Sandbox Collective: Ten years of fostering Bengaluru’s theatre scene

Nimi Ravindran and Shiva Pathak’s story reads somewhat serendipitous. Their paths first converged in 2003, during the production of a theatre project that would set the stage for an enduring collaboration. What began as a shared endeavour blossomed into a profound connection, driven by a common vision — the desire to bring together Bengaluru’s scattered theatre community.

The year 2012 marked a pivotal moment for the duo when they organised The Great Galata, a theatre festival designed to celebrate World Theatre Day. This event was an open invitation to actors, directors and playwrights, held at the iconic Ranga Shankara for four days. “During this time, the theatre community in Bangalore, although scattered, came together. We ate together, collaborated, and supported one another,” recalls Nimi.

Over three years, from 2012 to 2014, this experience brought together around 100 artistes, igniting a sense of camaraderie reminiscent of college days. However, the year 2013 marked a turning point, as Nimi and Shiva decided to expand their collaboration and establish an organisation.

Nimi and Shiva’s decision to form Sandbox Collective was not only a pursuit of their artistic dreams but also a response to the challenges artistes face in India, including the scarcity of resources, funding, and infrastructure. Recognising the need for a more conducive environment, the Collective was born with the hope that it would eventually benefit the broader artistic ecosystem.

About their motivation to start the Collective, Nimi explains, “Our idea was to create a better environment and infrastructure for ourselves as artistes. We wanted to work every day, be it through rehearsals, rigorous practice, or creating shows that involved travel.”

She adds, “Our journey has been characterised by some significant changes. In the first year, it felt like we were experiencing rapid growth due to the sheer number of shows and projects. However, we started with a clear vision of not wanting to produce commercial work. This meant we did not collaborate with stand-up comedians, not because we didn’t appreciate their craft, but because stand-up comedy already had a substantial audience and commercial success.”

A scene from Mandeep Raikhy’s play, Queen Size, that discusses sexuality

A scene from Mandeep Raikhy’s play, Queen Size, that discusses sexuality
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Ticket to inclusivity

What set Sandbox Collective apart during this period was its approach to ticketing. Instead of fixed ticket prices, they employed donation boxes, allowing audiences to contribute what they could afford. This approach democratised theatre, making it accessible to a broader audience. “We used to perform wherever we could, including people’s homes,” says Nimi.

These intimate settings helped bridge the gap between the performers and the audience. Instead of the traditional response of ‘good show, I enjoyed it’ — they allowed for deeper post-show conversations.

However, Nimi acknowledges the challenges they faced. “Financially, this approach was not sustainable because some of the audience, particularly those who were financially well-off, often didn’t realise the costs involved in our productions and operations. And yet, we did 120-plus shows every year for the first five years of our existence because it was important and it brought us a lot of joy.” 

Sandbox Collective also recognises the importance of community-owned and led art spaces. Shiva reckons, “In today’s India, we see the corporatisation of the arts — glitzy buildings and well-funded ventures that beg the question, ‘Who is it for?’ Maybe there’s space for all of that, but we must simultaneously work to create community-owned art spaces that break and oppose the hegemony of these affluent spaces.”

Gender Bender

One of the pivotal initiatives of the Sandbox Collective is the Gender Bender festival, a celebration of gender and its multifaceted dimensions. Launched in 2015, with the support of Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, this festival was initially conceived as a small, one-time event. It quickly gained momentum due to unexpected public support. “It made us realise there was a real need for spaces and conversations centered around gender,” says Nimi. 

The festival is divided into two sections. In one, it showcases the works created by the 10 artistes from various disciplines who have received a Gender Bender grant for that year. The other section features performances, workshops, film screenings and more.

Sandbox Collective has also nurtured a feminist library, a space where the voices of women and gender minorities are amplified.

As Sandbox Collective completes a decade since its inception, the organisation’s founders envision a dynamic future. They aspire for it to be a space populated by artistes and individuals passionately dedicated to the arts. “It should constantly change and flow based on what the needs are 10 years from now,” says Shiva, “Remember Bruce Lee said, ‘Be like water.’ We hope Sandbox can be like water and make its way through the cracks.”

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