The Madras Players, which celebrated its golden jubilee in 2005, is the oldest English theatre group in India. We started out as a group of young theatre enthusiasts, mostly students, who were members of a play-reading group established by the British Council to promote English language theatre. Our early efforts were confined to Shakespeare and classic British and American plays. We then went on to present contemporary plays.
In the late sixties and early seventies, we attempted English translations of works by Indian playwrights. These plays were successful and well received by our audiences because of their relevance. Between 1963 and 1970, Girish Karnad was working in Madras and was an active member of our group as an actor, director and translator. To quote him – "In those seven years (with The Madras Players) I was involved with some twenty plays – by Pinter, Williams, Shaw, Beckett – and I learnt how language needs to be used on stage: the rhythm, the pacing, the allowances for breath and movement, the pause, the pitching. We also staged some translations by Sartre, Pirandello, Chekhov and so on, and quite diligently compared different versions before deciding on any one. This was excellent training and I asked myself why I couldn’t translate my own plays."
The Madras Players is focused on encouraging English plays on Indian themes. In the year 2000, we celebrated the year of the Chennai playwright. We presented plays by playwrights based in Chennai and dramatised readings of works which emerged from participants in a theatre workshop directed by Mahesh Dattani, which we organised in collaboration with the British Council.
Our journey over the decades has been enjoyable but not always easy. Theatre is an expensive activity. We strive for maximum professionalism in our work but we are strictly an amateur group, giving freely of our time and resources. With rising costs this has become difficult and we find we now depend increasingly on commercial and corporate sponsorship. Therefore, we appeal for more financial support so that we can continue our effort to promote good theatre. We acknowledge with gratitude the support we have always received from the British Council, Max Mueller Bhavan, American Center and Alliance Française.
Finally, our thanks to all our members and our loyal audiences – without you we would not have been able to travel so far.