Akshara Theatre, one of the top 20 theatres of the country, which is on the verge of going dark due to pending electricity dues has now started an online crowd funding campaign seeking financial support.
Authorities of the iconic 44-year-old theatre here allege that the electricity department has sent them a cheque of Rs.3 lakh which they could not pay before March 1, the last date for payment.
"We received a bill of Rs.3 lakh from the electricity department a month back much to our horror as we could not have paid such a big amount. But somehow we raised Rs.2 lakh rupees which the electricity department accepted after much pleading," says actress Jalbala Vaidya, one of the founder members of the theatre.
The theatre has received a notice which informs that the theatre’s lights will be switched off if the pending bill of Rs.4 lakh is not paid off by March 15.
"We again received a bill of Rs.3 lakh some days back from the electricity department and the last date of it was March 1. We could not pay the amount and hence it got increased to Rs.4 lakh," says Vaidya.
The theatre has now started an online crowd funding campaign at BitGiving inviting donations to save itself from going dark. Since it is a registered, non-profit Theatre Society donations attract exemption from Income Tax under Section 80G.
Artists from the country and abroad have come forward to help the theatre authorities raise money with many students of Akshara also extending their support to the campaign.
"An audience member who had come to watch a play told us about Bitgiving. So we aim to raise the amount and pay it by March 15. Also many artists including stand up comedian Kishor Dayani, Papa CJ have extended their support to raise funds, says Vaidya.
The theatre has been a nursery for the stand-up comedians since its inception when it opened to a houseful at Lady Shri Ram College on March 11, 1972.
Over the years Akshara Theatre has hosted numerous plays and supported young theatre groups and college students over the years with its "Ramayan" written by Gopal Sharman becoming the only Indian play till date to have appeared on Broadway in February 1975 with the New York Times calling it ‘India’s Gift to Broadway’.
Since then ‘The Ramayana’ has been performed more than 2000 times as a tour de force solo performance, by Jalabala Vaidya, who is Sharman’s wife in various national theatres in the West and in 35 towns and cities in India to packed houses and rave reviews.
A string of stand up comedians — Papa CJ, Jeeveshu Ahluwalia, Zakir Khan, Apoorv Gupta, Maheep Singh — have performed at the venue.
Akshara’s own political satires in the ‘Larflarflarf series’ have kept audiences laughing their guts out at every national election.
Its lampooning of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency had performed to a packed house that old timers recall, that "if the door was opened midway people fell out!"
Theatre groups like New Delhi Players, IPTA, Tadpole Repertory, MITR Cultural Society, Saksham Arts, Curtain Call Productions, are regulars at the venue.
Theatre authorities say that the government should look into the pending dues matter and provide them with subsidised electricity.
"I strongly feel that the government should provide us with subsidised electricity. We are promoting the traditional and modern art of the country. We have been artists and both me and my husband, Gopal Sharman have been working to promote art," says Vaidya.
The authorities claim that they had approached the Ministry of Culture to make the wood paneled theatre into a museum. The theatre currently has a 40 seat acting area for poetry and song and green amphitheatre shaded by two giant Pipal trees.
"We had approached the Culture Ministry to make the theatre into a museum but the response has been slow and nothing much has been happening on that front," says Vaidya.