In the Bangalore of the 1960s, the order of the day in English theatre was a form referred to as BBC—British Bedroom Comedy.
THE EMERGENCE OF BLT
A small group of committed persons in Bangalore sought a theatre experience that could be a genuine alternative to the prevailing order. The group comprised a mixed bag of active theatre enthusiasts: three British couples (one being the talented Scott and Margaret Tod); a Dutch couple; an American couple; an Indian engineer with a European wife, and, of course, many Indians. Scott Tod was a trained director and Margaret a trained actress, both from the Little Theatre movement in the UK. They were the founders of what was to grow into Bangalore Little Theatre. Collectively, the group had a united vision of a Community Theatre best described by a slogan invented 25 years later: Think Globally, Act Locally.
Bangalore Little Theatre came into existence with a play reading in the first week of September 1960. The first production on stage in December 1960 was Moliere’s The Prodigious Snob, more commonly known as ‘The Would-be Gentleman’.
FOUNDATION BASED ON PROFESSIONALISM
Although set up originally as an amateur, membership-based group, from its earliest years BLT earned itself the reputation of being thoroughly professional in the conduct of its affairs. The group gave itself a constitution in 1962, which was responsible for much of the character shaped in subsequent years. Some of its defining attributes:
- Owned by the membership and not founder-centric.
- A transparent and participative ethos.
- Investment in good management practice, grooming people for responsibilities.
- Ensuring a line of directors, succession in leadership.
- Investment in outreach and developmental activity—reaching schools and colleges, training workshops and play development.
LOOKING FORWARD, DEFINING STRENGTHS
The years flew by. In 2005, looking ahead to its Golden Jubilee, the group undertook some introspection and a strategic plan exercise. What ought to be the new directions to take? What might the organisation look like on turning 50? What current strengths should be built upon? Where were the group’s weaknesses?
The exercise revealed four main strengths of the group, to be built upon in the future:
- Positioning as Community Theatre, relating to the Bangalore environment.
- Great deal of Outreach Activity, helping schools, colleges, clubs and other institutions.
- Strength in Training, especially in training trainers and developing training methodology.
- Extensions in Application, in the areas of education, management and social development.
How we are setup/Our Structure
Bangalore Little Theatre Foundation is a registered Charitable Trust, to function as the encompassing governing body.1. BLT or Bangalore Little Theatre is one programme division, oriented mainly to the presentation of theatre performances, maintaining its non-commercial status
2. ATA or Academy of Theatre Arts was initiated in 2006 as a second programme Division, to be oriented to all theatre development activity.
BANGALORE LITTLE THEATRE FOUNDATION
We begin with a vision of societal development in which the galloping pursuit of economic development is not at the expense of cultural development—a sad state in many “developing” countries, including India.
- The task before us is clearly that of revitalizing the theatre arts in India. However, this cannot be accomplished by mere “product development”, i.e. putting trained actors and technicians into a marketplace in which there is no work for them. An equally important (if not more important) part of the mission is the task of “market development”, i.e. influencing the societal context to absorb the products.
- The pertinent question is: Whose job is “market development”? The real task is that of creating a societal base of appreciation of theatre arts. A dedicated effort would be needed within the Foundation to address this task, to be organised and managed as a separate programme division, to be called the Academy of Theatre Arts. The thrust of the Academy would need to be on Theatre Education – i.e. Influencing curricular activity in schools and colleges. The focus would be on capacity building within the educational institutions.
- One important aim should be to reach the less privileged schooling system.
- On the one hand we need to be careful not to be lost in re-inventing wheels, and be ready to learn from good experience world-wide in Theatre Education. On the other hand, we need to guard against theatre studies (and practice of theatre arts) becoming an imitation of a borrowed curriculum, without strong cultural moorings of its own.
ATA – The Academy
- The strategic planning exercise BLT undertook in 2005 led to a restructuring of Bangalore Little Theatre Foundation and the creation of the Academy of Theatre Arts. The planning exercise revealed that the tasks ahead in Bangalore (indeed, all of India) were more in the nature of getting a theatre movement going, practically from scratch. The biggest challenge was doing that in a socio-economic context in which there was little “social investment” in the theatre.
- The Academy of Theatre Arts (ATA) was initiated in 2006 as a second programme division, to be oriented to all theatre development activity.
ATA’s programme thrusts
The Academy has adopted three main ‘arenas’ of activity in the mission for the first 6 to 8 years, which may also be seen as the three principal constituencies to be reached:
- Work in public appreciation: towards deeper appreciation of theatre arts and, indeed, all performing arts.
- Work in schools and with children: influencing the school system, enabling teachers in the school setting to teach and do drama
- Work in colleges and with youth: influencing the university system, reviving dramaturgical activity in the college/university setting