Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Smart Act

Headed by Milena Dragicevic Šešic, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy and Management, a theatre programme imparts management skills to amateur groups in India

Written by Radhika Singh |
May 18, 2016 12:15:58 am
Milena Dragicevic Šešic (fourth from left) with the members of the core team Milena Dragicevic Šešic (fourth from left) with the members of the core team

Every year, dozens of new theatre troupes form across the country, its members propelled by leftover energy from their university days. And every year, dozens of these amateur groups wither away, dying a defeated death, only to become memories of a more youthful time.

According to Milena Dragicevic Šešic, core consultant for the theatre management programme Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre, or SMART, and the current UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policy and Management, their disbandment is not the inevitable consequence of people having to “grow up” and “get real jobs”. Rather, it is the lack of government support, discouragement from family and

inability of these groups to take advantage of opportunities, that results in their death. “SMART is trying to train such groups to deal with such problems,” she says.


The programme, which is in its second year, works with leaders of theatre groups to develop short and long-term strategic plans over a course of five months. SMART has a number of established names on board, such as Junoon’s Sanjna Kapoor and Swati Apte, Mumbai-based Aparna’s Sunil Shanbag, and Sudhanva Deshpande from Jana Natya Manch and Studio Safdar in Delhi. These trainers were also mentors for the programme last year that took under its wing 17 amateur theatre groups from across India. Through a series of intensive workshops spread over a year, the trainers will guide the leaders through varied case studies, analysing why some have failed and others succeeded.

Šešic, who has travelled across India to get a better sense of performing arts in the country, is overseeing SMART. “Public arts policy in India does not pay enough attention to contemporary art. The focus is much more on traditional art forms,” says Šešic. “When the Indian government has to send a performing artist abroad, for instance, it is always one who practises traditional arts. In France, on the other hand, contemporary theatre groups might be given a grant for three years and a public space where they can perform. That way, the troupe is able to build an audience without facing too much economic pressure,” she adds.

The lack of familial support for those involved in theatre is another consequence of the disparaging public sector attitude towards contemporary theatre, says Šešic. “Theatre groups should come together to lobby the government for more funding and attention. Once contemporary theatre receives attention from the government, societal recognition will follow,” Šešic says, citing the example of Cambodia, where UNESCO had organised a meet-and-greet between people involved in theatre and members of the Ministry of Culture. “People came to thank us. Finally, within their friends and family, they were recognised as doing something important.”


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