NTC’s Production Manager REEMA collaborated with Macquarie University to mentor students from the Media, Music, Communication & Cultural Studies. She recounts her experience which was almost derailed by the arrival of COVID-19.

From Lament to Light

Every cloud has a silver lining! Let me tell you why.

Let’s rewind back to the beginning of 2020, in pre-COVID times.

Nautanki was in the pre-production phase of The Jungle Book, one of our most technically challenging plays to date, but also the most poignant. The original is based on Kipling’s book and immortalised in film, but our version was specially written for the stage by South African playwright, Craig Higginson.

Our stage version is a compelling story with appealing characters and when we presented this play in 2017, it was very well received by the audience. It was fierce, graphic, technically challenging and we loved it! So we thought, why not run it again in 2020? It would be bigger, better, darker…. up a notch so the audience would enjoy a spectacular performance.

As Production Manager, I was in the middle of it all. The casting was complete, the rehearsal schedule had been drawn up and the logistics were in place.

Dr Iqbal Barkat, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media, Music, Communication & Cultural Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney watched us as the excitement mounted, as did our confidence and motivation. Iqbal has been a great supporter of Nautanki Theatre for years, and has been on our Executive Committee since inception.

To our delight, Iqbal made us an offer that we simply couldn’t refuse. Five of his media students would intern with Nautanki Theatre for their first Uni term of 2020. They would be at every rehearsal, meeting and would have a first-hand experience of our work even until we opened at Riverside Theatre. They would film and document every aspect of how an independent theatre company creates and delivers a production, observing, reflecting and finally, creating short films depicting what goes on behind the scenes.

When I met the students for the first time, I could sense their excitement and enthusiasm. Jason Wu, Arya Falakdin, Gabrielle Edwards, Raja Choudhury and Annie Wallace formed the group, and they asked so many sensible questions.  None of them had experience working intimately in a theatrical production, and they were keen! As their supervisor, I looked forward to coaching and guiding them.

Everything was finalised and then COVID-19 struck! Our plans suddenly came to a standstill. Performance venues including the Riverside Theatre shut down. The team was devastated because The Jungle Book would have to be delayed indefinitely. From being run off our feet, we came to an unceremonious halt.

But the Uni was still operating, students still had assignments to submit and they were still going to be marked on this project. With no content to film! We went into damage control mode with Iqbal and decided that assignments should still go ahead. We would assist in digging through our archives and giving the students content to produce the videos.

The next weeks were long, but a nostalgic trip back down memory lane. From our first production in 2012, we would collect every photograph, video clip, interview, behind the scenes footage, project descriptions, programs from our archives. The students would assess all the raw information and each one would pick a past project, to create a video based on that.

To say it was a challenge is an understatement! All our records were spread over laptops, desktops, hard drives and various mobile phones! Collating every byte took many weeks, phone calls and Zoom meetings, but we finally got there! At last we handed over our precious data to the students who would now showcase our wonderful work. The added advantage is that our history now exists in one location.

The students are up to the challenge and are making great progress under Dr Barkat’s tutelage and with guidance from us. And in a few short months, we’ll be sharing their efforts with all of you…watch this space!

So while the COVID cloud hasn’t entirely disappeared, the silver lining is becoming more distinct.

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