Dramanon Manipal: The Year That Was
With the grand success of 12 Angry Jurors still fresh in our minds, we at MTTN decided to meet the senior team of Dramanon Manipal, at the KMC Student Activity Centre where the entire team was practicing for their upcoming production, Comikaze 7. We had a candid conversation and reflected upon all that the organization has done in the past one year. Since this is the first “year in review” with Dramanon, we went back all the way to their roots, to begin with.
When, and how did Dramanon Manipal start?
Rishikesh (Marketing Head): “It was started in 1991, by Ramakrishna Shenoy, a few other students, and faculty members. It ran for a few years while RK Shenoy was in college, and a few years after his graduation but then it fizzled out, because of a lack of interest in theatre here. He moved to Hyderabad, where he set up a branch of Dramanon, which became the main branch. Seeing the success of the Hyderabad branch, a few students approached him and got permission to re-open the Manipal branch. We are a professional organization run by students, not a student body per se.”
What’s the organizational structure of Dramanon Manipal? What are the tiers of management, and the various divisions?
Qais (Production Head): “There’s RK (Shenoy), who’s the founder and the owner, to whom all proceeds of the production are forwarded. He currently lives in Hyderabad, heading the main branch. Then you have the Manipal, and the Bangalore branches. We follow a department oriented structure. I along with Ankita head the production division, while Sharath and Ishani head the acting division. All other departments come under these two, main divisions. The production division is further divided into departments like finances, marketing, and sponsorship, while the acting division comprises of the acting, scripts, and the stage. In short, everything off-stage is production, everything on-stage is acting. Each of these departments has their own heads, in turn.”
What are the events organized by Dramanon in the last one year?
Ankita (Production Head): “Generally, in a calendar year we have three productions. Comikaze, and the main production in the even semester, and one main production in the odd semester. We had Comikaze 6 last year, but due to certain issues, we couldn’t put up a main production in the even semester last year. In the odd semester, we had 12 Angry Jurors.”
What’s the difference between Comikaze and the main production?
Ankita: “Comikaze celebrates the fact that we’re active in three cities. So every year, the event has 8 plays, four produced by the Manipal branch, and two each by the Hyderabad and Bangalore branches. RK and his troupe usually come down here, and perform a play that they’ve written themselves.”
Rishikesh: “Also, since we’ve professional actors coming in from Bangalore and Hyderabad, the turnout is greater, as we offer this experience at a throwaway price.”
Qais: “The genre is always comedy. It’s a series of short plays. In general, pulling off a long comedy play is very difficult because you have to be extremely precise, maintain a tempo throughout, and make sure it’s neither goes overboard nor stays undercooked. It’s also a great way to show the audience that we aren’t just all about the more serious, solemn plays, but can also put up comedies.”
How many of your plays are self-written? Do you only perform adaptations or also write your own scripts?
Rishikesh: “We mostly don’t. Dramanon strictly confines itself to adaptations of existing well-written plays, because we don’t want amateurs to write the scripts when it comes to the main production. But in Comikaze, the writers get an opportunity to script their own plays. We have had several original, self-written plays in the past, as well.”
Ankita: “We don’t have the liberty to risk anything. We need to get a good number of people to come and enjoy it. We need to ensure the production is a success, so we usually go for adaptations.”
Qais: “The amount of management work that is involved here is a lot. Also, we have college work to deal with. So, dealing with college work, and management work, and writing our own scripts is too much!”
What does it take to make a theatre artist of a person who’s had zero exposure to the field?
Sharath (Acting Head; stretches his arms, cracks his knuckles as everyone laughs in unison): “Now, when people turn up for auditions, everyone has a spark in them. It’s not as much about turning artistes of people, as much as it’s making them realize the potential they already have in them. When they come to us, we don’t really nurture any talents in them, rather give them techniques which they themselves develop over time. So if you want to be an actor, just show up for the audition. That, really, is the only prerequisite.”
Other than the obvious, what brings the crew together?
Qais: “I think it’s the work, not just the love for theatre. Because here we know that whatever work we do, it will get noticed, validated, and finally rewarded. The work is quite decluttered so it’s genuinely fun to work here.”
Ankita: “There’s also no strict hierarchy, so it’s very chill between us.”
Sharath: “Also, since we’re a professional organization, we get a lot of work experience. And the applause you get after having pulled off the play successfully is quite addictive!”
What’s something you have particularly achieved in the last one year?
Qais: “We had a full house production in a couple of years! When we took over, there were a lot of troubles internally and externally…”
Ankita: “…we are a brand now and have an image to keep up. So as Qais said, when we took over, there were a lot of issues. A lot of our seniors had left, and we almost had to rebuild from scratch.”
Rishikesh: “And we had a major lack of experience. I was an actor when I joined and suddenly I am the marketing head! Yet we managed to get a full house. That speaks volumes about our work.”
What’s one thing you’ve not achieved in the past one year?
Qais: “Although we’ve formed a great team, we don’t know who will lead the organization after us. We don’t know how to leave things.”
What are the challenges faced by Dramanon as a consequence of not being affiliated to MU?
Ankita: “We don’t get the perks of MU clubs in terms of permissions, so we usually have to run around looking for space to practice in.”
Qais: “Even Syndicate Hall for that matter. It’s usually given to the university-affiliated organizations. From publicity perms to places to practice, we have to call in personal favours to keep working. That is a major problem for us because there’s no faculty advisor who can vouch for us. ”
What sets you apart from the other theatre organizations in Manipal?
Rishikesh: “We are a completely English theatre group. We do not take part in street plays. We do not have a pool of actors that we choose from but have fresh auditions for every single production. Even the existing team members have to audition to be a part of the production again. Everyone gets a chance.”
Qais: “We are transparent in our working, so anyone can question anyone else in the team regardless of rank or department. Also the every member sticks to their own department, so you won’t find a member of the production team trying to make it to the stage.”
Sharath: “Usually after the audition, we have a week’s time where everyone decides what they want to take up for the semester, and they stay in that department for the semester. That makes things simpler because everyone has only one person to be answerable to, which is their department heads.”
Qais: “What sets us really apart is that…we have much less drama! I know I’m saying this at the risk of sounding poetic, but that really summarizes us in a line.”
We took our leave, as the crew resumed their practice for Comikaze 7, to be held on 5th March, 6 PM, at Syndicate Hall.
– by Agnihotra Bhattacharya for MTTN
Photos by Arjan Singh.