Travelling theatre groups have played a significant role in imparting life skills to people and introducing them to a whole new world. Geoffrey Kendall's 'Shakespeareana' was one of the first touring theatre companies that travelled to distant towns and villages and performed plays by the Bard in the 1950s. However, there have been very few troupes that have targeted children or young adults. In the late 80s and early 90s, Mohan Agashe's Grips Theatre from Pune (which looked at the world through the eyes of children or youth) travelled and conducted workshops in several parts of the country.
Ninasam, a cultural organisation located in the village of Heggodu in Sagar taluk in Karnataka, organises a travelling theatre for three months even today. Shaili Sathyu, artistic director of Gillo Theatre Repertory that works exclusively in the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), felt it was high time that she and her group of adult performers, who present plays for children of different age groups, should take a small step in this direction.
On November 1, Sathyu and her theatre company embarked on Gillo On the Go, a 15-day trip across various parts of Karnataka where they will stage English, Hindi and non-verbal plays, conduct workshops for children as well as teachers, and engage with members of the local arts communities. The troupe will travel to Gubbi, Bengaluru, Mysore, HD Kote, Chamarajanagar and Heggodu where it will partner with local organisations including Ninasam, Dr Gubbi Veeranna Trust, Shantala Kalavidaru, Natana Mysore, Untitled Arts Foundation and Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement.
Though Gillo Theatre Repertory has been performing plays and conducting workshops for children of Bengaluru since 2010, this is the first time they are showcasing their work in distant towns too. Sathyu's original plan was a lot more ambitious but the lack of funds proved to be a dampener. She says, "Initially, we wanted to embark on a one month-six weeks tour across four-five states. We were supposed to go to 20 places from Maharashtra to Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. But it was a huge project and we couldn't get funding and manage the logistics due to various reasons. So, we decided to be realistic and embark on a 15-day project."
For the first time, Gillo has also launched a fund-raising campaign at Ketto (a crowd-sourcing platform) and has even invited people to donate books as part of their mobile library that will be a part of the tour.
The idea for Gillo on the Go came from Sathyu's fascination with the touring theatre that has a great culture and history in the North-East, Karnataka, Maharashtra and some parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well.
She states, "Most of the traditional performers take off for three months and perform at various spaces. However, this is not common in children's theatre apart from Maharashtra and Karnataka where performances for children have travelled, thanks to Agashe's Grips movement, and the arts outreach programme in government schools in Karnataka. We are taking inspiration from them and want to share our experiences with children through workshops as well as other arts engagements."
As part of the tour, plays such as Hanuman Ki Ramayan (based on an original short story by Devdutt Pattanaik), Catch That Crocodile (based on the book by children's authors Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas that looks at the hilarious exploits of a reptile who finds itself on land), and a non-verbal comedy play based on two short stories written by Sathyu's grandmother, will be staged. The non-verbal play will be staged for the first time and revolves around a family whose patriarch doesn't have great life skills and makes a hue and cry when he is entrusted with a household task.
"We will use a lot of gibberish and mime in this play. As it was written in the 1950s, I'm a bit concerned about the gender stereotyping. So, after the play, we will have a conversation with the kids and ask them questions like who does the household work in their family, why it's necessary that everyone should contribute, etc. It will encourage the importance of life skills," she adds.
The tour will also give Sathyu's team members an opportunity to engage with a new audience and explore new places. She elaborates, "The tour will help us to see places of interest and interact with like-minded people. We will be going to Ninasam where it will be a good opportunity for us to share practices and work approaches with other artistes, and observe how they function and train."
The travelling theatre aims to work closely with adults and caregivers such as parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. "We will conduct workshops for teachers and engage with parents also through discussions after the plays. We want to make them understand the significance of arts in a child's life," she mentions.
One of Gillo's long-term objectives is to create a network of institutions that are interested in arts and cultural experiences for young audiences and to enable other practitioners to engage similarly with them, all around the year. Sathyu concludes that in the long run, she wants to take theatre outside metros to smaller towns and rural spaces across India, where the locals have no access to theatre.