The art field in general has been affected adversely by the pandemic and studios and theatres are no exception. We spoke to the owners of three such places from Bangalore, New Delhi and Chennai about how the pandemic affected their space, how reopening has been and what the response has been like. Here’s what they had to say.
Sagarika Ganeshyam – Canopy Studios, Chennai
I started my studio last year and I had to shut it down in two weeks thanks to the pandemic. It was absolutely soul crushing because I had worked so hard to get it in place. It felt like I was back to square one.
It’s been smooth to open once everything has reopened. Obviously, we have to keep sanitisation, fumigation and intense hygiene practices and systems in place but apart from that it’s thankfully been a smooth transition for me.
The only thing I’ve been struggling a bit with is getting clientele back in for regular classes, despite enforcing social distancing and limiting the numbers. We are getting a lot of enquiries but the rate at which they physically turn up for a trial or class is slower than normal. I’m going to continue to work on bringing clients back in, keep the hygiene and sanitation practices in place, come up with more innovative ideas in terms of events and classes and hopefully people will come!
Aastha Gulati – Dhurii, Bangalore
When the pandemic hit, it was, of course, a big setback for us, as has been the case for all spaces. There was no inflow of revenue for us to pay the rent; this has been especially difficult because we haven’t got support from the government in getting respite on commercial rent. We did start online classes with the support and love from our students, but it wasn’t the same. The fee was much lower too, as were the number of classes. I will say that one good thing has been that we have been able to reach out to people from all sorts of geographical locations and it was good to have some of our old students who have moved out of the city coming back for class!
We are now slowly reopening keeping in mind the apprehensions people might have. So we’re continuing online classes and not insisting on people coming back to the studio. We have a cap on the number of people in the studio at anyn given time and also ensure that the studios are sanitised after every class. Everyone has to wear a mask, get their temperature checked and sanitize before coming inside. We are discouraging people from hanging out after class to avoid close and prolonged interactions. People are coming back slowly but not as full-fledged as before – I guess it will take its time!
Nisa Shetty – Akshara Theatre, New Delhi
Akshara was, of course, very badly hit. We’re a public place, we have shows, classes, and rehearsals and all of that had to stop. We had to lay off a lot of workers, which was very hard for us, because a lot of them have been with us for years, some were even there while the theatre was being built. Some of my family members got Covid and it made things even more difficult.
We are slowly opening up now but we still haven’t recovered from the months where money was lost, so we’re concentrating on that right now. A lot of maintenance had to be done and we had to put in our own funds because it’s a non-profit. One of the first shows we opened with was comedy because it’s easier as a performer to social distance. Vir Das was the first big show we opened up and he performed at the amphitheatre, which was the only place we were allowed to open. There were only 80 people per show even though the theatre’s capacity is 300. Everything was sanitised, we made sure people were socially distanced. Now we’ve started opening up our indoor seating spaces because stand up comedy happens every week at Akshara. Indoor capacity is 100 but we’ve cut it down to 50. And slowly because of regulations changing, it’s going back up a little. One of the reasons we opened up was because we had people getting in touch and asking when we were opening up, which was lovely.
As the comedy shows went on, plays started happening slowly and more people started enquiring. Akshara is very independent theatre friendly, so you see a lot of new and upcoming directors also doing plays here. It has started going back to our regular plays and directors coming back. Luckily in central Delhi, we have a beautiful lawn space and an amphitheatre. So our older students are back doing classes and rehearsals in the open. The younger students want to come back, so now we’re figuring out how to do classes for these young kids.