Theatre has been acknowledged as one of the most effective tools for personality development all over the world. This statement is not an exaggeration as to become a genuine actor, a person has to undergo various training modules which are aimed at enhancing his/her all-round capabilities, some of them are creativity, spontaneity, self-realization, confidence, body language, speech, team-spirit, discipline, punctuality, time management, patience, empathy, compassion, motivation and a lot more.
These modules which are implemented through different established theories, activities, tasks, exercises etc. are tried and tested to deliver the desired outcome if undertaken by an eligible and enlightened resource-person. The outcome of such theatre orientation programmes/workshops are enhanced personalities, people who are well aware of their strengths and limitations, become better actors and above all, better human beings. Theatre Orientation programme inculcates Team spirit, creativity, spontaneity, self-Realization, confidence, awareness and a lot more.
Meet the children theatre practitioner Sumeet Sharma who is a Post Graduate in Indian Theatre from the Department of Indian Theatre, Punjab University, Chandigarh. Sumeet has been conferred Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar, a National Award for Theatre Direction in the year 2008. He is also a recipient of National Scholarship from Govt. of India. He has been actively working with Natrang for the last 27 years as actor, trainer and director and has been working extensively on the topic ‘Theatre as a means of Education and Personality Development’. He has written and directed scores of original plays with children with relevant, contemporary, imaginative and wholesome content. He is working as ‘Drama Instructor’ at the Department of Students Welfare, University of Jammu. In a conversation with Sumeet Sharma, he gives us glimpses Children Theatre in Jammu
Q: What do you aim at while doing theatre with children? How is it different than doing theatre with adults? Are there any guidelines for it?
A: To answer it, I will not cite references from the books and articles, I would rather speak from my own experience. There are many common, not so common and purely uncommon things between doing theatre with children and adults. While both aim at the development of different faculties of minds and capabilities of body, the means to achieve the same are different. One has to be extra careful while dealing with children as when you narrate them anything, they suspect you less. It makes you more responsible towards whatever you say to them. One has to clear the doubts, update the knowledge and be more patient while interacting with children, there has to be a very neutral approach. You never know, who aspires to be a better version of yourself. Be extra careful in picking the topics and content of your lessons. Everything which goes hit with adults may not even fit with children. I get surprised to see people producing plays with children (filled with intrigue, violence and vices) which are not at all appropriate for their tender minds. While working with children, one shall look for the relevance of topic rather than the greatness of the author, may be he may not have written it for children. This may be one of the reasons that most of the people who do genuine theatre for children create their own content and write their own plays.
Q: What are the challenges of doing Children Theatre?
A: I must assert here that theatre does not only make better actors, it makes better human beings who are aware about their possibilities and limitations and perform with 100 percent dedication, not only on stage but in whatever field they choose. Amongst my colleagues and students who have done theatre in childhood, other than becoming brilliant actors, I find, dedicated doctors, passionate teachers, enterprising entrepreneurs, versatile civil servants, imaginative engineers, creative writers and more. Considering its importance and utility, it appears that doing Theatre with Children must not be having any challenges and people and institutes have a lot of reverence for it. But the reality is little different. At one side where there is paucity of genuine trainers for children, on the other side, surprisingly, their demand is also very less. Schools do think about doing theatre with children but only as one of the items in their Annual Day function. I feel that, in shaping the overall personalities of the children and kindling numerous sensibilities in them, theatre as a tool of personality development shall be utilized with full glory. And those who aspire to do theatre with children must see a bigger picture and role of theatre which is much ahead than producing ‘Drama’ with children.
Q: Do Children really get benefitted by doing theatre? Or it is yet another fun activity for them.
A: I would like to take the liberty to modify your question, it shall be something like, ‘How immensely Children get benefitted by doing theatre?’ and my answer is yes theatre provides remarkable benefits to its practitioners and so far as children are concerned, they get even more of it as they are the early grabbers of the benefits of theatre such as enhanced confidence, sharp spontaneity, charged creativity, discreet self-analysis, amiable team spirit and what not. Regarding its being fun activity for them, yes it is very true but the fun is fortified with sumptuous layers of learning too which makes it a very significant personality development activity for children. The emotional strength acquired through theatre proves to be an immunity booster for children even during present crisis situation where social-distancing has replaced socializing and children have become prone to emotional/physical weakness caused by monotonous activities, on-line studies, no outings and other restrictions. Most of the theatre exercises and activities are as effective in isolation as they are miraculously helpful while performed in groups.
Q: What qualification is required for being a good theatre trainer for children?
A: It is more about right aptitude than qualification which is required to do meaningful theatre with children. For being a relevant resource person for Children Theatre, one has to have a concept of ‘Theatre’ and ‘Education’ both. Proficiency in teaching and no experience of theatre or well versed in theatre and no aptitude for teaching will make a person less eligible for doing meaningful theatre with children, this is what I believe. Theatre is always an experiment, but while doing it with children, one has to make sure that it is gets the desired results. One has to be extra sensitive towards all the sensibilities which may leave impact on the tender minds.
Q: How has Children Theatre evolved in Jammu.
A: Keeping in view the quality, effectiveness, impact and consistency of doing meaningful theatre with Children, Natrang is obviously the synonym of Children Theatre in Jammu who is doing regular theatre with children since 1990. If we count, the number of children benefitted from it comes in thousands. Devised by Padmashri Balwant Thakur himself, the content and methodology of the same has been updated manifolds to cater the needs of the present day children and is even open for further enhancements. With the theatre plays like ‘Mere Hisse Ki Dhoop Kahan Hai’ and ‘Aap Hamare Hain Kaun’ directed by Balwant Thakur, Jammu Children have travelled the length and breadth of the Country to participate in major theatre festivals and have earned accolades for their performance. I feel lucky to be a part of the squad. Its trainers get trained by the experts and get ample exposure and experience to become effective in their work of providing the most fertile grounds to children to let their imagination grow. By ‘Children Theatre’, I do not here imply just mounting any theatre play with actors who are children. It is a vast term, having wide connotation. It is about selection of right content for children and treating it with right approach to get the desired results. In doing theatre with children, ‘How we teach’ is at times is more important than ‘What we teach’ so both aspects have to be taken care of. Looking at the present scenario, we are devising new ways and activities for children (keeping social-distancing in mind) which would generate almost equal interest and creativity amongst children as it used to infuse before corona times. Though it is very difficult to contain the grandeur of theatre online, but it is need of the hour. It is not that the role of theatre in general and children theatre in particular has diminished because of the present crisis, I believe it has been immensely increased now and theatre can really prove to be a saviour for children and kindle their lives with excitement, creativity, positivity, activity, imagination, emotional well being and a lot more which is otherwise not possible because of sedentary lifestyle due to unavoidable restrictions.