In Bangladesh today, ‘Group Theatre’ is the dominant mode of organization that is engaged in producing theatre in urban locations. Theatre ensembles organized by adopting such a mode produce plays entirely in Bengali, and emphasize collective egalitarianism against the dominance of celebrity performers. The Group Theatre mode of organization began to emerge in the country in 1972, immediately after a horrendous civil war fought against Pakistan in 1971. Today, a network of over 250 non-profit city-based theatre ensembles, gathered under an umbrella organization named Group Theatre Federation, stage modern theatre productions in many urban locations of the country. Members of these ensembles are mostly middle-class students and professionals belonging to the media, advertising agencies, and other private services. The ensembles inculcate professionalism in the work that they produce, but are run by voluntary contributions of its members, box office receipt, revenue accrued from adverts published in souvenirs, and occasional sponsorship from national and multinational industrial and trading houses.
“নাট কর নাটুয়া তাল বাহ ছলে ।
তোহ্মার মাদলে কেন গুরু গুরু বোলে॥..”
“As you enact, O Actor, maintaining rhythm in disguise,
Why does your drum rumble repeatedly
‘Master, O Master!’.”
-Sheikh Faizullah, “Goraksha Bijay”
The organizational notion of Group Theatre emerged in Kolkata in India immediately after 1947, when theatre ensembles such as Bohurupee attempted to distinguish themselves from both the amateur companies (which failed to reach up to the professional standard) and the professional companies (which pandered with profit and commerce, and hence could not aim for artistic excellence even at the cost of box-office failure). When the notion of the Group Theatre was introduced in Bangladesh in 1972, most of the practitioners were fresh, with hardly any or no prior experience in theatre. Nevertheless, they were seared with indelible experience of the war that liberated Bangladesh in 1971, and were charged with memorable performances by Group Theatre ensembles they had attended in Kolkata. Today, the network of Group Theatre ensembles in Bangladesh can claim a glorious history, for it has produced a number of amazing and wondrous productions. However, pursued by globalization and neoliberalism, the middle-class theatre practitioners who form the backbone of the ensembles today, appear to be shadows of their former dynamic selves. The economics of life and living are at complete odds with their passion for theatre that fetches no financial reward. In such a context, the Group Theatre ensembles are failing to produce quality performances that live up to a professional standard. If theatre in Bangladesh has to continue producing acclaimed productions, the organizational mechanics of the Group Theatre is no longer a valid option.