Where fun takes centrestage

WORD PLAY


Role Call: A scene from The Great Lalula which is aimed at toddlers.

Arundhati Nag, Creative Director for Ranga Shankara, saw an enchanting play called The Great Lalula in Germany some time ago, and was struck by the way the performance connected with the toddlers in the audience. “They actually got onstage to participate in the play. You can’t get more interactive than that,” she exclaims.

Keen on exploring how theatre can influence a toddler whose language is still developing, Arundhati and AHA! Ranga Shankara’s International Theatre for Children Festival have brought The Great Lalula for 20-month infants to 3-year-olds; Garbage House for 4-6 year-olds; and Zapperdockel and Wock for 6 year-olds to Bangalore.
Experts in the area of child development, theatre practitioners from Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata and Karnataka and skeptical parents have been invited to participate in the festival’s ancillary events, which are currently on.

Kirtana Kumar, actor, director and theatre pedagogue, observes that children love theatre in all its forms and in all its variety yet many parents prioritise Maths and Science over the arts. “Ancillary events built around the theatre fest will address such issues. The half-day teacher training workshop, on August 31, is aimed at building a long-term relationship between theatre practitioners and teachers; Why Theatre? will be a session by child and adolescent psychologist, Dr Shekhar  Sheshadri; and 25 children will debate The Internet and New Media with parents and teachers in an open forum as part of the festival,” she explains. 

Laugh and learn

Parents who take their 20-month infants for The Great Lalula would be surprised to find a party in progress - a party for children! And then a lady comes on stage and begins to entertain the children with song and dance, all in a language that only children understand. Based on Christian Morgenstern’s 100 year-old gibberish or nonsense poem, Lalula is an ode to music, colours and forms.

The Great Lalula is the result of a two-year research project by the Schnawwl Theatre. The Theater von Anfang an (Theatre From the Very Beginning) project was launched by the Children and Young People’s Theatre Centre and its patron is Ursula von der Leyen, the German federal minister for family.

The form of the play is play and improvisation. Using the latent emotionality of gibberish, the actor/facilitator draws the children physically and imaginatively into the onstage action. The makers of the play, Marcela Herrera and Nicole Libnau, say, "We wanted to begin with a text that all people can understand, regardless of the language they grow up speaking. The nonsense poem, The Great Lalula, awakens an appetite for language in a playful way. It evokes curiosity about words, how they sound and how to play around with them. Theatre From the Very Beginning is not only about addressing a very young audience but also about rediscovering theatre in its original forms." A year from now, AHA! hopes to evolve an Indian way of putting together plays for a very young audience, involving local theatre troupes, Montessori schools and anganwadis, as a follow up to this festival.

“We are not aiming at making performance artistes out of young children. The idea is to give them a strong sense of self,” she explains, observing that AHA’s theatre workshops for 13-19 year olds, whom she describes as the “invisible generation”, have proved how reticent and surly teenagers flower when provided the right stimuli.

“It’s important for parents and teachers to change the warped sense of reality that TV, especially cartoons, portray," she remarks. The festival is the first step in this direction.

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