Take a class, fund an artiste

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Pallavi MD, Rasika Agashe, Yuki Ellias and Faezeh Jalali


We artistes are the worst hit,” rues Niiya Kumar, the brain behind Actors Unlocked, a series of masterclasses that aims to raise funds for fellow artistes around the country. Kumar, a Mumbai-based actor and movement artiste, busied herself in relief work once the COVID crisis hit, responding to Facebook requests, organising and coordinating funds and distribution. “While I was arranging transport for migrant workers, I was shocked to receive requests from fellow artistes for the same, too. I froze. It made me realise that we were a very vulnerable community, too,” she says adding, “There were other stories of actors with suicidal thoughts and a spot boy roaming the streets with a placard. They broke my heart.” It was around this time that Artists for Artists, an initiative providing support to city-based artistes came into being. It got Kumar thinking.

She got together a team of fellow artistes — Vara Raturi (D for Drama), Dhiraj Wadhwani (Offbeat Circuit) and Pune-based Mayuri Joshi Dhavale. The lack of institutional funding and the dream of performance venues resuming distant, Kumar realised that support had to come from within the community.

There was consensus in taking the masterclass route on Kumar’s suggestion and they began reaching out to facilitators in the beginning of June. “All of them said yes, whether they knew me or not and agreed to do it pro-bono. I had a line-up ready in two days,” says Kumar. The result is a power-packed programme with facilitators from around the country addressing different aspects of the performing arts. There is also a focus on performing arts during the lockdown. “For instance, when Tess Joseph talks about auditions she will address Zoom auditions too,” she reveals. Additionally, a session by Rasika Agashe puts the spotlight on an actor’s mental health in these times.

Both Kumar and Raturi were on the same page about approaching women artistes. “We wanted to normalise an all-women line-up without calling attention to it. Our women theatre artistes are so qualified and talented and yet, they don’t get the kind of attention that male artistes easily do,” says Raturi.

The workshops are meant for actors in both theatre and film, taking a holistic approach towards the form; from writing to rhythm, character to movement. They are also priced nominally to ensure access is easy and equitable. The proceeds will be sent directly to four initiatives in different parts of the country — Artists For Artists, Mumbai, Still Space Theare by Akshay Gandhi, Bengaluru, Sunderbans Artists by Sajal Mondal and Joyraj, Kolkata and Delhi Kalakaar Relief Funds. “The latter has graciously agreed to share the proceeds with victims of Amphan in Kolkata. That is the generosity of artistes,” Kumar says.

Log on to June 25 to July 4, 7 pm to 8 pm
Email [email protected]
Cost Rs 2,100 for all sessions

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