Theatre at HSEA
Theatre, or the power of the medium, portrays the complexities of life and living. It communicates more than language can capture, and addresses all that we encounter in our daily lives. It relies on the mind and heart, but also involves the body to communicate—using emotion, facial expression and rhythmic movement. So, we start with basic theatre exercises building up to the idea that the interaction and ‘presence’ of the actor is not without thought. Introspection facilitates the complex process of dramatic creation with children as artists. Every child is unique, and our programme seeks to touch a chord within each one.
Making a play or any work of art often begins with a series of questions. Encouraging children to ask and engage with questions about their reality and the world they live in, makes them aware and empathetic towards their surroundings. Some important factors are the socio-political environment we live in, the ability to question different perspectives and ideas, all leading to the scripting of original plays from stories that children want to tell.
An example is the concept of travel and what travels. Questioning this idea led to a play called TRAVEL, where children said “the mind travels”, “a baby in a womb travels for 9 months” to, “blood travels in our bodies”.
An interesting play evolved around our city bus service, the BMTC. It focussed on understanding the city through the perspectives of drivers and conductors. Children went through extensive research. They interacted with the BMTC management, the bus depot supervisors and those who work at the ticket printing office. They collected information and created a questionnaire for drivers and conductors which finally developed into their script. The play was staged at Cubbon Park in an actual BMTC bus! This was a multilingual play as through their research, children realised the city didn’t always exist in one language.
What we are exposed to, and what we study, all become part of our experience. Life and the classroom merge. On one occasion this led to the question of refugees, which became a reality for children through real stories, their history classes, and supported by news reports from around the world.
The starting of this project was a simple, exploratory exercise where children were asked to create patterns using their feet, imagining they had paint on them, and building a story through that. One of the children said, ‘I created two worlds - one where the powerful live and one where the not so powerful live.’ This led to discussions around the idea of having to leave a home, finding safety, being powerful; and a study emerged that entered into the territory of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis at that time. The interconnectedness of actual history with life, gave birth to the idea; and became a presentation in the form of a play and an art installation. The finale was a culmination of the process explored over the course of eight months--a performance put up by our children and a walk-through installation created by students of Grade 5. At the final presentation, we were fortunate to have with us Dr Nemam Ghafouri who was visiting Bangalore and who had worked extensively in refugee camps on the Syrian border. Her experience and personal story enriched the learning process.
Some of the key questions that children have asked and pondered over during their theatre experiences were:
- What affects us more--the Syrian crisis or Chennai floods? Why should something affect us when we live so far away from a situation?
- Do you need to go through the same experience to feel the pain?
- How does the media shape our world view? And these questions led to further ones such as:
- What do we want to say through this narration?
- What should the audience feel after watching our performance?
- Why do we need stories to understand tragedy?
One day there was a shut down in the city and school was closed. The verdict of the Cauvery water issue was to be declared. The next day we asked the children why they had a holiday. What did they know about the Cauvery issue? All this led to research and questions for their ‘Cauvery’ play. They discussed their views through the perspectives of fish in the water!
The trigger points of a theatre class are often stories; working on a story, and not simply receiving it, is fun. Breaking the story down to talk about how it can change, or knowing that they can change the characters themselves, is interesting. Consciously being allowed to explore a range of emotions either through a story or for themselves as human beings, is exciting. Children love being in a room where there is no hierarchy or fear of not doing something right.
Our theatre programme is divided into two parts. The DOING of the art form (as mentioned above) and the RECEIVING of the art form.
The receiving of the art form is as integral as the doing for us. The arts are for all. If children are learning how to work with the theatrical form, they also develop their ability to be an audience. Visits to auditoriums to watch plays and inviting artists and groups to school to perform, lead to engagement. In this way, children involved in the programme are inspired, and those who are not actively engaged are stimulated in thought and emotion by watching a play.
However, the focus is beyond making plays; it’s a medium for children to go through a process-- to share, explore and express, which need not always be presented, but has fulfilled its journey with the child to explore their creative side.
Our playwriting programme helps children find another form of expression (if they would rather not act). Visiting playwrights take them through the process of writing their own plays which are then read by professional actors. Hearing their own words being acted out and emoted is rewarding.
Theatre in the times of a pandemic
During the pandemic, we have had to relook at our entire approach to experiencing Theatre and reaching out to every child within the limitations of the digital platform. However, we have been able to use it to our advantage and the circumstances have helped us innovate in the following ways:
- Connecting with home surroundings and creating experiences that allow children to express themselves in different ways, using their bodies, objects, sounds and writing.
- Working with the camera as a medium to explore different theatre exercises and using the camera frame as a stage to create performances using the digital medium.
- Sharing of resources and material such as painting, songs, texts and videos using the digital platform to enhance their learning experience.