It is perhaps more relevant now than ever before to prepare the ground for a pedagogical discussion on theater curation. Theater festivals have recently become prominent in India. It is true that India has cherished a ubiquitous tradition of festivals—utsavs and mahotsavs—for hundreds of years. Take, for example, the staging of Kudiyattam at ancient Sanskrit koothambalams, which would last several weeks in a festival atmosphere; the touring circuit of Assam mobile theater, which has created festival-like events since the 1950s; or the Marathi (political) theater, which has an active culture of more than a century of traveling and festival-like events. These are not the kind of festivals I am interested in for the purpose of this article—they have a “traditional” logic built into their purpose—but the kind that have emerged along secular lines in post-independent and urban India. These “new” theater festivals are primarily sponsored by the state, are supported by public funds at the regional and national level, and are therefore open to public participation and scrutiny. These festivals, wherever they are held, commonly include a multilingual and multicultural itinerary of plays. The intent behind the selection is largely driven by the post-colonial project, which is to “put together” an idea of modern India by including plays that have a critical outlook—these could be contemporary scripts, modern adaptations of classical plays, and works that explore contemporary vocabularies of performance (body-based, post-dramatic, experimental, etc.). Currently, India has over a dozen of these new theater festivals of varying scale; each running annually, each claiming to show the best of contemporary theater. In the absence of a touring circuit, these festivals provide artists with the opportunity to travel, to seek new audiences, to mingle with peers and masters, to be written about, and to woo award committees. Festivals are now doing for theater what exhibitions have done for visual art; they are highly visible events that offer immense resources and the promise of further influence. Festivals seem to bestow legitimacy on artistic work of a kind not seen before.
Amitesh Grover is a graduate of University of Arts London and Assistant Professor at the National School of Drama (India). His practice moves beyond theater into installation, video, digital and text-based art. He writes and curates for performance. Based in New Delhi, he also shows his work internationally.