Going back to the history of the Street theatre it can be seen that the Street theatre dates back to the mid nineteenth century. Street theatre is known to appear in the 1940s though there is no proper indication of the date and time during which it has taken place. ‘Chargesheet’ is to be known to have its place among the earliest Street theatres. Street theatre as a form of art and culture has its strength in the writings of Badal Sircar, a legendary playwright and director of the twentieth century. Sircar in his Third theatre or the Free theatre, so as reductively called, gives his idea about the social and political structure of India. Sircar named this third theatre as the street theatre because according to him first and the second theatre describes the normal folk art form and the Victorian art form respectively. Highly notable, his plays bring out the social and political message in a more straight and simple way having a definite rhythm of its own. Nowadays street theatre has become a path to manifold social and political messages to the general mass. Apart from this, street theatre also helps create a kind of awareness among the general mass regarding the upcoming problems in the society.
However, history also speaks of the street theatre in another way. In 7th century A.D., Muslims invaded the Indian Subcontinent. Muslims were averse to art and did not encourage theatre. But the local inhabitants were non-muslims. So it was not possible to abolish local socio-cultural and economic structures. As a result of this the form of theatre also changed. It was not performed then in Maharajas places, but acquired the form of street theatre. This popular theatre was called ‘Rahs’. Rahs and Swang were Punjabi names of street theatre in Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh it was known as ‘Naotunki’. In Bengal it was known as ‘Jatra’.
The street theatre, as the name suggests, can be seen in any areas such as, the market place, the parks, the play grounds and even in front of your office or house being performed by a group of people such as the teachers and the students mostly, but also by some others who are the members of any local club or some regional cultural samitis. They are learned enough to take the responsibility to bring about a social change.
Street theatre is therefore performed in a situation where people are not ready to watch or listen to the actors or actresses. Out of a general curiosity people gather to see the happenings and watch them. Passers by stop to watch the play performed on the street just as one would stop to see the snake charmer’s magic or a bear and a monkey dancer. Some would notice it as a mere play and some would follow it as it wants to display. Here comes out the real intentions of the theatre. The theatre would then initialize people to think over the topic and understand the social or the political issues.
Considering India as a social, economic, democratic and republic country the street artists has taken a serious task to show the people the different hazardous problems we are passing through. The quivering news that we watch or hear every moment has been brought out by the content of the street theatre. The substance of the street theatre abounds from marriage to dowry, from racial distinctions to political pressures. Beside the first and the second theatre, street theatre is the most important one in recent time. In the words of Badal Sircar, ‘In spite of the tremendous popularity of the folk theatre in rural areas, the ideas and the values it dealt with remained backward…. Whereas the city theatre could propagate progressive ideas and values to a sophisticated audience which would be mentally stimulated at best but would not or could not act upon them.’ That is why he propagated the art of theatre that would curtail down the cost of tickets and help the people to understand the passing issues more precisely. This enhanced the growth of street theatre to the future.
Apart from bringing any social change, the street theatre also acts as a political weapon. The associates of the political leaders perform activities to show the importance, to make people understand the reason to vote for them.
Discussing more about the street theatre it has come to known that Jana Natya Mancha pioneered the street theatre in north India. Samudaya has taken its leading role in south India. Related with the Jana Natya Mancha, Safdar Hashmi was the person who was among the members of the founders of this mancha. His birthday on 12th April is known as the National Street Theatre Day in India.
On further analyses, Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold(1874) can also be recalled for his theatrical innovation in the Russian Theatre. As an opponent of social realism, Meyerhold fiercely confronted the principles of theatrical academism, claiming that they are incapable of finding a common language with the new reality. His theatre was not only made for the general people but also politicize the everyday popular trials. This is the innovation or the highest point achieved by the tradition of the street theatre. His methods of scenic constructivism and circus-style effect attracted the people most.
The street theatre however, attracts people by playing a ‘dholak’. There is no place for separate costumes. The actors generally wear the same costume and their faces are painted white with their eyes an exaggerated black to show the facial expressions. There happens to be one speaker and all actors. No mike is used except the gathering accumulates a lot of people.
Street theatre is a vehicle to provide social, political and domestic showcase. It is the parameter to develop more consciousness among the people, to draw their attention in order to make the country more beautiful in our own eyes. We will surely hope for a day when there will be no racial, political or social discriminations. Street theatre is only a mere path to find this purity, it is one of the ways to bring out the best in every human being, to bloom the lotus in every mind.