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Corporate executives take to theatre to beat slowdown blues

Almost every night for the last two months, a group of senior corporate executives are being taken to task in a dingy Gurgaon basement. So what's the plot?

, ET Bureau|
Feb 25, 2009, 06.12 AM IST
GEETU Verma is executive director, innovations , Pepsi. Naturally, she���s s not used to taking orders, but giving them. Ditto for Rohit Ohri, managing partner, JWT Delhi. And yet, come sundown everyday for the last couple of months, the two of them are continuously being told what to do and what not to do.

Every move they make is closely scrutinised and criticism is always round the corner. Still they would not trade their afterhours engagement in a dingy basement where they are constantly being bossed around, for the comfort of an airconditioned board room where they call the shots.

Why are they willing to undergo what seems like an apparent nightmare? Quite simply because it���s giving them an opportunity to go back to a shared passion that they thought had become nothing more than the occassional coffee-table conversation and snaps in the college-days picture album ��� theatre.

And they are just two in a long list of marquee names who have come together to stage Neil Simon���s ���The Good Doctor���

Others who join them night after night in the abandoned basement are Amar Raj Singh a former Coke man and currently managing director Pizzakraft , Nevin Kishore, senior consultant, Max Healthcare Centers, Gagan Singh, CEO projects and development , Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj, Ramesh Thakur, CEO, B2B.C Direct, Vanessa Ohri, Ruby Kapoor, chief PR manager, HUDCO, Ravi Kapoor, MDAsia TUKATECH and Vikas Verma, founder and CEO, The Colour Factory Chain of Stores, among others.

The man they are all taking order from is Sunil Gupta, former JWT man and currently managing partner, Results International , who is the director of the play.

It all began courtesy a series of monthly play reading sessions over a year ago. One thing led to another and the next day they were casting for the play in a makeshift rehearsal studio. Everyday as the sun sets the cast and crew leave their corner offices to head to the basement where rehearsals happen and no diva like behaviour is tolerated.

Away from the maddening corporate crowd, they spout lines from ���The Good Doctor��� which is a tribute to the legendary Russian author Anton Chekhov. No big B-school degrees or mighty designations work here, but what helps is a rekindled passion for the stage and a common goal to stage a flawless rendition of a Broadway favourite, a month from now.

Given that this is a bunch of corporate executives it is but natural that this particular play was chosen for strategic reasons. The play is a compilation of short stories, which means not everyone has to be there at the same time.

They may not have faced the audiences in a while (boardroom presentations apart), but they are no spring chicken. Ramesh Thakur for example has acted in almost 30 productions and is well known on the Delhi theatre scene.

Rohit Ohri has been a small screen star having essayed the lead in a hit TV drama called Ganadevta. But that doesn���t mean the cast is immune to what they call the jitters. Despite being a theatre junkie and an experienced stage actor, Singh, who plays the title role of the writer, can���t ignore his nerves.

He confesses to having nightmares about forgetting his lines on stage. But a creative solution followed. Placing his script on an exercise machine, he reads his lines while working out for an hour every morning. Pre-opening night jitters have already firmly gripped this talented star cast.

Ohri too will feel the pressure for not only is his wife a cast member, his son (who has never seen his father on stage) has caught the acting bug and is playing a part in the production as well. Excited at the prospect of having her family and friends in the audience checking her every move on stage, Verma says, ���There is no time for jitters right now, but I���m certain two days before the big night I���m bound to feel some butterflies.���

As the big day nears, the drama continues. There are always some theatrical hiccups, and one hurdle was getting sponsors. They didn���t expect much, but a smart business decision like producing a brochure and selling ad space for Rs10,000 or Rs 20,000 has worked wonders, helping the group to cover production costs. It���s certainly good news that they have production designer Sukrit Singh, whose day-job is CEO of Encompass , a WPP group company that does brand activation .

But as time rolls on they have managed to get some of the big ticket names like Airtel, Pepsi, Fritolay and Hero Honda to chip in as well. One supposes that being in a high profile corporate job is not so bad after all and now the stage it seems is set for the return of the prodigals. Given that this is the one time this elite group is taking orders, we at BE order them: ���Break a leg!���
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