Putting up a play is definitely a collaborative effort, but the glue that holds everything together is undoubtedly the Production Manager. Their moments of stress, horrifying nightmares, logistical and financial constraints, alongside their ability to combat every challenge often sets the essence of a play. Production Managers cater to their love for performance and storytelling by multitasking, working under high pressure and being truly present in every moment. If it wasn’t for their toil and moil, we wouldn’t enjoy the nuances of a performance the way we always have!
We asked some of India’s best Production Managers to share their most insane, crazy, funny backstage stories that never get told. We coaxed them to spill the beans and let out their best kept secrets from where the real drama unfolds- the Backstage.
Toral Shah | So Many Socks
Toral first discovered theatre in college, putting props in place. Now, as part of QTP, she works in the capacity of Creative Producer and Production Manager. She is one of the driving forces of Thespo – a youth theatre movement that culminates in an annual festival every December in Bombay.
On mastering the skill of avoiding rain checks, she reminisces “It was the 2nd of October, 2013. We were invited to perform So Many Socks at Natrani Theatre in Ahmedabad as part of Darpana’s Sunday to Sunday Theatre Festival. It is an outdoor space and as we set up for the show at the amphitheater on the banks of the Sabarmati River, dark clouds hovered over us.
The show, directed by Quasar, is designed to be performed in the round. But here we were going to be playing to a wonderful asymmetric bank of audience that would be seated stadium style up the slope. As the day progressed, our scenic designer Vivek Jadhav patiently and tirelessly rigged all the celestial balls and strings and wires of wool to create our own sky in this open air venue. Our lighting designer Arghya Lahiri, who had rigged and focussed the lights the night before, started his checks as it slowly got darker and showtime approached. The stage crew had put all the worries about the weather aside and got swept up in the pre-show chaos. The audience trickled in, took their seats. The show started. And though the wind and thunder were still around, the audience seemed to be with Tashi, Ama and Momo as the narrative unfolded.
With about half an hour left in the show the heat evaporated. What started as a light drizzle very quickly turned to the heavy downpour that we had feared all day long. The audience members just opened up their umbrellas and stayed in their seats. If our audience were happy to keep watching, we were delighted to perform for them. Some quick and smart decisions were taken about which lights could still be kept on, with the wiring/grid soaking wet by now. The actors were informed that the show would go on. Varun Bangera (the stage manager) and I quickly, and hopefully discreetly, cleared the stage of the books and some other items that could get destroyed. Saatvic on the tablas played on, with a plastic sheet held over his head and the tablas. The actors, the audience and the crew were in an unrehearsed and unspoken sync. And it was magical.”
Niloufer Sagar | Noises Off
Niloufer’s hands-on experience in the arts management world is complimented by a Masters degree in Cultural Policy and Management from City University, London. While she leads a module in Producing and Entrepreneurship at the Drama School Mumbai, her specializations include theatre productions, festival management and site-responsive work.
Spilling her favorite backstage memory, she narrates “Nadir Khan directed a Raell Padamsee production of Michael Frayn’s legendary Noises Off, a hilarious onstage-offstage portrayal of a British repertory company. The script featured a malfunctioning set. We had a lavish but unreliable set. Zafar Karachiwalla, the actor playing the actor on the uncooperative set, would frequently shout “This door knob is stuck” and I’d automatically snap to attention! Was it his line from the script or had the doorknob actually jammed?!
On one infamous night, sleep-deprived Rohit Malkani playing Tim (the sleep-deprived stage manager in the play) passed out snoring in a dark corner of the wings and missed his entry. Backstage reality often mirrors fictional comedy. I believe that we have more fun behind the scenes than the audience sitting front of the house.”
Avafrin Mistry | Gauhar
As a Production Manager and Show Caller, managing crisis and ensuring a smooth run of the show are a few of the many things Avafrin does for large scale productions in India and other countries. Over the years, she has perfected the craft of creating something beautiful despite the many adversities during a live performances.
Revisiting comical disasters that come with theatrical production management, she says “Many years ago, Gauhar opened for the Prithvi Theatre Festival. The period drama involved various variables like live music, elaborate costumes, and a whole lot of set changes that weren’t rehearsed as much as a production manager would like.
One of them being the stage-left entry of two tables, a gramophone, a phonograph, along with the exit of a chair, which required the production team to carry in and out. While Denzil Smith was performing his scene on stage-right, my team and I made our way onto stage. Suddenly the lights went off stage-right and promptly came on stage-left revealing three very startled people in black. I’ll never forget the moment of trying to maintain a straight face while placing the gramophone down, inches away from an audience member, turning around and trying to get to the wings as fast as possible. Someone from the audience later commented that the funniest thing about the play was seeing me do a set change in full light.”
Gaurav Singh | Marta La Piadosa
Apart from being a stage performer and a production manager at Kaivalya Plays, (Delhi based theatre company working with digital theatre, interactive plays and foreign language texts) Gaurav believes in creating content through an amalgamation of design tools and marketing campaigns.
While recalling the linguistic nightmares of setting up a grand show in a foreign land, the self-taught theatre maker says, “In July 2019, we travelled to Spain with our play Marta La Piadosa to participate in AlmagroOFF, the world’s largest classical theatre festival. I had to coordinate the light and sound design with the venue staff, all of whom spoke only Spanish!
I remember learning Spanish words for ‘spotlight’, ‘downstage’, ‘fade’, ‘focus’ the night before the play but completely blacked out on show day! Though we managed to curate a fabulous show in the end, it’s experiences like these that make the whole process all the more real.”
Saatvika Kantamneni | The God Of Carnage
For the Mumbai based production and stage manager, unconventional venues and stories that best get told there add to Saatvika’s everlasting fascination for theatre. Her training in Collaborative Theatre Production and Design was followed by years of stage and production management for large scale plays and other productions.
Speaking of an extremely bizarre experience while staging QTP’s The God of Carnage, she says “I was the stage manager for QTP’s The God of Carnage in 2015 which opened at the Tata Theatre, NCPA as part of the Aadyam Theatre Festival. A pivotal plot point of the show is based on a character’s upset stomach and the ‘projectile vomit’ that follows, all over the living room of someone else’s house. One of my jobs as stage manager was to come up with a vomit system that could achieve this effect without the audience being able to tell. Lots of research and testing by the entire team ensued, and we finally came up with a successful system.
One show the projectile ‘vomit’ was so effective that some of it landed on a few audience members in the front row. At the end of the show, one audience member came to tell us how he thoroughly enjoyed the immersive experience, even though the lady next to him who was sprayed on was slightly miffed!
Sridhar Prasad | Elling
For the last 15 years Sridhar has been a product manager at a tech company and a production manager at Dramanon, Bangalore. His responsibilities range from printing tickets to writing proposals for grants and to ensure that come what may, the show must go on! Other than a prop going missing or ticket sales being abysmal, one thing that gives him sleepless nights is the need to generate funds for a cast after party.
“In one of our productions- Elling, there were multiple scenes throughout the play that included a blackout for a few seconds after a beer can was opened, sandwiches were unpacked, a wine bottle was uncorked or pizzas were delivered.
The production crew would eagerly wait in the wings for the actors to bring back these ‘props’ so we could start the cast party backstage while the new bunch of actors would go onstage to perform the next scene! By the time the 120 minute play would come to an end, so would our backstage cast party. Every cast and crew member would be happily fed and drunk. And for once, I didn’t have to deal with the pressure of squeezing out any additional funds for an afterparty.”