I was told that the location of the picturesque Kala Academy complex in Panjim was chosen by the government of the time deliberately to deprive political rival Dr. Jack Sequeira of the commanding “vista do rio” that he possessed from his home. If true, it was an extremely spiteful thing to do.
Be that as it may, the Kala Academy performance spaces have been the hub for culture and entertainment in the city and the state ever since its inception. Some of the most exhilarating and formative concerts of our generation took place at the outdoor auditorium, the Dinanath Mangueshkar indoor auditorium, and perhaps to a lesser degree, the Black Box.
One could spend a lot of time reminiscing on the great moments lived here, but precisely because one loves the space so much, I’d like to point out one little thing.
The decision to install fire doors at the Dinanath Mangueshkar indoor auditorium may have been motivated by extremely good intentions, but it was an ill-advised one, at least in their current state.
You encounter two sets of these fire doors in the main entrance, and in the access to the backstage area; you also encounter a single fire door leading from the auditorium to the stage on either side, and two of them between the green room and the backstage area.
Nothing wrong with that, you might well think. But the problem is that they slam and click shut, and the noise is loud enough to mar a performance. This is especially true at an unamplified concert, and specifically for a western classical music concert.
This is itself would not be such a problem if the doors were manned, and if and when they are manned, that casual entry and exit in mid-performance is discouraged. The benchmark and yardstick in my view has to be the excellently run NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) at Mumbai’s Nariman Point. Its auditoria have fire-proof doors too, but the door attendants are at the door throughout the performance, and do not let in latecomers until a work is finished and the applause has begun and there is enough time for the latecomers to find their seats before the next piece of music or act of a play begins.
The discipline is so ingrained that even in the fast-paced city that Mumbai is, most patrons will factor in traffic snarls to ensure that they are in their seats on time; those who arrive late reconcile themselves to waiting in the lobby until they are let in at an opportune moment by the doormen. Once in, patrons leave only at a convenient break in performance.
Contrast this with the slamming of the doors at the Dinanath Mangueshkar indoor auditorium, particularly the one at the back, each time an audience member enters or exits, something that can happen pretty much throughout a performance.
This is an issue that has bedevilled the indoor auditorium and the Black Box from its inception. I remember attempts made to address this back in 1989. Someone came up with the idea of locking the doors after the concert began, effectively sealing the audience in and latecomers out. That however led to several tardy patrons being locked out after the interval, and there was a merry hunt for the key, and quite a few missed out on a large chunk of the second half of that concert! As can be imagined, the idea was quickly discarded. I am not sure if other remedies were tried, but the problem persists.
The problem, on the face of it, can be addressed quite simply and cheaply, by lining the door edges with something soft, like rubber or felt cloth, to muffle the slamming sound when one door shuts upon the other. I have suggested this to various member-secretaries and vice-chairpersons of the Kala Academy, but it hasn’t been tried yet. Or perhaps it is time to replace the rather antiquated doors with better ones that do not slam or click, and are padded, to seal in the sound and keep out extraneous noise.
The other issue, which can still be solved, but will take more effort, is having the doors at all times manned by personnel who will only allow entry at appropriate times. This will take some training, but as has been achieved so admirably with Mumbai’s NCPA, it can be done. We as members of the public have gotten accustomed to sauntering in and out as we please, and this has to stop.
And the staff should be educated to themselves maintain decorum and silence when a performance is on. All too often, the chatter among the staff at the door wafts into the auditorium. It is easy to assume, once one is in the space between the double doors before the exit, that one is now “out of earshot” and many exiting patrons feel encouraged to get on their phones, unwittingly letting everyone in the auditorium in on their conversation.
In fact, the whole rear portion of the auditorium, from the last few rows to the exit lull some into the false notion that surreptitious sotto voce conversations will not be heard at the front. But, for all its acoustical imperfections, the sound carries right across. I remember being at a piano recital by Karl Lutchmayer quite a few years ago, where he had to remind the audience in his polite, tactful way, that just as the sound of his playing could be heard all the way to the last row, so too he could hear everything from the back rows on the stage while he played. The errant chatty duo took a while to realise that he was referring to them. I was glad Lutchmayer spoke up. Too many performers suffer the disturbance silently, perhaps out of politeness, not to embarrass their hosts or the public.
I was reminded of this more recently, at another piano recital, when another pair of chatterers had to be admonished by a member of the public as they could be heard in the front rows.
This may sound like a rant, and perhaps it is, but it is made with the best of intentions. These are issues that have been around for too long, and with some simple measures and education, can easily be remedied to enhance the already wonderful experience so many of us have at the Kala Academy. Conversely, a truly sublime recital by a performer of the highest order can be ruined by an ill-timed door slam.
(An edited version of this article was published on 21 May 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)