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Flights Of Imagination

Wednesday, May 08, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Vacation time is when when the city’s theatre groups let their imaginations runs wild to produce plays for children, and some very creative ideas come out this looming deadline. Some plays then become a regular part of the groups’ repertoires, and find they are in demand from schools all over the country.

Shaili Sathyu, who heads Gillo, one of the few theatre groups in India, that works exclusively with children, not just in summer but all through the year. She finds that schools and parents now want their children to get their cultural fix and theatre fulfills that need, as it combines art and education in an entertaining format. Shaili’s productions have travelled extensively and been accompanied by workshops.

Her target group has become even younger, as she started work on theatre for toddlers, which comes with a bunch of challenges of its own. She thought it was too “extreme a space to get into” till Gillo co-hosted with ASSITEJ (the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People) and attended a master class for early years, by the Italian theatre maker Roberto Frabetti. It led to the production of Gillo’s first production for toddlers, Chidiya, Udd!, which, after opening in Italy last year, has been staged across India, with over 35 shows in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Vizag, rural Maharashtra and Karnataka.

The synopsis of the play reads, “A visitor sits on the window sill every day. It is a little bird, in search of all the little things it needs. Curiosity brings the bird and a little child together and a new friendship begins. The two friends discover many things around them. We see glimpses of the time they spend together. Through the play we share their joys and discoveries. The play is inspired by baby poems and food rhymes from different Indian languages.”

Shaili says, “I discovered that a play for very small children cannot have a story; they respond to movement and situations. It is also important to get them to the performance venue a little early, after they have been fed and taken to the loo, so that they don’t get cranky and they get familiar with the space and the other faces. Toddlers can get distracted easily and if one cries, a whole lot will start crying too. Chidiya, Udd! is about two actors and their six encounters with birds. We know how the kids are responding by their expressions. We also know how much they have absorbed when we invite them to interact with the actors and materials on stage, because they tend to imitate.”

For many Mumbai children raised on an entertainment diet of films, TV and video games, a live performance can be a revelation, even though many of the elite schools now have active drama departments. Many of them come out wide-eyed and completely hooked; they are the repeat audiences and theatre evangelists who then bring their friends to watch plays. As Shaili says, “Theatre should stimulate kids to think, and make them feel something beyond laughter and slapstick.”

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