Introduction of Theatre in the Palace by Maharaja
C. Rangacharlu, the then Dewan of Mysore, who witnessed the performances by the students of the Royal School, saw the advantages of developing a local stage. With the permission of the Maharaja, he instructed the court poets Basavappa Sastri, Sosale Ayya Sastri, Jayarayacharya and others, each to write out a play in Kannada language. An early and fruitful result was the Kannada rendering of Sakuntala by Basavappa Sastri. The Dewan, himself a scholar in Sanskrit literature, was very happy at the translation and soon the play was rehearsed with artists drawn from the Royal school. It was carefully rehearsed under the supervision of the Head-master - B. Mallappa (checking up the pronunciation of words and also acting), Asthana Vidwan Sadasivarao and Subbanna (training the artists in music) and R. Raghunatharao (general supervision of production). The troupe was called Sakuntala Karnatak Natak Sabha as it was the first troupe to stage the Kannada version of the immortal play of Kalidasa. After rigorous rehearsals, the play was first staged in the Mysore Palace in November, 1881, and the talented troupe consisting of Lakshmipati Sastri (Sakuntala), M. D. Subbanna (Dusyanta), Giribhattara Tammayya (Kanva) and Devaraj Urs (Vidusaka) was richly honoured for its triumphant success. The show was put up for the public in the specially erected stage at Kalyani Maidan in December 1881. People for the first time saw the marvel of a Kannada theatre play in such dazzling settings and costume. The miracle was performed by the rolling-up curtain in the same way as it did on the Parse theatre stage. This great success inspired the troupe to move to Bengaluru to stage public shows early in 1882. The Palace Company earned a great reputation, and as a token of gratitude to the King who was responsible to bring it into being, the troupe re-named itself as Sri Chamarajendra Kamatak Nataka Sabha in 1882.
Experiments with Themes by Palace Company
On the instructions of the Maharaja, who desired that well known English plays also should be translated into Kannada, enthusiasts like C. Subba Rao and A. Ananda Rao translated Shakespeare's Othello, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice. These plays, when staged by the Palace Company, as the troupe was popularly known, changed the public taste considerably and improved stage production from the standards of Dasavatarada ata. The troupe gradually equipped itself with new plays, all translated from Sanskrit language, like Vikramorvasiya, Chanda Kausika, both translated by Sosale Ayya Sastri, Ratnavali, Uttararama Charitre and Malati Madhava translated by Basavappa Sastri and Mrcchakatika translated by Subba Sastri. The main roles like Shurasena in Shurasena Charitre, Ramavarma in Ramavarma-Lilavati and Aswathama in Venisamhara were played by Certain Ramarao, and roles like Dushyanta, Udayana and Manmatha by M. D. Subbanna while the talented Lakshmipati Sastri played the leading female roles.
Development of The Palace Company
In the year 1884, Bidarada Krishnappa, a prominent court musician was put in charge of rehearsals, and H. Lingaraja Urs, the Darbar Bhakshi, in charge of general administration. Shri Krishnappa collected the cream of the talent available in Mysore, and in 1889, secured the services of Mandyam Rangacharya who was already well known as a great actor, Puttari Sastri who later excelled himself in humorous roles and also Janjuti Seshagirirao, a well trained musician having considerable histrionic ability. This talented group, guided by Bidarada Krishnappa, marked the inauguration of the golden era of the professional stage in Mysore. It set out early in 1890 on a tour to distant parts of Karnataka including Dharwar, Belgaum and Bellary and roused a new consciousness there, towards the Kannada Drama. Much later, when Sardar M. Gopalraj Urs took charge of the management, the troupe undertook for the first time, an extensive tour in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The Palace troupe had an established high standard of acting and showmanship and continued its taste for classical plays and dignified portrayal. With these qualities it survived with success, the keen competition of several dramatic troupes.
Thus it is the royal patronage that initiated the era of professional stage in Mysore city. The fact that the Palace Company staged public shows on tickets confirms its commercial nature and secondly, actors like Mandyam Rangacharya, N. Subbanna and B. Rachappa were employed as actors with a full-time profession on the stage. Finally, the palace troupe led the way and inspired scores of dramatic groups after the year 1882, and thus helped in establishing the professional theatre of Mysore on a sound foundation. The friendly rivalry among different troupes resulted in a better selection of plays and improved methods of presentation.
Contribution of Palace Company
Greatest of royal gifts to the theatre of Karnataka was a series of Kannada plays starting with Shakuntala. The year 1880 marked the age of translation in Mysore and from then, at the royal command, learned pundits of the Court set themselves at the task of rendering into Kannada, well known Sanskrit and English plays. Many a Sanskrit scholar who was not initially connected with the palace like Bellave Narahari Sastri, Tirumala Srinivasa Iyengar, Panyam Sundara Sastri and N. Ananthanarayana Sastri, took the trend and contributed to the treasure of dramatic Kannada literature. The theatre was then firmly established in Mysore essentially by the interest and encouragement given to it by the Maharaja Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar. Even after the dissolution of the Palace Company, that did monumental service to the king and the country, the kindly disposition of the Court continued towards the theatrical art. The palace extended material support to different professional troupes wherever they came from, and therefore, it was always looked up to as an unfailing patron of the theatre.