Mandala Theatre Nepals looks ahead to better days as it attempts to reinvent itself in a new space.


Ten years since it first opened to the public with the Kathmandu International Theatre Festival 2012 as its coorganiser along with Aarohan Gurukul, Mandala Theatre Nepal, located at Anamnagar, remains one of the influential theatrical hubs in the City.

As it continues on its theatrical journey, it has taken another step forward - reinventing its traditional approach and its theatre. It will be staging plays via a comprehensive theatre venue in Thapagaun, New Baneshwore, where it has shifted to.

"It is one-of-a-kind of theatre where all aspects of theatre and art would be available under one roof," as per Som Nath Khanal, one of the founding members of Mandala Theatre Nepal. Started initially as a theatre group in 2008, Mandala Theatre Nepal is the brainchild of three likeminded individuals who envisioned to create a mark in teh Nepali theatre scene - Dayahang Rai, Rajan Khatiwada, and Shrijana Limbhu (Subba).

Khatiwada, who was trained at Aarohan Gurukul, the first drama school of the country, joined hands with Rai and Subba, who was trained at Actor's Studio in 2008, to create Mandala Theatre Nepal. The trio were looking to create a mark in Nepali theatre and this desire bought them together. They collaborated with some of the active artistes from Kathmandu, and performed experimental and outdoor plays.

Maila Dot Com was the first official production of Mandala Theatre Nepal in DECC Hall, World Trade Centre, Kathmandu. And after a series of productions and activities, in January 2010, Mandala Theatre Nepal was legally registered. Since then the group has been staging plays nationally and internationally.

All under one roof

While they had been managing in a limited space in Anamnagar, the new theatre space is spread over two ropanis of land, and comprises four buildings including two auditoriums.

With an open parking space along with restrooms, garden, and a waiting lounge, the theatre "has all aspects for the convenience of all visitors", as per Khanal.

The first floor of the main building includes space for a coffee shop, open gallery, books and merchandise shop, box office, two rooms for artiste's residency, and a hallway/lobby.

"The space in Anamnagar had just a theatre hall. There was nothing much for visitors. But this time we we hope to cater to the audience diverse aspects of art," explained Khanal.

The rooftop area of the main building will be used as a restaurant and artists' cafe. They will be starting "a full-fledged restaurant comprising all basic amenities of a restaurant".

Among the two auditoriums, the bigger hall has a capacity of accommodating 200 audience members with luxury seating arrangements.

The smaller auditorium is a flexible studio in the concept of blackbox theatre and can accommodate 100 audience members at a time, informed Khanal. Both the auditoriums have basic technical facilities such as light and sound system, control rooms, changing rooms, AC, among others.

There will also be a space for workshop, storeroom, and some office spaces on the second floor of another building. Another building has been designed as a "a residential block with hostel rooms, kitchen, bathrooms, open terraces, and rooftop".

New approach

It is Rai, Khatiwada, Limbu Subba, Khanal, Buddhiram Tamang, Umesh Bahadur Tamang, Pradip Kumar Chaudhary, Bikash Joshi, Bijay Baral, Mohammad Najir Husen, Dilbandhu Yadav (Suraj), Nabina Aryal and Suraj Karki who have taken this initiative to continue the legacy of the theatre in a renewed version.

To gather all facilities at one space, Mandala Theatre Nepal has projected they need Rs 5.5 cores. The funds for the construction are being managed from bank loans, individual investment of 13 team members and loan from friends and family.

But why a new space? As per Khanal, the theatre in Anamangar was on a lease for 10 years and the lease expired this year.

"So we had to look for an alternative and foreseeing today's state, all the members had a strategic planning meeting to tackle the forthcoming challenges in 2021," informed Khanal adding, "As per the decision of that meeting we planned to buy land on the outskirts of Kathmandu, and build a full-fledged theatre."

But this couldn't happen as the price of the land did not reduce even after the earthquake and it was very expensive for us to execute the plan, Khanal added.

However, they started looking for land on lease and "found this new space - we have got it on lease for three years". The current rent for the land is Rs 300,000 per month, informed Khanal.

Sharing the reason behind making an investment of such a hefty amount, Khanal said, "We all are theatre lovers and this is what we have been doing. We all are sure that we can make this work and all we need is a new strategy and approach to our work, and we have that. Most of all, we believe we all are made for this and this is what has kept us going all this time."

This time, the team at Mandala Theatre Nepal is also looking at both doing business and social work along with theatrical activities - "We have registered Mandala Theatre Nepal both as a company and an organisation. We will contribute to society and do social work via an organisation and execute income-generating activities via the company,'' informed Khanal.

"We had to register as a company as well, as we felt just as an organisation it's difficult to sustain and make Nepal theatre progress; we have faced that difficulty. So this time we are executing a two-way approach."

Mandala Theatre Nepal with its revamped structure at the new venue envisions to "exchange and promote theatrical art and culture for peace, prosperity and diverse societal development".

Similarly, the team is planning to develop more theatre manpower who would help in the flourishing of theatre all over Nepal.

Khanal hopes to give hope to all theatre artistes that there's ''still a light at the end of the tunnel. We all can sustain from theatre".

Theatre for all ...

Among the many new strategies, Mandala Theatre Nepal's key strategy would be to gather more number of audiences.

"We have realised that the number of people who are aware of theatre is less and the audience coming to watch plays mostly belong to middle-class families. We have failed to bring in audience from families of lower economic status, or those from the elite class. So, we are working on this to make 'theatre for all'.

Our first work would be to bring all these three sets of people to the theatre," shared Khanal.

Similarly, Mandala will be doing marketing to grow its business. "Now as we enter the modern theatre and modern approach, we believe marketing is the important element. So now we will be promoting our space, work and vision among people. We are working on marketing tools."

Sharing that the new theatre and modern pattern will not just benefit the team but the entire theatre community of Nepal, Khanal concluded, "This is the time we support each other, this is the time we take a leap, this is the time we make a space for the theatre fraternity. Let's all be together in this."

The theatre is not ready to open immediately, and all the works are scheculed to be completed within the next three months.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 30, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.