Every summer when I look at my calendar, I find myself sitting in a theatre camp, full of cheer and pomp, music playing in the background, kids trying different costumes, set being designed and dialogues being learned. In that state of déjà vu I remember my previous experiences of summer which include nostalgic summer vacations, sun-kissed mangoes, unexpected drizzling followed by the petrichor and the breezy late evenings.
Among these things, I remember a very vital part of my life which makes me see summers in a bright light and that are the different summer camps in Jammu. In Jammu, every year we get the opportunity to enrol children to various camps so that they can explore their talents and creativity. There are sports camps, dance camps, music camps and most importantly theatre camps. In this regard Natrang pioneered and has been hosting theatre camps for children every year since the year 1990 which focuses on child development, creativity, stage craft, costume designing, acting, dancing and music. Thousands of fortunate Jammu children had the occasion to work under the theatre stalwarts like Balwant Thakur, Neeraj Kant, Anil Tickoo and Sumeet Sharma. The products of Natrang children camps have excelled in every field and most of them are the frontrunners of many professional streams. These short programmes are designed in a manner where children can not only learn but enjoy their summers with the help of professional training because their big dreams deserve big platforms.
John is a good student, attends all classes, does his home-work on time, does not question his parents and is the most well behaved child in the town. Jerry is a brat, she is never organised, has many friends and does not sleep at night. John is good, Jerry is bad. They both are 7 year olds living in different houses having different obstacles and different abilities to meet those challenges. In India we don’t need to focus on child development or child psychology issues, it is a western thing we say. We have forever heard that line haven’t we? Only problem: it is a terrible myth. We need to understand that every child is different; they have different energies and different ways of looking at the world. And child psychology is a universal issue. It does not have gender bias or cultural bias. One will be John who would never question things and obey what the society will impose on him and the other will be Jerry whose curiosity will keep her up all night. In theatre, that’s the first rule we follow, we acknowledge that every child has potential and they have different levels of creativity.
School these days have become individual rat race grounds where competition is the central element of every examination. Theatre in this aspect focuses on team work and team spirit. In theatre we teach children to appreciate different art works and prevent a child to become a snollygoster in the future. Now a day’s appreciation has taken a backseat and most people focus on tarring and feathering others rather than having a mutual appreciation. In this growing competitive world, a child needs to be very positive about themselves and others. We need to keep children away from the unambiguous culture in the society and teach them skill to appreciate the live art. There is a vital connection between theatre and human relations, in theatre camps we learn acting, dance and drama but the most important thing we learn is the ability to build stronger human relations with the team and other children. It enhances and teaches perseverance to children. At school we have a similar age group that we interact with but in the theatre camps we meet people of different ages all working together as one big team.
Theatre is important in today’s aspect because its functioning is based on epistemology; it so beautifully makes you a knowledgeable person without the burden of books and school bags. Children who do theatre are exposed to writers and authors when they participate in plays, they not only get to read world classic like Shakespeare, Dickens, Wordsworth , Tagore , Premchand and others but even perform them. They get acquainted with different, contemporary ideas making them conceptually aware of their society. Introducing theatre to a child will make them enjoy their literature classes more in school and will break the monotony in their minds that learning is difficult and a troublesome task.
Theatre works as a therapy to shed light on the feelings and behaviours of a person and helps teach them ways to manage and overcome obstacles they struggle with. The hope is that by taking on specific roles a person can gain personal insight and break free from barriers. Though this process can be very beneficial and rewarding, it can be very difficult. Progressions and developments can be slow going, and participants may be resistant to the process. Therefore introducing theatre at an early age gives them the freedom to explore their identity and easily develop their performing skills.
Theatre aficionados can understand psychological potential of theatre. It gives everyone confidence to speak in public without the jitters as it beats stage fright and it makes artists have control over their body and mind. Similarly, for children theatre helps them to concentrate and focus on their studies. Children who engage in extra circular activities end up becoming more aware and enlightened about their surroundings, making them smatter than the ones who shy away from any kind of activity. For the overall development of a child it is important to introduce them to theatre as it is a live art, it focuses on change and it is the most updated live art form.
When children see problems being solved on the stage, they get the assurance that in real life too, things will fall in place. Regular theatre exposure will obliterate insecurities and various complexes in children. The sense of inferiority is removed with Stalinist ruthlessness as soon as a child steps on stage. With hundreds of people in the audience watching a play, a child on stage feels that what he says or feels is being heard. This gives them a sense of accomplishment and confidence which they never feel otherwise. Our society needs to give opportunity to every child to be able to perform and tell their side of the story.’’ What’s right is what’s left if you do everything else wrong’’, let the words of Robin Williams be remembered and help people understand that theatre should never be an option but a choice everyone explores.
At a time when the pressures on young people are perhaps greater than they had ever, and the challenges faced by massive cultural and technological shifts, climate change, and economic collapse are immense, what we need is a rising generation who can use their heads to solve those problems but also their imaginations. Theatre, particularly theatre for children, fires the imagination, it gives our children the skills and the creativity necessary to face the world, to understand it and perhaps to change it too.