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Drama in class

Zulfia Shaikh's theatre school helps children grow into confident adults and effective communicators

— Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Zulfia Shaikh (second from left) rehearsing with her students.

"ALL THROUGH school, children are taught to put their fingers on their lips and sit quietly in a corner," says Zulfia Shaikh emphatically. "Later in life, they are suddenly expected to become dynamic leaders, powerful communicators, and team leaders. How can this happen?"

So this ardent thespian undertook the Trinity College exams to become fully qualified to begin the Bangalore School of Speech and Drama (BSSD) — a training institute that prepares kids to pass the Trinity College exams in drama and effective communication.

The "doctor" tag precedes her name because Dr. Shaikh, who moved to Bangalore nine years ago, is a nutritionist and a lactation expert. These are areas that still hold her interest and she finds time to do consultations, despite holding classes for some 60 kids at her school in Koramangala.

The school, started in 2001, is meant to inculcate confidence in school kids. "Through school, teachers want students to communicate brilliantly," she points out, "but the system doesn't allow the time to nurture talent. Where is the time with some 60 kids in a class and just one teacher?"

At her school, which has three batches of children in ages from 5 to 18, no batch has more than 20; a number which allows energy levels to be maintained and individual attention from her. The exercises in phonetics, diction, story telling, theatre and public speaking are held twice a week and the learning process is continuous.

"My goal is to make theatre more accessible to children all over the city," says Dr. Shaikh. "Children's theatre is still very new in this city, but theatre is a fantastic confidence-building exercise." A lot of parents who send their kids to the BSSD don't hope for their children to become celebrated theatre artistes, explains Dr. Shaikh. They are instead just looking for their kids to be comfortable with public speaking.

She believes that Indians are inherently expressive and intelligent, but a large percentage is intimidated by the thought of public speaking. At her school, with regular stage appearances and audience shows, kids get familiar with public speaking without stammering, and so, by the time they grow up, they are expected to be nonchalant about talking in front of an audience.

The kids all have a chance to be on stage; there is one large production every year. This year's production is a classic tale of Good versus Evil, explains Dr. Shaikh, but as seen through a child's eyes. A group of old, conniving storytellers narrate conventional fairy tales, much in the same tradition as Indian sutradhars, except that they make some very obvious mistakes while telling the stories.

The story players are helpless puppets forced to enact what they know is a false story. The protagonist, Fred, has a bit more spine than the rest, and he defies the storytellers, fearlessly pointing out their mistakes. The most experienced storyteller then tells an original story, weaving in Fred. Just as it seems Evil has triumphed over Good, the story takes a twist.

Dr. Shaikh's 10-member cast performs this play, This is where we came in at St. John's Auditorium on January 7 at 7.30 p.m. Tickets at Casa's, Crosswords and at the Koramangala outlet of William Penn.


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