When the final drum rolls!

When the final drum rolls!

The Summer Project On Theatre ( SPOT )  is a workshop for beginners held annually by Bangalore Little Theatre and is is currently in its 24th year ! The workshop culminates in a production  which is usually a fund raiser for the charity we partner.

This year, we have chosen to do stories from Tenali Rama, and it is a special decision as it is a golden jubilee year for both BLT, AMC ( Association for the Mentally Challenged ) and is also the 500th year of King Krishnadevaraya's coronation.

So Tenali Rama it is. Since the key message in all his stories was to take life lightly, we feel being irreverent is a good way to go. Multiple versions of the script are written and finally, it is time to cast. This is the easy part. We discover new talents, each bringing something unique to the table.

Our Sutradhar, Vikram Maheshwaran is a talented singer, and we are blessed with the opportunity for live percussion because Arjun Sashidhar is a percussionist par excellence. So we decide we will have music. Not only that, Vikram will sing the transitions in the unique Hari Katha style. He agrees and goes off to do his research.

We push the envelope.Women take on men's parts and while they are worried they will not be convincing enough as men,  they are game to jump into an adventure, but not without some initial misgivings.It is a chance we take, but then what is life without a risk or two ? Casting the manipulative courtiers, the lovable scoundrels is easy.We have quite a bunch to choose from !

Working is a collaborative effort and ideas come at a furious pace.Everyone pitches in with ideas of scenes and soon we have unique content with a life of its own . Of course, we have children in the cast. We are lucky to have just the right age to work with. Most of the kids are over five , and are equal participants in the creative process.

They make choices on blocking and action and business. The last thing we want is to tell them what to do.  But then, we don't need to. They are supremely talented and take off on their own in the direction they are meant to. Young Rama, the village children and the radical little Kali are in competent young hands.

Rehearsals take their usual course.There are frayed tempers, moments of hilarity and tears, the monsoon arrives, work pressure, viral fevers all take their toll.. Sets come up. Since ireverance is the key, we raid hardware stores, local plastic vendors and put our imagination to good use. Trumpets are fashioned from pipes and funnels, and palace pillars from plastic buckets and cans. Trees from balloons. We think candy boxes, a large collection of Gems like colours that children will relate to. Costumes arrive from the tailor in eye popping hues.

Performing to an audience comprising largely of children is challenging. Attention spans are limited. There needs to be action to keep them focused, and yet, we believe performing for children need not necessarily be childish. They don't need to be talked down to or have their intelligence underestimated.

Each year, the audience comprises of both children and adults, and each year both discover the joys of being childlike as they share moments of laughter and delight. Each year there is something for everyone. Children react to the high energy levels and action on stage, adults chuckle at witty narrative content, surprised to find themselves re-discovering how therapeutic a laugh or two can be. Most of all, child audiences love watching child actors onstage. They are supportive of their peers and relate beautifully to each other.

And then,  finally it is show time.  There are school shows in the day time and public shows in the evening. We stand in the wings, waiting for cues and blackouts,  listening to the audience interact with the actors, to children laughing loudly, to grandparents chuckling quietly and parents having a good time watching their offspring having a good time.

For the cast, this garrulous little crowd is an eyeopener. They have to work hard to keep them interested.We watch them  laugh. They scream. They run onstage when we ask them to. They become a part of the scene. They respond to different sections of the script each night and we are continually amazed at the varied responses.

We want our performances for children to be fluid. To break boundaries of space,  time and protocol.We think nothing of talking back to an audience, asking them to join us onstage, sing and clap along, even talk to one on one.  They love it. So do we.

And when we hear the final drum roll as the house lights come on to the accompaniment of delighted laughter and noise, we know that each night, we have brought yet another child face to face with the sheer magic of theatre.

Aliyeh Rizvi
Bangalore Little Theatre.

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