Advocating innocence

Year: 1929. Place: Argentina. Rabindranath Tagore told his disciple Leonard Elmhirst how he wished to introduce theatre as a tool for learning. London’s Dartington College was founded on this idea. But India seems to be ever reluctant to consider theatre for children seriously. “Advocacy Meet ~ In search of children’s theatre”, presented by Nandikar, comes forth with this idea once again. This is an idea that needs to be discussed and debated so that it becomes a part of the system. During the Advocacy Meet, to be held till 27 July, the importance of theatre in the lives of children, and how theatre can be made a part of the curriculum, will be discussed.Director Rudraprasad Sengupta says, “Theatre can be a movement of social reawakening. We cannot compel people to believe what we believe because forced ideas have no use. One needs to change the mindset. Many have been working for the cause but it is time that efforts are channelised. The meet aims to do just that.” Rabindranath Tagore not only spoke about the concept, he executed it at Vishwa Bharati, making theatre and art a part of the curriculum. “Children are spontaneous and creative. Their imagination is vivid but as they grow older, ‘social respectability’ is thrust on them. This generally happens in school when they are ‘taught’ to smile, cry, sit and stand, eat… Theatre is a process of unmasking the inner self, setting the soul free, allowing children to gain confidence, “ he added.But why is the idea being pitched? Besides Nandikar, some of the other groups that are involved in the movement are Natadha from Howrah, Samatat from Hooghly, Labyan Hrad Vidyapeeth from Salt lake and Roopkatha from Cooch Behar. Among the programmes run by Nandikar for children are Theater In Education (TIE), since 1989, in collaboration with the ministry of education, GOI, Nandikar has befriended about 200 schools; organised short term/sustained workshops, interactive sessions with teachers/guardians, initiated improvised and public performances and local festivals. The mission of the programme was to enable the child discover through theatre the interface of ‘I and the World’. The TIE programme continues.Nandikar has also worked with the marginalised and variously challenged children between 1991 to 1997 with support from the Ford Foundation. It worked with slum children, the visually handicapped to restore lost childhood. In 2004 Nandikar and three other organisations of India and Bangladesh with Sida/Swedish ITI support launched the project. Nandikar also looks after a weekend children’s ensemble with 30 groups (members are in the five to nine and nine to fifteen-plus age groups). More than 200 children, with their guardians, assemble regularly. Performances that are put up revolve around folk tales and stories penned by Rabindranath Tagore, Upendrakishore Roychowdhury, Ashapurna Devi, Leela Majumdar, Satyajit Ray and Sunil Ganguly. The four-day advocacy meet will showcase numerous events ~ a seminar on “Whether or not theatre in education should be a part of school curriculum” at Sisir Mancha on 26 July at 1 p.m., performances at Sisir Mancha on 26 July at 6 p.m., seminar on “Discovery of Apna Theatre: Theatre for the underpriviledged child submerged in the ‘culture of silence’” at Bangla Akademy on 27 July at 5 p.m. and exhibition on Children’s Theatre at Gaganendra Pradarshanshala till 27 July, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. A survey conducted by Pricewaterhouse Cooper states that $1.80 trillion is invested in the entertainment industry globally. In 2000, the figure was $1.20 trillion. The share of investment from ‘advanced’ countries was six to nine per cent and countries such as India and China contribute 20 to 30 per cent. The question is how much is actually spent on entertainment for children? “Theatre is not taken seriously when it talks about bringing about a social change,” Sengupta added. Isn’t it time for ‘the culture of silence’ to be breached?

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