This research project focuses on investigating existing practices, patterns and problems, and lack thereof, in the context of safety in the performing arts from the lens of individual practitioners working with formal or quasi-formal theatre groups, collectives and institutions. It advocates for safety as a continuous, highly personalized practice that is neither a one-size-fits all approach nor a set of rigid never-evolving rules, but something that is contextual and personalized to the needs of the individual practitioner or the group.
We have made our agenda and area of research accessible and scalable at the same time so that it is practically feasible for us to survey, document, develop, implement and follow up with the subjects involved over the course of this project. Hence, we stick to personal (individual) safety only, and do not focus on infrastructural safety (as in the case of performing arts venues) or ecosystem safety (as in the case of regulatory bodies in the fields of arts and culture). We explore different aspects of safety for an individual practitioner in different scenarios and how theatre organisations (or the formal or quasi-formal workplaces of these practitioners) can build safety practices which incorporate different aspects around physical, mental, emotional, financial and legal safety of the individual.
This project was initiated in November 2022 by Kaivalya Plays, a Delhi-based performing arts and production company whose work in this domain is guided by applied improvisational theatre techniques. In early 2022, Varoon P. Anand received the Arts Research Programme grant from the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) to continue this research.
To investigate existing safety practices in urban contemporary theatre set up across 6 major state capitals taking theatre groups established post 1995 in each of these cities as case studies.
To understand the extent of relevance and causation between taboo and hesitation around safety and the thread of guru-shishya relationship between directors and actors and/or theatre facilitators and participants in the Indian scenario.
To explore tools, mechanisms and guidelines through which practitioners can assess, define and practice a culture of safety for their respective groups.
The study relies on two modes of enquiry – firstly, documented case study interviews with contemporary theatre groups, collectives and institutions from 6 different cities and secondly, an in-depth questionnaire survey filled by 300 performing arts professionals across India – to inform the areas and scenarios of safety that are most critical to the real-world needs and functioning of the practitioners. With the help of an extensive literature review of existing resources and research on the topic, we would also conduct safety sessions with controlled groups of practitioners to understand whether the above mechanisms to assess, define and implement safety in their respective groups are feasible or not.
The end outcome of this research supports the creation of a publicly accessible resource library containing safety checklists, guidelines, contracts and templates that can then be used by any practitioners and group in India to kickstart a conversation about safety for their practitioners and projects, as well as use these resources as a starting point to implement these practices in their immediate setting
The study should, ideally, have the immediate impact of removing the stigmatization around the conversation of having and maintaining safety standards in Indian performing arts. While the instituting of guidelines will take time and punitive measures against individuals or organizations who are found in violation of guidelines is not the remit of this study, the presence of a necessary conversation on consent and safety should be acknowledged and accepted. As the culture of this conversation grows and reaches more people it can be explored and discussed in more effective ways over time.
The publishing of this research will encourage more companies to come forward with their specific cases to add to the study. More organizations will allow us to identify the most common patterns present in practice today. They could indicate what is most commonly neglected, which areas are being ignored completely, and which areas are being addressed.
Performers, especially female and other non cis-het male performers are woefully under-represented in the establishment of consent and safety rules. Yet, it is precisely their experiences with breaches in safety that warrant safety practices in most cases. This study hopes that more people will be encouraged to speak about their experiences, in order to bring awareness to their occurrence and the urgent need to bring practices and guidelines on consent and safety in the performing arts.
The primary goal of this study will remain to establish the idea of safety as a practice and a culture. It has to evolve and be re-evaluated at regular intervals. It has to be applied when entering any space of work, and its rules must remain engaged until the end of the performance period. These practices govern performance as an art form and encourage artists to explore their full potential. Artists should not feel like they are asking for too much when they seek safety at their workplace and neither should the figure in authority feel unequipped to provide that. By instituting safety as part of the routine of practice, artists can work without fear or anxiety and strive for excellence and greater reward from their practice.
