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Dear Aadyam

How can you volunteer at stage productions (even carrying tea) to learn by watching? – Aviendha Asati, Theatre Lab (Youth) & Little Jasmine Project, Bangalore

Dear Aviendha,

I feel like volunteering with a theatre space, or a festival, or for a production is like having an all-access “fly on the wall pass.” Festivals, and even productions, are a result of a lot of people with different skill sets working together to create them. The work is almost endless for the most part, so there’s always something to watch and engage with. Being a volunteer can also give you the freedom to try your hand at different kinds of work, and figure out what kind interests you most.

Theatres, festivals and productions are almost always looking for extra hands. Their systems are usually stretched to their limits. So actually even to have a person who ensures that hot tea is available during each break is a huge relief. If you go through the social media pages of any group or company you’ll see that they frequently put out calls for volunteers.

Bharavi with chai

I responded to one such call for volunteers at a theatre. I had time to spare and like all theatres, this one too needed people to do a few odd jobs and usher the audience in at show time. In a few months, I found myself in the office, working on putting together the annual festival at this theatre. I was surrounded by people of various histories and interests. I found myself naturally gravitating towards technicians. The time I spent shadowing light designers as a teenager gave me some of my most treasured experiences and memories.

Most technicians, at least in India, work in very high pressure environments, almost always against the clock, given just a fraction of the ideal amount of time they’d need. So, naturally everyone loves a minion. I was a good minion, and used my time as one to ask a lot of questions. Answering someone’s questions in exchange for them doing all your running around is a bargain almost anyone will take in a heartbeat. So the possibility to learn just by watching and osmosis is immense, limited only by your own time and the people around you. The environment is almost tailormade for wide-eyed people who are eager to learn.

Think about a group or organisation whose work you enjoy, and feel a kinship for, and write to them. I cannot think of a single theatre or theatre group that will ever refuse a volunteer. Of course, in Indian theatre, this work is rarely paid, which implies that a certain level of privilege would be needed for those starting out, to be able to survive while doing unpaid work.

  • Bharavi

About Bharavi

Bharavi is a freelance technical designer and arts manager with a particular focus on collaborative and exploratory work. He has been the stage and production manager and technical director at Indian Ensemble, Bangalore, and currently works in a similar capacity with the Tadpole Repertory, New Delhi. For Cinematograph, Mumbai, he has been a touring light designer and
technical coordinator on plays like Hamlet – the Clown Prince, Nothing Like Lear, and Macbeth – What’s Done is Done. He has worked with Astad Deboo, as the lighting designer for Rhythm Divine – The River Runs Deep, as well as Eternal Embrace, a piece in collaboration with composer Yukio Tsuji. Since 2013, he has worked with Jyoti Dogra on production and logistics for her plays The Doorway and Notes On Chai, also collaborating on lighting design for the latter.

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