As I was walking into Prachyanat's practice space, with my mask and gloves on, some familiar voices called out my name. For the next few minutes, it felt like I was back to my old theatre-going self.
As I went to the fourth floor, one of the troupe members held an infrared thermometer to my forehead. Along with paper decorations and oil lamps, the troupe was now prepared with disinfectant sprays, shoe covers and face masks.
After five months of stagnancy, they took the challenge of resuming work.
Productions of Prachyanat, a torch-bearer among contemporary theatre groups, offer some much-needed breathing space for Dhaka dwellers, although arranged on a limited scale. What was known to be a houseful show is also going through a massive shift.
They have stepped up their comeback with a full-fledged monthlong theatre festival titled "Mahala Magan" at their rehearsal room in the capital's Kataban. With only 20 audience seats, festival organisers introduced an online ticketing system for the shows.
The pandemic has not only defined a "new normal" for theatre, but has also left its mark on the plays' storylines.
Hundred by Hundred, directed by Saiful Jarnal, for example, narrates the story of a garment factory worker, who began a journey by foot, in response to an unprecedented call from authorities, disregarding health risks of the pandemic — an incident that was not new to the audience who follow the news, but it returned as a reminder through the play.
Mostly, theatre artistes and practitioners attended the programme, but regular citizens also showed up in small numbers. Among them was Farhana Satu, a professional photographer who watched the show with her friends.
"The production was interesting and so was the following session on mental health by Dr Helal," Farhana said. "They did their best to arrange the show, maintaining health guidelines. However, the seats were too close to each other, which did not meet social distancing requirements. Nonetheless, as an audience member, the show brought about some mental peace for me."
Additional health-safety naturally mean more expenses. And many artistes often say theatre in the country is not economically fruitful to begin with.
Regarding this issue, Jarnal said the amount received from these shows can cover rent of Prachyanat's practice space. With utmost priority to health factors, and trusting that the audience will take necessary precautions, the group wants to continue their programmes.
Similarly, Bangladesh Mahila Samity (BMS) reopened with the play "Lal Jomin" last month. BMS Management Officer Gazi Ibrahim Firoz said they took proper health precautions for the audience.
"We have decreased seats from 16 in a row to seven, to maintain social distancing, and wearing face-masks inside our hall is mandatory," he added. "Occupancy of 50-60 seats is now considered houseful."
Although authorities have given no formal instruction for reopening theatre shows and Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy is still working on their plan of action, BMS officials claimed that they got approval from Bangladesh Group Theatre Federation to resume work.