recognise each other's experiences within the context of a singular story?

We theatrefolk do it through every part of the “process”, a word we’re obsessed with and rightly so. Actors discover subtexts in dialogues written for a character other than themselves, based on what they know to be true. Writers pen down lives they have borne witness to. Directors constantly think up ways to extract the best, coming up with new exercises, theatre games, engaging in extensive conversations, each tailor made for the actors they're working with - an endeavour that requires understanding, no doubt. Our behind the scenes team, who are used to forever preempting the worst case scenarios, need to be equipped with foresight as well as compassion to be able to do what they do, as deftly as they do it. 

So while many might say that there’s no right way to go about it, if you are making theatre without empathy, you are doing something wrong. It is a value integral to the artform.

No wonder this live performing art continues to exist. In an age that is obsessed with putting screens between and in front of people, theatre is about shattering the fourth, fifth and every other wall.

On the joyous occasion of World Theatre Day, I’d like all of us to ask ‘How can we be agents of change?’, not only in the work that we create as theatre makers but also for the larger theatre community. Discovering sustainable models for future creators to emulate;  sure, that stays on the list. But offering apprenticeships, being generous with your time and words of feedback, those too,  make all the difference. Those too give rise to inspired minds who in turn create more work and give back more to the world.


Shama Zaidi is an Indian screenplay writer, costume designer, art director, theatre person, art critic, and documentary filmmaker. Beginning her career as art director and screenplay/dialogue writer with Shyam Benegal, their synergy celebrated milestones and decades, with Mujib: The Making Of A Nation being among her latest works with the filmmaker. She is associated with movies like Umrao Jaan (1981), The Seventh Horse of the Sun (1992), Sardari Begum (1996), Hari-Bari (2000), Devi Ahilya Bai (2002), Garam Hava (2014) and Jaanisaar (2015). She has been honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at ICA – International Cultural Artifact Film Festival in 2021.


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