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Preview: What to look for at AHA! Ranga Shankara Theatre For Children Festival 2023

Preview: What to look for at AHA! Ranga Shankara Theatre For Children Festival 2023
Preview: What to look for at AHA! Ranga Shankara Theatre For Children Festival 2023

Actor, writer, and director Rupesh Tillu makes a strong case for how children’s theatre is, in a way, unadulterated compared to theatre for adults. “I feel that the evolution of theatre over time has somewhat diminished the magic it once had,” he says, “Traditional art forms in India, like Kathakali and Bharatnatyam, were always interactive with the audience when they originated, often performed in temples. However, with the rise of proscenium theatre in the 19th century, it became more detached, resembling cinema where the audience is a passive observer.”

Rupesh regrets the disappearance of playfulness in theatrical performances. “After all, it’s called a ‘play’ for a reason, right? Sometimes, we get so caught up in the literary aspects of it that we forget to have fun and enjoy ourselves,” he says.

Children’s theatre, however, goes beyond words and dialogue, delving deep into subtext, where the unspoken is as significant as the spoken. It speaks directly to the senses, engaging sight, sound, and movement to create a truly immersive experience. Unlike theatre for adults, children’s theatre transcends the realm of intellect, tapping into raw and instinctual responses.

Rupesh, hence, is happy to be a part of the annual AHA! Ranga Shankara Theatre For Children Festival 2023, beginning from July 19. His 45-minute non-verbal performance, Bags of Gags, will be the final one of the festival.

Rehearsal stills of ‘Just Hiss’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

‘Gift of good theatre’

The theatre festival, now in its 14th year, centres around the theme ‘Life is Beautiful.’ It will feature five plays, storytelling, theatre games, and clowning workshops, helping children explore the beauty of the world around them.

“There is no magic wand to change things. In this bleak landscape, however, there is cause for celebration, too,” says Arundhati Nag, Director of Ranga Shankara. “A network of people concerned about what art is presented to children is coming together across India. A clutch of talented theatre makers who believe that the early years are the time of maximum absorption and this is the time when the power of ideas and imagination are to be kindled in children to create good memories is making fine, age-specific work. We are showcasing five such nuggets at this festival. I would like parents and teachers to give their children the gift of good theatre and reiterate that ‘Life is Beautiful.’”

The five plays offer a delightful variety of experiences for audiences. From exploring the concept of home through objects and materials to unravelling hidden worlds, embarking on quests to bring hope, and showcasing the magic of clowns, each play brings a unique perspective and engages audiences with its distinctive themes and storytelling techniques.

Do not preach

The festival commences with Vivek Vijayakumaran’s English-Hindi-Kannada play Just Hiss, which is about non-violence and forgiveness. Vivek, who is making a play for children for the first time, believes in not speaking down to them. “Though the play talks about co-existence, non-violence, and human-nature conflict, we avoided being preachy or moralistic,” he says.

Rupesh, too, believes theatre is not a platform to preach. “The younger generation doesn’t want that anymore; they can find such guidance on YouTube,” he says. “Nowadays, people crave experiences that engage them. So, we encourage our audiences to come together as families and celebrate moments, especially with children who can learn to laugh together.”

Bags of Gags
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Sananda Mukhopadhyaya, who specialises in creating performances for toddlers, reckons art for children need not solely focus on educational outcomes. “Why should an art experience for young audiences solely be viewed as a learning opportunity?” she asks, “Can’t it simply be an art experience for the mind, soul, and senses? When we engage in art, we don’t approach every encounter with the expectation of learning something specific. However, when it comes to children, we often feel the need to infuse every experience with a learning objective.”

Sananda’s Konkani’s play Hanv Ghara Asa (which means ‘I am Home’) attempts, through songs and some objects, to take the viewer on a journey of what it truly means to be home. “In the plays I create, I prefer to have less reliance on text, instead embracing silence and stillness to counteract the overstimulation children often experience in urban environments. By designing text-free plays, I aim to provide a more immersive and contemplative experience,” she says.

Essential medium of art

All three directors – Sananda, Rupesh, and Vivek – agree that theatre plays a role in the overall development and enrichment of children’s lives. They reckon live performances play a vital role, particularly for children constantly surrounded by digital devices. 

“Live theatre has the power to bring images to life, sparking children’s imaginations and allowing them to actively participate in the unfolding story. Unlike the passive nature of digital media, live performances offer a sense of accessibility and immediate connection,” says Vivek. 

Rupesh, meanwhile, believes theatre should be a part of the educational curriculum. “We teach everyone to be highly skilled professionals like engineers and doctors. We provide them with the knowledge and expertise required for their chosen careers. However, one crucial aspect that often goes overlooked is teaching them how to navigate human interactions. Theatre teaches you that you cannot achieve anything alone, that you need people to succeed,” he says.

For information on the schedule and tickets, visit rangashankara.org

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