Our Founder the late Shri Inder Lal Dass had a passion for theatre like no other. During his studies abroad he joined an amateur theatre company and was first introduced to repertory style theatre.
Upon his return to his then hometown Lahore, IL Dass, with his theatre and art enthusiast friends, began ideating about bringing the UK's theatre movement to India.
The Little Theatre Group as a concept was born out of a specific meeting on 17 September 1946, when a few theatre enthusiasts met in the Studio of the famous painter B.C. Sanyal to discuss Mr Dass’s idea.
At the time, B.C. Sanyal was a famous young painter who set up and founded the Lahore College of Arts. He also worked as a teacher at the Mayo College of Arts in Lahore - here some of his students were artists Krishen Khanna and Satish Gujral who later went on to become prominent figures of the art world during post-independence modernism.
Sanyal's Self portrait
Inder Lal Dass
THE FIRST PRODUCTION
As all performance is a representation of the sociocultural, political and economic conditions of its time, the first-ever play under the banner of The Little Theatre Group was “Society Ke Thekedar”, produced by IL Dass.
It was first staged in April 1947 in an open-air theatre at Lawrence Garden in Lahore under dramatic circumstances. Battle cries of “Allah-o-Akbar” and “Har Har Mahadev” with outbursts of sounds of gunshots and explosions were simultaneously going on while the audience was imbibing IL Dass’s theatrical version of the societal conditions happening right outside the theatre.
Subsequently, the violence of the time did not spare the Group either, and all the sets, property, equipment and books acquired by the Little Theatre Group were burnt and destroyed.
All was lost and IL Dass and his family started migrating into what became divided India.
NEW BEGINNINGS IN DELHI
Upon moving to Delhi, Inder Lal Dass contacted some of his friends from Lahore once the riots had subsided in 1948 with an aim to reorganise the Group. A small circle of enthusiasts met in the Hutments (now abolished) under the shadows of the Purana Quila to discuss the plan of bringing the Group back.
The Theatre Scene in Delhi was disorganised and haphazard at the time with lengthy four hour plays being the norm.
Additionally, lack of professional training in managing the stage, designing sets and tying different acts together had brought down the standard of performance. IL Dass was motivated to bring a different dedication towards producing plays for the Delhi audience backed by extensive training and professionalism.
With this, he set out to produce the debut play called “Teen Behnain”- an adaption of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”. Under his direction, the play was staged in September 1948 for three consecutive days in Massey Hall receiving critical and mass acclaim, and marking the introduction of the Little Theatre Group in Delhi.
GEOFFREY KENDALL AND HIS SHAKESPEARANA COMPANY
LTG THEN AND NOW
The period of 1948-1970 can justifiably be defined as the “Golden Period” in the history of the Little Theatre Group under the steady and innovative guidance of IL Dass.
Inder Dass took a number of initiatives during this period, some of which are stated below:
The Little Theatre Group was the first of its kind to organise an “All India Drama Festival and Conference” in November 1949.
The Group organised a month-long programme of cultural events The Postal Centenary Exhibition on the behest of the Postal Authorities of India in October 1954.
In December 1954, the Group sponsored a series of English play performances by Geoffrey Kendall’s International Company “Shakespeareana” and introduced modern techniques in dramatic arts. In 1956, Geoffrey Kendall’s company returned and performed a series of 10 shows of various plays by Shakespeare and G.B. Shaw.
In January 1955, the Group had the singular honour of sponsoring a programme of dramatic recitals by Dame Sybil Thorndike and her husband Sir Lewis Casson.
In April 1955, the Group organised the first “All India Theatre Art Exhibition”. In November 1955, the Group was selected by the Ministry of Education as the only amateur theatre group to participate in cultural activities arranged for UNESCO Delegates visiting the Country. Inder Dass directed an English version of a Sanskrit Comedy - Ratnavali.
The Group won the Delhi Natya Sangh Award for its production of “The Tea House of the August Moon” in 1957 and again in 1958 for the production of “The Remarkable Mr Penny Packer”.
In November 1966, the Group introduced to audiences an experience of a ‘three-tiered stage’ in its production ‘Severed Head’.
LTG was the first theatre Group to start a monthly bulletin “Theatre News” (later called Stage-door) to foster a feeling of fellowship among theatre members and keep them informed on theatre activities in and around Delhi. Inder Dass never missed a bulletin, and in 2004, even when he was very ill, he continued to mail the newsletter with the help of friends and family.
It was also the first theatre group to form a Hindi Repertory Company called the LTG Cooperative Wing, which later paved the way for a full-fledged Repertory Company in the year 1972. It also was the first group to publish an “English-Hindi Glossary of Theatre Terms.” (You can find this today at the LTG Premises!)
DAME SYBIL THORNDIKE AND LEWIS CASSON
EXAMPLE OF A MULTI-LEVELLED STAGE SET
FROM THE ARCHIVES- LTG UNDER CONSTRUCTION
THE LITTLE THEATRE GROUP REPERTORY - ROOTS & SETUP
Mr Inder Lal Dass was an ardent exponent of the principle of joint endeavour, so when he had a vision of bringing together amateurs to improve the quality of productions, he appealed to genuine artists to come together and work as a unit on a cooperative basis.
With this aim in mind, he started the Cooperative Wing of the Group in 1964.
The method was simple -- produce plays and share profits after deducting expenses.
Many other members joined this venture. Amongst technical hands, K.K. Johari designed the sets and Sh. Chaman Lal was in charge of lights.
Since Mr Dass was an electrical engineer himself, he paid close attention to light design and brought in a kind of excellence to the areas of play production that others were not giving much importance to. Now with a complete technical team, the Group produced stellar productions of professional quality -- unexpected of an amateur theatre group.
The Cooperative Wing laid the foundations for the regular Repertory which came into being in the year 1972. The Little Theatre Group Repertory was the first repertory to receive a Government Grant and is the oldest running repertory in India.