An Expert Guide to Delhi’s 5 Best Alternative Theatre Spaces

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Explore India's rich textiles history through its contemporary fashion labels | © Arkadij Schell / Getty Images

Delhi’s best alternative theatres are intimate venues where you can watch the city’s coolest performances.

Unlike in Mumbai, home of Bollywood and where actors can hope to move on to cinema, performers in Delhi are paid very little and often have to take on extra work to pay the bills. Despite, or perhaps because of this, there is an altruistic feel to the theatre scene in Delhi. Everyone wants to chip in and help out, and it is understood that people choose theatre as a career for the love of the stage and not for the money.

Charu Shankar, an actor and performing artist living in Delhi, recommends her favourite alternative spaces in her city, both to perform at and to watch a show. “Places like these give you the freedom to reimagine. A normal space would have fixed lighting and so on, but these spaces don’t have any of [the conventional set-ups], so you have to really be pushed to be creative,” she says.

Black Box Okhla

Theater

“This was a family-owned mill, turned by owner Nikhil Mehta into a black box theatre,” says Charu. “The fourth wall [an imaginary wall that separates actors from the audience] already exists on TV, so why have regular theatre performances? In a black box theatre, the audience is already inside the space, so the performance is not restricted.” Black Box Okhla, a vast space with both a main space and a mezzanine, hosts performances, residencies and workshops. Charu runs an actors’ study circle here, where attendees participate in a reading followed by a group discussion. For more information on upcoming programmes, visit its website.

Oddbird Theatre and Foundation

Theatre

Oddbird lies in the middle of the trendy Dhan Mill compound in Delhi’s swanky neighbourhood of Chhatarpur, where well-heeled families have large farmhouse properties. This theatre is one of few Delhi venues that often sells wine and beer after a show, and has an open space right outside where people like to socialise before or after a performance. “There have been some wonderful performances here,” says Charu. “And then you can also have a conversation with the artists after the show. I especially love the outdoor area that has eats, drinks and a lovely library.” Some of its most memorable performances have included a dinner and show around the life of Urdu playwright Habib Tanvir (where the audience gathered around a table), a Kamasi Washington concert and an immersive retelling of Hansel and Gretel (1812). Head to its website for details on upcoming performances.

Downstairs @ S47

Theatre

Google this place, and you may think it doesn’t exist. All search results link to old events and one slightly defunct Facebook place tag. The only way to know what’s happening at this Panchsheel Park basement-turned-theatre is to get on its mailing list. But, once you’re in the know, it’s a fairly magical experience. Walk through a somewhat nondescript South Delhi neighbourhood, follow the chatter and go down the stairs into a basement, where one small room has chairs and sofas facing towards a black stage. “It’s a good mix of theatre, multimedia and music,” says Charu. “In such a small, intimate space, technology becomes useless. So, the artist could whisper, and the last row hears what they say.” It means that actors and other performers at S47 often work with just what they have, which makes it a unique experience – almost like you’re in your own living room. Email team@downstairs-s47.in to be put on the mailing list.

Eastwind Blackbox

Theatre

Even though this venue is located in Gurgaon, it’s a must-visit for Delhi residents. Eastwind Blackbox is attached to the Eastwind Academy for Advanced Music and Performance and often hosts unusual events. These include workshops on creative responses to the current political situation and up-and-coming musicians and bands showcasing their work in an intimate setting. “It’s a tiny black box,” says Charu. “And it has all these people who are experimenting with music – you can hear amazing instruments. It’s one of my favourite places for a date night out.” Despite the emphasis on music, the space is also open to all sorts of performers who put up small acts here, for an audience of no more than 60 people. Visit its website for further information on the academy and upcoming performances.

Barefoot Theatre

Theatre

Barefoot was originally a dedicated rehearsal space. “Now it’s also open for artists to come and perform in the evening,” says Charu. “It’s such fun to try and light a piece differently; some people have even performed here using just fairy lights.” The small space and intimate living-room vibe (think floor cushions and benches) help, and even though Barefoot focuses on its own original productions, it also hosts readings, workshops (such as a recently concluded intense beginner’s look at Indian classical music) and film screenings some weekends. Check its Facebook for more details about events.

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