Theatre beyond the stage

Theatre beyond the stage
The sleepy little village of Tumari on the bank of River Sharavathi in Sagara taluk of Shivamogga district is home to Kinnara Mela, a community initiative that has carved a niche for itself in the State’s theatre sphere.

Kinnara Mela was founded in 1990 by K G Krishnamurthy, along with his wife Susheela Kelamane and a few other theatre artistes. Krishnamurthy studied theatre at Neenasam in Heggodu and later at the National School of Drama in New Delhi. These experiences helped him develop an interest in the field of children’s theatre.

The process

With Kinnara Mela, Krishnamurthy not only sought to popularise theatre among school children but also aimed to develop a cult of theatre enthusiasts and resource persons. For this purpose, he envisioned the concept of adults performing for children and formed a troupe of adult artistes who would visit schools to stage plays.

Today, Kinnara Mela is famous for its plays in rural schools. The group performs two plays – one for children between 8 and 14 years of age and the other for college students. It tours as many as 20 districts, staging nearly 100 to 120 shows in two seasons, from July to September and then again from November to February.

Kinnara Mela trains artistes who function as resource persons. They visit rural schools for three to four weeks and direct two skits and a play in each school. The skits are usually based on the curriculum. In doing so, the children are kept engaged and introduced to the idea that classroom learning can be fun. The theatre group also conducts week-long culture and education workshops for school teachers in Tumari. These workshops help teachers learn how theatre and its elements can be adopted in classroom teaching. A week-long cultural festival ‘Samskriti Utsava’ is organised in Tumari every year. 

When Kinnara Mela turned 25, it started a new initiative - Kinnara Mela Centre for Children Theatre Studies. Says Krishnamurthy, “Most people consider children’s theatre to be a stepping stone or training ground for working in the field of theatre. What they fail to understand is that there is a science behind working in children’s theatre. The students who enrol for this eight-month course get to work on all projects undertaken by Kinnara Mela. By the time they graduate, they are not only students, but also teachers and theatre artistes.”

Great equaliser

Kinnara Mela conducts all its activities with the intention of opening the children’s eyes to the world around them. “Our aim is not to turn children into great artistes or connoisseurs of theatre. They need not start out with that ambition. If they can achieve that along the way, it is certainly welcome. We only wish to mould children to be good citizens who can contribute to the creation of a healthy society,” Krishnamurthy says.

Theatre helps children from different backgrounds mingle with one another and gives them the confidence to make their way in the world. This is most evident when working with children with special needs, Krishnamurthy says. The social aspects of theatre are especially helpful in bringing them out of their shells. They slowly gain confidence to interact with different kinds of people around them. Having worked with orphans, he says that theatre has a lot to offer to those who are marginalised and neglected. This is reassuring to such children for they get the confidence that someone cares for them. Working with such children is challenging, but also quite satisfactory when one sees the positive impact that theatre can have on their lives, Krishnamurthy feels.

Interactive learning

Education, like theatre, is a process, says Krishnamurthy. There is never an end to the process of learning. However, in the present times, education has become product-oriented and focuses on churning out graduates. A medium like theatre has the power to make up for the lacunae of such a system, he opines.

“In the product-oriented teaching system, teachers are only focused on teaching the prescribed syllabus, without developing a personal rapport with their students. Kinnara Mela’s resource persons who go to the schools to teach theatre become more popular than the regular teachers. Actors and teachers both have the same goal – to communicate effectively to their audience. Why is it that teachers fail when actors don’t? ” he asks.

“It is for this reason that we train teachers to modify their teaching methodology by adopting the principles of theatre. We teach our artistes to understand the sub-text and the same principle is used in teachers’ workshops as well. We encourage them to understand the concept behind what they are teaching, use theatre in their teaching methodology to create a narrative that children can understand and relate to. While some subjects can be enacted out in the form of plays, the method may not work for other technical subjects. But, we encourage them to use interactive methods to help their students grasp the concepts. This can make teaching and learning enjoyable,” Krishnamurthy explains.

To teach children more about the world they live in, the play to be performed is chosen carefully. The team ensures that all the children’s plays produced here are educative, entertaining and aesthetic. “Earlier, I would depend on the children’s magazine Chandamama to choose my plays. Now, with passing time, I look for plays that speak about issues that move me. We recently performed a play Cap for Steve that deals with the difficult relationship between a father and son. This theme is universal and relevant. We have performed King Lear that talks about how children treat their parents once they grow old. I adapted a Swedish play that deals with the subject of adoption. These are all issues that matter to children,” he says.

Venkataramana Aithal is a theatre personality who has worked with Kinnara Mela on many of its productions. “The group is laying a strong cultural foundation and this legacy is something that the coming generations can build on,” he says.

Vijaya Vaman, a professor from Sagara, has watched many of Kinnara Mela’s productions. “What is most remarkable about Kinnara Mela is that it has been able to bring the world of theatre to a remote village which can only be accessed by boats. To be able to build such a unique cultural organisation just miles away from a behemoth like Neenasam takes exceptional organisational skills. Kinnara Mela is doing good work in the field of theatre involving local talent.”

Tumari is a remote hamlet with scarce infrastructure. The initiative has opened up Tumari to the world of experimental theatre. It has also placed the unknown hamlet on the cultural map and given it an identity. For more information about Kinnara Mela, visit kinnaramela.in.

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