Over the last few years, the group theatre scene in Kolkata vis-à-vis Bengal has been coming across the phrase or the term ‘Youth Theatre’. And the frequency has increased considerably in the last couple of years or so. What can be and has been simplistically looked upon as a collective effort by young people, mostly in their high schools, colleges or fresh pass outs in order to engage with more youthful subjects and catering to a primarily younger audience, has given rise to a raging debate.
Youngsters embracing the moniker claim that the entire endeavor involves a fresh approach in terms of form and content and most importantly staying away from the conventional notions of theatricality. An equally important concern is the expression of an entire generation against various taboos. While this is definitely about an insurgence of fresh blood, it is less about age and more about replacing the redundant older practices that result in a glaring disconnect. They argue that Bengali Theatre after a time, failed to acknowledge the changes in time or society or visual culture alienating the younger audience completely. Their stiff-upper-lip attitude also made collaborative projects next-to-impossible. So with due respect, youth theatre admits the influences and inspirations but they refuse to follow in their footsteps! And finally, it should be a continuous process that should transcend generation in order to maintain the flow of fresh blood into the veins of Bengali theatre.
On the other hand, detractors of this phenomenon primarily claim this to be a label and like any label it’s superficial and shallow. They also object stating that art cannot be compartmentalized like that. Youth is not a genre but a state of mind. To call something youth theatre is highly restrictive as it tends to limit the idea of audience. And to coin a genre name based on the age of the theatre workers is also meaningless. In that sense, every stalwart like Shambhu Mitra or Utpal Dutta who started really young were also involved in youth theatre! But on the other hand, it is an encouraging thought that young people are engaging with theatre giving rise to a new breed of audience. It spells good news for both aesthetics as well as economics of Bengali theatre. Under such circumstances, it is of all the more necessary that Bengali theatre shouldn’t fall victim to such restrictive labels!