Meet The Team
Varoon P. Anand
Varoon P. Anand is Delhi’s most experienced Improv trainer and performer. Beginning his career under the guidance of Danielle Miles, of Fortetheatre UK, he co-founded Improv8 at Panama’s renowned Theatre Guild of Ancón in 2008. In Delhi, Varoon began teaching Improv in 2012 through Kaivalya Plays, the theatre company he founded, and in 2014 formed CueLess Improv, the capital’s most prolific team of short-form improv performers. Varoon continued training in improv with many teachers including Saif Ali, of Batlahouse theatre, learning and collaborating from 2015-16. In 2018, in collaboration with the Goethe Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan and medical practitioners, Varoon created Unravel, an improv show about mental health. Along with being the Artistic Director of Kaivalya Plays, CueLess Improv, and El Clavileño (India’s only Spanish language theatre group), he was also the former artistic director of the Little Theatre Group (LTG) Repertory 2019. As of 2020, Varoon has trained more than 300 performers in spontaneous improvisation, facilitated workshops for over 600 people in improvisation for mental wellness and collaborated with institutions like Embassy of Spain, Embassy of Argentina, Embassy of Ecuador, Indian Habitat Centre, Little Theatre Group (LTG), Oddbird Theatre & Foundation amongst others. For the last 3 years, Varoon has been developing work that applies his broad experience in theatre towards mental wellness. He regularly facilitates workshops that incorporate principles of improvisation, support groups and drama therapy.
To this research project, he brings the experience of developing an arts-based approach to mental wellness through the world of spontaneous improvisation with the help of mental health practitioners, as well as being the lead facilitator of Headspace, an improv for mental health initiative with Oddbird Theatre & Foundation that has been in place since July 2019 and has seen participation from 600+ individuals across India, US, UK, Spain, and Germany
Ankita Mathur is a product data scientist at Sundial, automating product analytics and giving it to the user as a visual narrative. She has been working in the data and tech ecosystem for the last six years and currently lives and works in Bengaluru. She graduated in Economics and did her master's from Kings College London after getting selected for Kings India master scholarship, specializing in research on emerging economies. For joy - she loves to practice data art, write about things that amuse her, and practice Kathak. Since childhood, she has been passionate about learning the Indian classical dance form Kathak. In 2019, she joined 'Kalashram' - the school of Late Pt. Birju Maharaj. She practiced directly under Vidushi Saswati Sen - one of India's most acclaimed Kathak dancers of India who masters the forte of Abhinaya in Kathak. Learning from her was a unique experience. She also got a chance to perform with her group at Triveni Kalashram.
Her unique blend of skills in data, tech, research, and a strong connection with the Indian classical dance, helps her add a distinct value to this project. She will help design the research framework, create surveys, and curate a literature review in a useable format for the project. She will also help analyze all the qualitative and quantitative data collected to help understand the best resources required for the safety of performing arts professionals.
Digital & Documentation Consultant
Gaurav Singh Nijjer (he/him) is a theatre-maker, creative technologist and arts manager from New Delhi, India. He's the General Manager at Kaivalya Plays, an Indian performing arts company and works as a freelancer with arts collectives across India and Europe. He graduated with MA in Advanced Theatre Practice (Distinction) at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2021, receiving the prestigious Chevening Scholarship from the UK Government. In 2022, he moved to Berlin, Germany to undertake the German Chancellor Fellowship where he is conducting a 12-month arts research project on audiences for digital theatre and hybrid performances with the Berlin-based Rimini Protokoll as his host organization. As a theatre-maker, his artistic practice investigates live performance and audience-performer interactivity using technology and distanced composition. In 2021, he received two grants under the C3: Codes, Creativity and Community program by Goethe-Institut India and BeFantastic to create open-source community platforms for arts funding and arts education.
To this research project, he brings the experience of being the production manager at Kaivalya Plays tasked with expanding the reach of their mental wellness and safe space projects to audiences in India and abroad, the first-hand experience of being a performer in the devised play Unravel which looked at therapeutic effects of improv and mental health and finally, as a management graduate from SSCBS (India’s top-ranked undergraduate business college) wherein he studied research methodology and management as a dedicated subject. He is additionally an arts researcher on two other performing arts projects looking at digital theatre and AI-based performances.
We'd like to acknowledge the contribution of Nuhar Bansal, who worked on the initial research brief and short survey in mid-2020, as a fellow under the Theatre Management Fellowship by Kaivalya Plays.
Invite us to undertake an in-depth interview with your organization to help you identify, formulate and institute your safety practice, as well as contribute to the final research outcomes.
Invite us to conduct a personalized workshop for your organization around building safe spaces, having difficult conversations, and creating safety protocols, among other focus areas.
Collaborate with us to disseminate this research project across the length and breadth of the Indian performing arts community, to diversify the scope of this research and its outcomes.