The NCPA gets a nip and tuck

The process of upgrading our facilities at NCPA has recently taken another step forward under the supervision of Technical Director Nayan Kale and his team. By Richard Nowell

It is worth noting that it has taken two full years to find the time to close the theatres at the NCPA for long enough to carry out at least some of the very necessary outstanding works. Mr. Nayan Kale, General Manager – Technical, at the NCPA, has to balance the urgency of any given project against the artistic demands of NCPA’s programme. The work is certainly not the glamorous face of NCPA but without this kind of behind-the- scenes attention to detail our creative programmes cannot be presented.

Friendly, for audience and environment

Shutting a theatre is expensive both financially and in lost opportunities to present some of the very best performers who are themselves juggling complex diaries. The need for the understanding and support of Mr. Suntook and the Board is not to be underestimated and despite all the conflicting demands a period of time has been found this summer.

After the successful installation of solar panels on every available roof space, the next large project was the replacement of the old and electrically inefficient air-conditioning systems. Mr. Kale’s research led him to the design of a central machine room, handling the air delivery to the JBT, Experimental and office areas. The new JBT air-handling system has been designed to allow the stage to be controlled separately from the auditorium. Combined with the installation of the new fire curtain last year, this allows us to go so far as to seal off the stage and use it for rehearsals or even as a separate, temporary, 300-seater theatre, without having to air-condition the entire building. Performances can now be scheduled to take place with both performers and audience on the main stage – an intimate and unusual theatre space with all the facilities of the JBT but without the expense of opening the full 1000-seater auditorium.

The air-conditioning equipment arrived onsite nearly two years ago and only now has it been possible to install it due to time pressures in the theatres. We must thank the contractors for their patience. The installation process requires the digging in of 400mm insulated pipes across the campus and the installation of completely new infrastructure in the theatres themselves. The JBT is unrecognisable at the moment, with all the ceilings down, seats removed and work going on in every corner.

Getting technical

Mr. Kale took the sensible but demanding decision to add to his workload and exploit the closure period to carry out other necessary works. Around twenty different contractors are being coordinated with a precision normally only found in choreography. The JBT seats are all away being re-upholstered with their frames being refinished onsite; the onstage rigging systems are being stripped and repainted with all the critical steel wires that support the loads over the stage being replaced. Carpets are being redone, walls cleaned and ceilings replaced. Cabling for a new sound system in the JBT Foyer is being installed, though the system itself may not be installed till next season.

In the Experimental Theatre, the new rigging system proposed a year ago has been installed along with new lighting, cabling and control systems. This is a huge undertaking on its own and will reap dividends in the future in the safety and speed of rigging equipment overhead. This is a sea-change in what we can offer producers in the Experimental Theatre, even if most people will never notice it.

The new projector in the Godrej Theatre has freed up a good quality projector for use in the Experimental Theatre allowing us to reduce the expense of hiring in for various productions. The main projector will be hung on a pantograph that will also run on tracks mounted in the ceiling. This means the projector can be rotated and moved, both horizontally and vertically, without even being disconnected, giving great flexibility without the normal penalty of time and cost. The machine in the Godrej Dance Theatre is a much better match for the new sound system installed for film screenings, bringing the standards up to a new level.

The coordination of such works is not to be underestimated and Mr. Kale and his team are solving problems every minute of the day to ensure the theatres are back to full working order in time to reopen. Sadly for them, the successful completion of the works will mean that not much of it is visible when finished. The benefits come in time saved in turnarounds between shows, safety, more comfort for patrons and a great saving in power usage through the efficiency of the new plant.

Celebrating 50 years of the NCPA

As you settle into your newly refurbished seat, complete with its embroidered logo and individual number and enjoy the fresh air and clean surroundings, spare a thought for the team behind the scenes whose work is often felt but not seen.

With the new sound systems in place and new projectors now onsite, the human factor needs attention. Ashwin, Head of Sound, is already pulling his team forward with training sessions presented by external tutors and he is encouraging the team to explore the possibilities presented by the new technology. The department is proving itself on a daily basis and the results are tangible. A specialist division of the lighting team is currently being actively recruited from within existing staff members. The enthusiasm shown by individuals on recent productions, such as the SOI Music Academy’s graduation performances at the Tata Theatre, is a good foundation for the training program to come.

The recent production of Constellations as part of the new theatre project pushed the Theatre and Technical teams and the results spoke for themselves. Most satisfying of all, is the newfound sense of ‘can do’ on the campus, and we look forward to welcoming Constellations back for another run in November, before the teams get their teeth into the challenges presented by our first major in-house theatre production of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d next January.

Of course we have the NCPA’s 50th birthday celebrations this year, with the focus all year on new and interesting presentations. The Indian Music and Dance departments continue to present a range of the very finest performers in their fields to such an extent that the extraordinary sometimes feels normal. We should and will strive to improve the technical support we offer Dr. Rao and Mrs. Dasgupta in delivering their work. The programme through the year will build up to the formal three-day celebration at the end of November, which will include all genres across the whole site. This is nothing, if not a worthwhile challenge.

We look forward to welcoming you to the refreshed NCPA theatres.

All Images © NCPA Mumbai

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the July 2019 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.