The Evolution of Thespo: 1999-2011
Born out of India’s most senior theatre company - Theatre Group, Thespo is a theatre festival held every December. Apart from the plays, Thespo features numerous stand-up routines, monologues, poetry readings, live bands, film screenings, platform performances and workshops.
Thespis, the Greek poet, was the pioneer in the art of using spoken dialogue in an age when dramatic language was made of choruses and verses. He is considered the father of modern drama and his followers have since been called Thespians. Theatre Group Bombay and Q Theatre Productions (QTP) thought it appropriate to name the pioneering festival for theatre by youth - ‘Thespo’.
Thespo’s first avatar was in December 1999 as a one-act play competition with an awards presentation, at the Sophia Bhaba Hall in Bombay. Ruia College’s ‘Saadia’ reigned supreme, in spite of stiff competition from 15 other plays. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Deryck Jeffereis.
Thespo 2 (2000)
Thespo 2000 featured four full-length plays from across Mumbai. 61 colleges and more than 15 entries led to four days of quality youth theatre. Thespo was labeled India’s premiere youth festival. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the late Pearl Padamsee and photographer Madhu Gadkari.
Thespo 3 (2001)
Classics from Brecht and Chekhov, adaptations from both films and novels, and some pieces of new writing composed Thespo III. For the first time Thespo expanded beyond Bombay, thanks to Harlequin Entertainment, to embrace the city of Bangalore in a nine day festival. Subsequently, the winning teams from Bangalore performed at Thespo III in Bombay notably winning a Thespo for Best Actor. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Gerson da Cunha for his contribution as an actor.
Thespo 4 (2002)
Thespo 4 moved the venue from a proscenium (Sophia Bhabha Hall) to the black box (NCPA Experimental Theatre), while the Bangalore edition continued to gain critical acclaim. Workshops in playwriting by Ramu Ramanathan, Critiquing Theatre by Shanta Gokhale, among others, provided aspiring thespians an opportunity to interact and acquire in-depth technical know-how about the theatre. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to theatre director Alyque Padamsee.
Thespo 5 (2003)
For the first time ever, Thespo made the trip to New Delhi – and invited plays from there, while plays from Mumbai traveled to participate in Thespo Bangalore. Thespo’s fifth year was a three-city and four-language 11-day extravaganza, with the Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to actor Zohra Segal.
Thespo 6 (2004)
Thespo Delhi was born as a three-day fest. Bangalore grew to six days and moved to RangaShankara. Thespo became a three-week festival spread over three cities. Plays were in English, Hindi, Marathi, Marwari and Kannada. All in all 26 plays (12 full length & 14 short plays) were performed. Workshops were held in design, Sanskrit theatre and many other disciplines.
Thespo 7 (2005)
In an attempt to cover allied arts, the Thespo Poster Design Competition was created to give young art directors the opportunity to design posters for theatre productions. Training was taken to a new level with ‘Work It Out’ - a series of mentoring workshops where the performing groups got to interact with a professional director and writer over two days. Screening was expanded to Calcutta and Pune. The festival was held over 12 days in Bombay and Bangalore. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented posthumously to Hosi Vasunia for his dedication to the theatre as an actor and producer.
Thespo 8 (2006)
Thespo spread its wings by conducting some of its pre-festival activities in cities such as Mysore, Chennai, Kolkota, Hyderabad, Delhi and Ahmedabad, in addition to its regular homes of Bombay and Bangalore. The festival featured five plays from these two cities. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Girish Karnad for playwriting.
Thespo 9 (2007)
Thespo 9 saw the initiation of Radio Plays and Documentary on Theatre. The national involvement came with a short play from Delhi and a full length play from Bangalore. The workshops included Master Puppeteer Dadi Padumjee from Delhi and Ahmedabadi director Saumya Joshi. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Partap Sharma for his contribution as a playwright and actor.
Thespo X (2008)
In 2008, Thespo X introduced a theatre photography exhibition for the first time ever along with international participation in terms of workshops being conducted by theatre professionals from England. 2008 also saw Thespo become a two-venue festival by premiering at Prithvi Theatre and moving to NCPA Experimental. In addition to its all India audition, Thespo for the first time auditioned a play from New York and collaborated with the IIT Kanpur cultural festival. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Sam Kerawalla.
In Thespo 11, 90 plays were auditioned from eight cities (Bombay, Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Pilani, Shimla, Kanpur and even Kodaikanal) in five languages. Thespo collaborated with Bits- Pilani cultural festival in addition to the IIT Kanpur cultural festival. Other workshops include Seven on Seven Workshop & Making Theatre by Young People by Urban Myth Theatre of Youth, Hearts and Bones & How to run a show by Nell Ranney, Sampling Shakespeare by Jelena Budimir and a Set Designing Workshop by Dhanendra Kawade. Thespo 11 featured plays, workshops, platform performances, a Youth & Theatre seminar, film screenings, a theatre magazine, and music gigs from December 7 to December 13, 2009 at the Prithvi and NCPA theatres. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Vijaya Mehta.
Thespo 12 (2010)The twelfth edition turned out to be a landmark festival for Thespo. A new performance section called the Thespo Fringe was introduced and was incredibly successful. Converting a rehearsal room into a performing space allowed the audience to access the words and the actors' performances unhindered by amplified sound or contrived lighting. It was raw and live. The tie up with UK's Paines Plough Theatre was also extremely successful. The various workshops in movement, working with materials, writing and a whole lot more, ensured vibrant training opportunities for all who attended. Ravi Jain of Toronto's Why Not Theatre also came down and did a four session workshop about actors and the mask, which truly opened the minds of participants. Thespo 12 would not have been possible without the support of Friends Of Thespo – a fund raising initiative undertaken to encourage a large number of small contributions that helped us raise the monies required for this year. In the absence of any corporate support, friends, family members, actors, writers, directors, school teachers, students, etc. all chipped in helped us go on for one more year.
Thespo 13 (2011)
Thespo 13 saw immense international participation. Ronald Rand from the US, Gil Alon from Israel, Kipper Tie Theatre from the UK, David Hirst from Urban Myth, Australia came down and did workshops which were a huge hit! David Hirst conducted a workshop called Us and Them which culminated in a performance on the first day of the festival. Amongst the Indian workshop conductors we had Mr. Alyque Padamsee, Ms. Faezeh Jalali and Ms. Rohini Ramanathan. All the workshops were well received. There was a devised platform performance by Shampa Sonthalia, wh o choreographed a piece exclusively for the space. We made some more Friends of Thespo who were the reason Thespo 13 happened. The lifetime achievement award was give to The Rajas who gave up their farm in Bangalore to build a theatre!