Thrissur: Professional theatre is making a dramatic comeback in the state, with the number of societies registered with the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi rising to 158. Thiruvananthapuram leads the list with 36 active theatre societies, followed by Kollam with 32 and Thrissur with 21 societies. In addition, there are numerous unregistered societies based in rural areas.
Every aspect of theatre in Kerala has a professional touch now, from booking to stage performances. The investment for a play is Rs 10-15 lakh and the figure goes up for technical improvements.
The booking fee for a play of a leading society ranges between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000. Some groups charge even Rs 50,000. There are plays which are performed even up to 200 times a year; the average is 150 performances.
Actors: In the past, the actors were paid a part of the income received by the societies. But now, annual contracts are signed with the actors for the June-May period for which an advance of around Rs 50,000 is paid. For each performance of a play, actors get Rs 1,500 – 2,500, but top actors charge even more.
Double/triple roles: Societies cannot often meet the expenses of numerous actors and they improvise by allotting two or more roles to each artist.
The result: Even plays with 18 dramatis personae will have a maximum of six actors – two female and four male. With make-up, they can enact several characters.
Crucial support: The Sangeetha Nataka Akademi has set up 33 permanent venues for staging professional plays in the state. An amount of Rs 25,000 is paid for each drama performed on these stages. Additionally, there is an annual drama competition in which 10 plays selected from around 50 entries are staged. The winner gets a cash prize of Rs 50,000.
Veteran players: Till recently, theatre societies in the state were facing a crisis as the fine arts societies were paralysed. However, a handful of theatre groups like KPAC, Kannur Sangachetana, Kalidasa Kalakendram, Changanassery Aniyara, Thiruvananthapuram Sowparnika, Cochin Sanghavedi, Ochira Sariga and Thiruvananthapuram Aksharakala held on to their own. With professional plays again drawing crowds, more societies have arrived on the stage.