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The sad state of Chennai's performance spaces
- VP Dhananjayan, Chennai

January 23, 2012

Chennai is known as a cultural capital but the lack of infrastructure despite many articles having been featured in the media along with responses, continues to shock performing artistes in the fields of dance, music and theater. The artistes really suffer on account of these inconveniences which the general public may not be aware of. When designing a performance space, the look of the auditorium seems more important than the needs of artistes that are not taken into account. Of what use is the performance space without the work of artistes?

In general, engineers and architects in charge of constructing new performance spaces or renovating existing ones, are neither conversant with the art forms nor the artistes' needs. They do not consult experts in the field or expand their vision by visiting some of the well known theatres abroad that would help them incorporate new features. The Music Academy mini hall has been recently refurbished but still lacks proper infrastructure to the satisfaction of performing artistes. If artistes are consulted when renovations are being done, it would benefit the artistes as well as the organizations but it is unfortunate that people at the helm of cultural organizations are more interested in building massive structures with external gloss than ensuring comforts for the performers too.

The hurdles we artistes encounter when performing in most of the city auditoriums are many. The stage is dusty and slippery, the curtains are not in the best state of preservation and sometimes do not cover the stage completely, the audio systems are faulty, the side wings are open to reveal activities behind stage thereby distracting the audience, the green rooms could be cleaner and better lit, lesser said about toilets the better and the technicians are seated in a corner making it difficult to communicate with them. The lighting facilities are inadequate, and we often have to spend and hire extra lights. Many a time, these are set up with the loose wires hanging and obstructing the walking space and sometimes people treading over them. There have been incidents in some halls of sparks from open electric wires and people even getting shocks. The lack of emergency exits or measures for protection against fire hazard is also a cause for concern. One wonders how these halls have procured license to stage shows.

Lack of walking space in between rows of seats is an irritant, especially when latecomers have to squeeze their way through narrow moving space, or when those seated feel compelled to rush out every now and then to answer their cell phones! Viewers walking out during a performance also disturb the rasikas who are immersed in the show. The arrangement of rows is quite unsatisfactory in many halls as one is unable to view the performance due to obstruction caused by the viewers seated before them.

The drawbacks exist even outside the halls. Many performance spaces have no parking facilities at all and vehicles have to be parked at a distance, causing inconvenience to senior citizens and physically challenged rasikas. This gets worse on rainy days. Kalakshetra's Koothambalam is an example of a beautiful performance space. What Chennai needs is philanthropic corporate houses to fund artistes' forums to build an ideal theatre in the near future. May God save the art and artistes!

Naatyaachaarya VP Dhananjayan is the director of Bharata Kalanjali school for Bharatanatyam in Chennai.

Demolish the concept of Sabhas and take dance back to where it serves a dual purpose...temples will get renovated because people will spill their money at least out of guilt and performing arts will get a more divine space than dust infested to speak...
- Ramaa Venugopalan
(Jan 26, 2012)

The dance performed at Sabhas does not belong to temples, and nobody will feel guilty about it. The temple dance is founded on 108 karanas.
- N Lakshmi
(Jan 27, 2012)

Excellent article, great thought, towards dancers and rasikas. Technical improvement can be done for the existing theatres for flooring, lighting, acoustics, seats, etc that can be slowly worked out with annual maintenance budget. Most of the theatres do not have trained technicians. We need good people to take care, it's a divine space of worship for dancers.
- Sai Venkatesh, light & stage designer for dance, Bangalore
(Feb 9, 2012)

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