Safety Net: How to Navigate Missing Arts Infrastructure

Working in an informal sector has its ups but it definitely has its downs too. Where job postings and HR departments are rare/non-existent, breaking into cliques and finding one’s community can be hard, especially for those just starting out. Fear not! There are some solutions to this problem. 

It was the year 2013. The world had, fortunately, not ended the year before. I was fresh out of Junior College (what the rest of India calls twelfth standard) and thinking, “I want to give this theatre thing a shot.” I had done theatre in school and now in college too, and I knew I enjoyed it in those settings, so it seemed like the time to check if I could handle the “real” thing.

But how do I access this “real thing”? I didn’t know anyone who worked in theatre. I had no immediate contacts I could call. The way I managed to make an entry was purely serendipitous. A friend of a friend had done a workshop with someone, so I sent her a message on Facebook asking if I could intern with her. She shared another contact who needed some backstage assistance with her next shows, and boom! I was in the room.

I was definitely lucky. It helped that I was from Mumbai, and that I had helpful friends-of-friends. Most of all, it was the kindness of theatre people that got me a foot in the door. But breaking into cliques, getting a foothold in the industry, is really hard.


In my informal survey, I asked how frequently the respondent found “breaking into cliques/groups” to be a problem:

Getting to work

Unlike film and television where the option to audition is common, auditions/publicised job openings are uncommon in theatre. Most jobs are filled from within one’s network, making an entry point difficult.

Vivek Madan (Director of Bhasha Centre) shares how he himself tends to follow this same pattern. “If I have a project and need, let’s say, a stage manager, I’m going to open my phone and call the same 4-5 numbers every time. And if one of those people is not free, I’m stuck. There may be someone qualified and available, who I just haven’t met yet.”

Though the website is in beta, you can already list yourself!

Theatre Yellow Pages is an attempt to bridge this gap. Functioning like any old yellow pages, any theatre person can list themselves on the registry. The fields are wide ranging and attempt to be inclusive. You can also list a theatre-adjacent person on their behalf. Vivek says, “If I have a carpenter whom I trust to do set-building, who understands the usual theatre requirements, I can take their permission and upload their information on the site”. This would be particularly handy for those moving to another city, or even touring in another town. Often, we need small assistance from the local theatre community, and since we tend to work in our own bubbles, we get a bit stuck when we’re out of town. (By the way, though the website isn’t totally ready yet, you can list yourself by clicking on the link). 

Putting yourself out there

Social media gets a lot of flack for being a “fake” space, but we can’t deny the value it adds in being a space for building connections. Whereas people in the corporate sector can look to LinkedIn as a way to reach out to professionals in their field, most creatives in India tend to avoid LinkedIn. How, then, does a creative professional reach out to potential mentors, or look for jobs? The usual strategy is to attend performances/exhibitions and go and talk to the team afterwards. But as one respondent pointed out, just because someone isn’t “brave enough” to make that first conversation in person, doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas worth backing.

Dara was created with “the purpose of facilitating greater community engagement centering around opportunities and work that are inspirational  and relevant”. (courtesy on Medium)

Dara Network is a fantastic resource that has been built to fill this networking gap. Co-founded by Archana Prasad and Sean Blagsvedt, Dara works kind of like a social media network/Slack, with space to list and discover events, network with like-minded professionals, and look for jobs. It took me just 4 minutes to set up a profile, and within a few minutes of signing up I saw a workshop listing that I would love to attend. Dara is free for download on Android and iOS and has a paid version for organisations as well. 

Community as safety net

When the pandemic hit, workers in all kinds of informal sectors faced major issues, and creative professionals were no exception. With little to no support from the government, it was up to artists to support themselves. One attempt at this was Theatre Dost, led by Tamaasha Theatre’s Sapan Saran. Sunil Shanbag, co-founder of Tamaasha, shares how the project grew organically. “Early on in the pandemic, we realised that a lot of people who hold up the system of the theatre – technicians, crew, ushers, for example – are going through immense stress with no safety net. We first set up an information bank: where to access free medical support, how to get oxygen cylinders if needed, etc. Over time, we started collecting funds, and after initially getting amazing support from individuals and groups from the theatre fraternity, we were lucky to get the support of the Harish and Bina Shah Foundation and the Kshirsagar Apte Foundation which allowed us to support 550 families for 6 months with food  and medicines.”

By the time they wrapped up operations in December 2021, Theatre Dost was providing rations to 550 families.

We often have no option besides counting on the community for support. But what happens when there is an incident that risks a creative professional’s physical/mental wellbeing? Most theatre groups are too informal to have an ICC (Internal Complaints Committee), and the spirit of “jugaad” can sometimes mean unsafe and unhealthy working patterns. 

Kaivalya Plays (Delhi) has begun a project titled ‘Arts Safety’ where they are attempting to compile responses from within the industry, and build a publicly available resource library for how to deal with safety incidents. Gaurav Singh Nijjer, General Manager at Kaivalya Plays, says, “We are not trying to create a one-stop list, nor do we think we can be the arbiters of justice. If one person takes up the mantle of being the go-to for anti-harassment support, it is not sustainable. We are hoping that with this resource library, each company has the tools to make their own workspace safer.”

From the outside, everything may seem a bit overwhelming, and I totally understand people’s hesitation to reach out. But more often than not, you are likely to witness the kindness and acceptance of the creative community. Who could better understand the struggle of the hustle? Who better to help you out than your fellow hustlers? 

Many people choose the route of training as a way to build a community, and to find out if the arts are for them, but are often stumped as to where to begin. Tune in next week for a little walk through some solutions made by the creative community.


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Satnaam Shri Waheguru