In July of 2019, The Gottabees (Bonnie Duncan, Brendan Burns, Tony Leva, and Dan Milstein) traveled on a 10- day tour of India, performing for over 800 children and families in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Ahmedabad as part of Ranga Shankara’s Aha! International Theater Festival for Children. Other companies performing in the festival were from the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Peru, Switzerland, and Turkey. It was a whirlwind of airports, giant luggage, amazing food, generous hosts, and multilingual tech rehearsals.
It was also a reminder.
The Gottabees make theater to empower our audiences to view the world in new ways, to ask questions, and to trust their own ideas. We aim to delight, to touch, and to surprise. We do this like every other working artist group we know: on a modest budget, with constant struggles to find time, and always at risk of disappearing under a mound of endless logistics.
We travel and tour around the world to share our work with new audiences and to see new places -- but, more deeply, to connect with other people who have committed the work of their lives to making art and sharing it. We travel for the exchange and for the reminder that artists the world over are struggling with similar details yet are all doing something so very vital to this generation and the next of theater lovers and theater makers. This reminder is deeply meaningful to us as individuals and as artists.
While in Bengaluru this July, it was warm. Very warm. Kids and adults were everywhere in and around Ranga Shankara, a theater built without doors. People socializing and drinking chai in the cafe, parents browsing in the bookstore, kids watching kids perform a traditional Indian dance, artists helping kids make puppets, families filing in off the street easily and without effort, passersby pausing in awe at the giant puppets hanging at the theater’s open entrance. Families queuing up the open staircase for the theater. They’re all here for one magical reason: to see and be part of live theater as a family.
Since its founding in 2004, Ranga Shankara has been building a standard of contemporary theater in India. Ranga Shankara aims to encourage and empower theater makers. They build a wide audience; train artists; encourage new voices; bring hundreds of children to their theater each week for workshops and performances; and host international guests from around the world.
And yet, Ranga Shankara—a thriving theater, with its own building, a full-time staff and a national reputation—faces similar challenges as our tiny little group.
They struggle with staying open—they are dependent on private funding. They endure setbacks with their building. They reach out to audiences and children who cannot afford to come at varying rates of success. They rent out their space at a fraction of the actual cost to give voice to young companies. They have 400 shows a year in their space (only closing on Mondays!). They are constantly working on the next project while finishing up what is happening in the present moment. They do all of this with a staff of 8.
Sound familiar? Perhaps it sounds like your own company or another theater in the US? While The Gottabees cannot claim Ranga Shankara’s numbers and vast reach, we can whole heartedly relate to the obstacles they face as passionate artists.
We’ve been back in Boston for a couple of months under mounds of details and logistics to make work, run a business, secure funding, and take care of all of the other hassles of hectically scrambling to make our little company stay active. But we’re also filled with this tremendous gratitude and inspiration --- a reminder --- that halfway around the world, there is a theater without doors scrambling to make the world more beautiful as well.
As we all wrestle with our own tasks and to dos and the everyday struggles, let’s all think about Ranga Shankara and every other theater, big & small / near & far. Let’s be reminded that what we do is vital and that we’re a part of a broad community, united by our desire to make beautiful work and share it.
*This engagement is supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This tour was also supported by the US Consulate General in Chennai, India.