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All a child's play

Having garnered a steady fan base among adults, Ranga Shankara now turns to the city's children with GRIPS

PHOTO: SAMPATH KUMAR G. P.

THIRD ACT Vibhavari Deshpande, Arundhati Nag and Girish Karnad discuss modalities

One of Vibhavari Deshpande's earliest memories of theatre is watching the first Indian adaptation of a GRIPS play called Max Und Milli at the age of six.

Over the years, she watched many more GRIPS productions by the Maharashtra Cultural Centre, and when she turned 18 even acted in a few.

Grown up and with a child of her own, Vibhavari has now come the full circle with GRIPS, a German form of children's theatre. She is in the city to direct Gumma Banda Gumma — a Kannada adaptation of the same play she first watched.

For Ranga Shankara, for whom Vibhavari is directing the play, this story is heartening, and one that the theatre aims to replicate many times over with its AHA! programme.

Launched in association with Britannia, AHA! aims to introduce theatre into the lives of at least 20,000 children in its first year with about fifty shows of Gumma Banda Gumma staged specially for schools.

And, says Arundhati Nag, Managing Trustee of Ranga Shankara, this is just the beginning. "This is just us saying that we are ready to commit to a sustained children's theatre movement."

In the coming years, she envisions the theatre playing host to workshops for children and teachers, international and national theatre and puppetry festivals, outreach and exchange programmes and more.

Indeed, teaching theatre to teachers as well as children is an important part of spreading theatre consciousness, she adds. "The idea is that teachers get to see wholesome theatre for children, and then equip themselves with the skills they need to conduct their own school theatre productions."

Theatre consciousness

And considering that this vision aims not merely to stage plays for children but also to create a theatre consciousness in them, a GRIPS production was the perfect starting point, since it steers clear of the fantasy cliché that one normally associates with children's theatre.

Explains Vibhavari: "The children's productions we normally see are full of ghosts and so on. Children enjoy watching them, but they need more, they need issues relevant to them to be tackled.

GRIPS productions (theatre for children done by adults, named after the German word for wit) are very enjoyable with songs and dances, but it is serious theatre." In fact, GRIPS productions often deal with a range of serious issues such as communal riots, separation of parents, class differences, gender bias, peer pressure and so on.

Besides guiding the way children look at issues, adds Vibhavari, GRIPS also gives parents and adults new perspectives on how to look at children.

For the actor, she points out, working in the GRIPS form can be a challenge because one can't act like a child and adopt childish mannerisms as that would amount to mockery, which children immediately reject.

"You have to develop a way of reacting to situations like a child. It's about emotional memory. You have to remember how you would have reacted as a child and then react that way. If you get that, you don't need to worry about hands, or feet... " Thus, the actor has to think as a child would, but perform with the maturity of an adult.

Gumma Banda Gumma kicks off the AHA! programme on December 12 with a show specially for schools, with the play premiering for the general public on December 15.

RAKESH MEHAR

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