For a year now, I have made my way to the bamboo grove inside Cubbon Park to join the other Bardolators* of Bangalore and rehearse Shakespeare. Many tumultuous rehearsals later, we have managed to put up three productions of the Bard’s works, much to the amusement of our friends, Bangaloreans and other countrymen (and women). The Park is a gracious host, the green field would be our stage, thorny bamboo thickets our green room and sudden interludes of birdsong our orchestra. Within the sylvan confines of the grove, it is easy to forget the crass cacophony of the city bellowing outside the gates.

The Bardolators of Bangalore is a group of young professionals from diverse backgrounds brought together by lawyer Danish Sheikh with the aim of making Shakespeare accessible by staging plays in a public space. “As I started going through his works, it allowed me to see the connection Shakespeare had to the contemporary world. I felt that the Bard was a mass entertainer and it was necessary to make his work available to everyone.”, he says.

“O Hero! What a hero hadst thou been!” – Much Ado About Nothing 
Photo: Amit Bansal

Cubbon Park was a unanimous choice. The Park was 190 acres of unblemished natural space which presented to us an incredible bouquet of theatrical possibilities. The trees blocked the chaos of MG Road and created a wonderful natural stage, the stillness gave us great acoustics, the interplay between sun and shade provided dramatic lighting effects and the convenient location ensured us an audience. What more could a group of amateur Shakespeare lovers want?

Our first production of Much Ado About Nothing in March 2015 played to a crowd of about 170, beginning mostly with friends and colleagues who were joined by puzzled onlookers. By the time we put up our second and third performances, our audience had grown substantially. Citizens of all ages would turn up driven by curiosity to see something new in the normally sedate grove.

“The course of true love never did run smooth” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo: Amit Bansal

The Park ceased to be a static stage and became a dynamic co-actor, forcing us to improvise on show days to accommodate each treacherous bramble, unruly rock and wandering dog. “The technical aspects are beyond our control so we would move the stage and shift positions on show days to adapt to changing light. Often, the final scenes look completely different from the ones blocked during rehearsal! ”, says Shruthi Chandrasekaran. “We use minimal props and don’t use microphones, mostly relying on the wind to carry our voices. This does make it slightly difficult because there is nothing cosmetic shielding us from the audience but it makes interacting with them so much easier.”, adds Darshana Mitra.

Three plays later, to this in-migrant in Bangalore, Cubbon Park has become a second home. As I learn more about the citizens’ efforts to save the Park, I feel oddly grateful.  The Park and the Bard have helped me get over bouts of homesickness and to carve my own place in this city. Cubbon Park is not a slice of prime real estate, it is a rich testament to history, a verdant expanse of endless artistic potential. Shakespeare in the Park is only the beginning.

Theatre and Cubbon Park have a long history, as I discovered. Do read Sandhya Mendonca here about the thespian who started the crusade to save Cubbon Park:

*The term Bardolator or Bardolatry is derived from Shakespeare’s sobriquet “The Bard of Avon” and “idolatry”. Whimsically coined by George Bernard Shaw to take a dig at those who blindly profess Shakespeare’s greatness, it has since become a badge of honour for Shakespeare fans. 

By Subhalakshmi Roy/Raintree Media Features