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Bad scene

Barry John reveals past peeves and new hopes

Photo: Murali Kumar k.

Arts and learning Barry John: ‘I believe in the usefulness of theatre in education ’

Defeated but not surrendering, that is Barry John today. Veteran director, writer, teacher and founder of The Barry John Acting Studio, he is now out with a teacher’s handbook, “Playing for Real”.

Published by Macmillan, this slim paperback is a chronicle of 178 drama exercises for children. Co-authored by Rajan Chawla and Cathy Yogin, students of his Imago Theatre in Education Company, the book is evidence of one man’s belief in the educational and therapeutic aspect of drama. “It’s difficult to source origins,” he explains, “the exercises are like stories or children’s games. They adapt. They travel across the world.”

The games aid individual development and social bonding. Each game is marked against parameters like Breathing and Voicing, Ice-Breaking, Mime, Movement, Trust, etc.

Discussing the book, he explains: “I have believed in the usefulness of theatre in education always.

We are not producing actors for stage or film. That may or may not happen.” Psychodrama can be cathartic he believes, because, “drama is inherently human and humanising.”

“I have managed to be a foreigner, yet try to feel at home in India through my work.” His voice continues to echo with a British precision. While Barry John has acted in both Hindi and English movies like “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” and “Gandhi”, he is now looking to cinema more seriously. “It is almost proverbial to say film is the medium of today,” he asserts.

Having relocated to Mumbai, recently, after 36 years in Delhi, he reveals, “I hope to do scriptwriting for a film.” There is a script in mind but not in the offing. “I have an epic story,” he says, but good-naturedly adds: “It is too large. It will be unwise to start with this. I shouldn’t take on something too ambitious.”

He does find cinema “new” and “exciting”. But his choice is determined less by his will and more by circumstances. “Theatre in India is in the doldrums,” he laments. “For someone who has given theatre so much and got so little, it is a pragmatic decision.” He pauses. It is a long pause. Bitterness strains through his opinions.

He does concede that India has made “Barry John” a brand, but he finds the situation hopeless. “Theatre is simply not a priority in India. It is not a compulsory part of the landscape.”

But positivism dares to sneak into his tone when he talks of the 1970s in Indian theatre. “That was a golden age,” he explains, “There was no other distraction. It was a forum for self expression and a platform to speak out on social issues.”

People like Ebrahim Alkazi, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah took theatre to a pinnacle. While Barry John might be venturing towards cinema, another book is also planned. At first he is unwilling to divulge details.

“One is so tied up in the daily grind that ones dreams are put on the back burner.” Slated as a text for the Bachelor of Elementary Education course, it will deal with issues of methodology in theatre.

“Deadlines have come and gone,” he jokes!

Believing that the usage of drama is central in elementary school, he sees the book as a part of the larger usage of theatre.

NANDINI NAIR

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