Public Relations in Performing Arts

Public Relations is an institutional tool adopted to earn the good will of the clients. Public Relations has a universal relevance too among those who look to stay connected with the outside world; particularly artistes. Here’s an attempt to examine how Public Relations comes handy to the artistes at varied circumstances.

As popularly conceived, Public Relations (PR) is an institutional tool adopted to earn the good will of the clients. But when life becomes all about living for one another Public Relations assumes a universal relevance. To live without a daily dose of PR is next to impossible, be it at home, work place or a social gathering. Being those who look to a sustained connect with the connoisseurs, artistes need a higher dose of PR than anyone else.

Performing artistes, these days, are tech savvy. One gets updates of their day to day activities through their FB page or Twitter handle. There are also exclusive groups with the active participation of artistes, art enthusiasts and critics.  Members of these groups, though separated by distance, share material on arts and also discuss and debate topics related to arts. Doesn’t this make practical PR?

Artistes yearn to be amidst the people all along. No art forms survives without peoples’ patronage. The scene is the front row of the crowded Elanjithara Melam assemblage of the famed Thrissur Pooram. Hundreds of percussionists have already lined up, all eyes are on the Pramani (leader). The start signal can come any moment.  The Pramani makes a final check, makes sure that everything is in order, and makes an obeisance to the deity. Normally, the next course would be the start signal. But that’s not to be; stepping forward he looks up at the thousands of spectators gathered there and smiles.  The audience are thrilled, their joys know no bounds, and they feel acknowledged. A small PR gesture; but it pays.

"Artistes yearn to be amidst the people all along"
A Panchari Melam lead by (Late) Peruvanam Appu Marar in progress
Another visible example of artiste-audience affinity exists in case of Kathakali. Perhaps among all, the Kathakali artistes; be it actors, musicians or percussionists; have the maximum fan following. But that is not the focus here. A well-known artiste once said, “Standing on the stage, we quickly scan the audience. Depending on their caliber and mood, we decide on the Manodharma to be enacted on that stage. After all, a performance to be successful has to be appreciated by the audience” This is true in case of Kathakali musicians too, as they decide which Padam (song) is to be elaborated based on the pulse of the audience. Here the artistes use their PR skills to make the programme enjoyable.

"Kathakali artistes and musicians decide on their performance based on the pulse of the audience"
A Major set Kathakali in progress.
In the case of Prabhandham (verbal narration) in Chakiar Koothu and Koodiyattam,   the Vidhushaka (narrator) has the freedom to modify his text to suit the context.  Once an artiste was narrating the incident of Ravana speeding in Pushpaka Vimana (flying Chariot) along with Sita after her abduction. The strike of Air India pilots was on at that time. There came his comment, “If it were to happen today, the Pushpaka Vimana would not have taken off as there are no pilots and Rama would have caught Ravana then and there.” This improvisation was widely applauded. A PR titbit?

Coming to Carnatic Music, (Late) Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar was always at ease in mingling with the audience.  He never missed a chance to chat with his companions and the audience during the brief interludes. His PR tool, the characteristic humour, made him popular to all, be it audience or accompanying artistes. Once Bhagavathar was rendering a Kacheri at the Historic Koodalmanikkam temple, Irinjalakuda in Kerala. This dates back to 70’s. The vast temple ground was jam packed. A person was coming on the stage on and off and checking the cassette recorder kept there. Those were the days when voice recording had to be captured on cassettes. Smart phones and other recording devices were not even heard of.   Audio cassettes were of one hour duration and the sides had to be changed in between. The person’s movement was indeed distracting. But no one did rise up, perhaps for fear of spoiling the concert. No sooner did Bhagavatar finished his first Keerthana, did the person came rushing to the stage. Wearing a smile Bhagavatar turned to him “Would you be continuing this?”  “Yes, if you have no objection” the person politely replied. “I have no objection, but you please bring 21 coconuts right away” Bhagavatar said, “I intend offering them to Lord Ganapathy.”  Bhagavathar knew that bringing coconuts at that late hour that too through the jam packed audience would not happen before the close of the programme and till such time the nuisance will be off. Bhagavatar could also have shouted at him and get his recorder removed; but Bhagavatar belonged to a different class. Ultimately the person got the message and the recorder was shifted elsewhere. This is a PR case study by itself on how to get one’s message across without hurting anyone.   

"Padmabhushan ( Late) Ammannoor Madhava Chakiar's trip to Paris to perform Koodiyattam was historical landmark" .  Behind the scene of Paris Koodiyattam performance.                                               
Padma Bhushan (Late) Ammannoor Madhavachakiar’s maiden trip to Paris in 1981 to perform Koodiyattam was a moment to cherish. That marked the first ever journey of the great art from the confines of the temple precincts to a foreign country. Originally Koodiyattam artistes were told to be conservative and mingling even with their counter-parts from other art forms was a taboo for them.  Perhaps the fear of dilution of tradition was the culprit. Visionaries they were, Koodiyattam Gurus sensed the winds of change. With the patronage of Temples and Palaces vanishing, the life line of the art forms laid with the people’s patronage. Keeping the art forms alien to them would be detrimental.  This change of thought did help Koodiyattam. Koodiyattam is taught at different institutions now.  At least one koodiyattam performance is happening every month at some place and many gen next artistes are featured in these programmes. PR acts as a savior here.

"People's support energize the artiste."
Scene from a Kuchipudi performance
Artistes and audience are made for each other, so to say. People’s support energize the artistes and the energized artistes in turn enthrall the audience. PR in performing arts is a catalyst that precipitates the healthy artiste-audience interface. 
                                                                                            Content & Photos: K.V.Murali Mohan
Based in Hyderabad the author is a senior journalist and presently holding a senior position in ICFAI University. He regularly contributes to many nationals newspapers & journals.

Public Relations in Performing Arts Public Relations in Performing Arts Reviewed by Welcome Kerala on 05:50:00 Rating: 5

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