The Light Fantastic
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Anasuya Vaidya, technical director at Delhi's Akshara theatre, on lighting a Broadway play at 15 and how the "break in darkness" became a lifetime's passion.
As a theatre person, you must befriend darkness and conquer light. In darkness, you get to scurry around, slip out of character, remove props, bring in furniture, change location, bypass time, alter mood and modify course of action. In the light, there is no escape. Light demarcates those who watch and those who are watched. The play happens in this "break in darkness".
Anasuya Vaidya, 53, has been breaking the darkness since she was 10, and in 1975, when she was 15, became the youngest person to light a Broadway play. For the last 40 years, she has been the technical director of Akshara theatre in Delhi, helmed by her parents — acclaimed theatre couple Jalabala Vaidya and Gopal Sharman. Today, she also runs Saa Ree Gaa, a production house, with her husband, but she grew up with makeshift theatres, international tours and forfeited routine schooling.
Her earliest memories of theatre date back to her home in Delhi's Bengali Market of the late '60s where her parents built a "really pretty brick-tiered open-air theatre" with cowdung plaster using a platform, on which pickles were sunned, as the foundation. "Om Shivpuri and Ram Gopal Bajaj were our neighbours. They were supposed to help. But I just remember them striking artistic poses with a cigarette in hand," she says warmly, as her Siamese cat Babul purrs and demands his own limelight.
She started working in the theatre as an usher, tearing out ticket stubs and showing people to their seats. Her parents moved to the present Akshara theatre in 1972 with its custom-made hardwood stage area and softwood auditorium. With her parents multitasking between direction, production and acting, she adopted the light and sound department "out of sheer necessity, not necessarily for a love of lighting". But obligation soon evolved into a lifetime's passion.