India has a rich theatrical tradition. Sanskrit dramas such as Abhignanasakuntala by Kalidasa share the limelight with theatre forms such as Koodiyattam from Kerala and Yakshagana from Karnataka, not to mention the shadow and puppetry theatre in folk art. Indian theatre has always been rich in imagery, music and narration and close to people’s lives, with performances often staged in places of worship. However, in the recent past, urban India has largely lost touch with this versatile art – we have become spectators rather than practitioners. Many are the benefits of being involved in theatre, and ParentEdge decided to start this series on interests and passions of children by spotlighting the ‘not-so-well-known’ art form of theatre. We synthesised our own research with points of view and experiences from the experts, learners (children) and the support system – parents! Read on.
Theatre is probably one art form that young children spontaneously practise, being born performers. Afterall, role play is a favourite among toddlers pretending to cook with mama’s pots and pans or doing a mock phone meeting with a toy phone. As a means of self-expression, it is one that is most natural to children. Theatre also appeals to a child’s innate aesthetic sensibility, being a rich amalgam of acting, music and movement.Theatre is also a lot of fun. Children get to shout, act comically, run, leap and jump – a healthy release of the seemingly boundless physical energy they seemto possess. City life comes with its long car and bus rides, shortage of vast, open spaces and hectic school schedules and the need for sitting still for long stretches – all these mean that children get to hear, ‘Bequiet,’ ‘Why are you running?’ ‘Can’t you sit still?’ ‘Don’t fidget,’ all too often.
Theatre, on the other hand, is a good antidote to city life, as it encourages children to open up and express themselves through their voices, limbs, faces and minds. And that’s not all. Theatre moulds a growing child’s mind, psyche and sensibilities. “Theatre is a medium to achieve certain life skills. Being involved in theatre makes a child more knowledgeable about herself and this in turn helps her become a better person,” says Sunil Vishnu, who co-founded thetheatre company Evam at Chennai. “Working with and around twenty people – either elder to or younger than her, from different genders and backgrounds, enables the childto understand different life experiences anddevelop an appreciation for diversity.”
The process of playing a character involves getting under the skin of the character.“Theatre is about understanding the language, geography, ambience, motivations and emotions that form the layers in the story. A child develops immense sensitivity,” explains Padmavati Rao, theatre personality associated with Rangashankara, Bangalore. Appreciating these nuances is also an incredibly interesting experience for the child. Subhash Rawat, founder-executive director of New-Delhi based Purvabhyas, an organisation that has worked with children in theatre for 15 years, including the ‘Theatre in Education’ initiative with children across India, says, “In theatre, a child has the room to take risks without fear of going wrong or causing damage.” Being involved in theatre subtly alerts the child to the importance of ‘we’ versus ‘me.’ Increased confidence and poise, sharp communication skills – these are attributes that work and life demand, that industry today finds college graduates lacking in!