Atelier, a Delhi-based theatre group, has been at the forefront of several theatre festivals and workshops as well as a special city-wide festival for children, Bachpan, which is supported by the Ministry of Culture. This year the group will take Bachpan to Bangalore for the first time.

Bachpan grew out of a desire to take the regular annual school play out of the safe confines of the school auditorium. The idea was to expose young actors to the beginnings of critical discussions of their work in a non-competitive environment.

This year, for Bachpan in Bengaluru, Atelier and its team sent out letters to more than 600 schools including Kannada medium ones. Following the same process as in Delhi, 23 schools in the city present their plays to a three-member jury, who select the five best plays for the grand finale.

Though the letter mentioned that proposals for plays in Kannada would be encouraged, most entries have been in English followed by Hindi. Shakespeare remains a fixture with some schools trying to adapt poems and writings by Indian writers like Tagore and Premchand who are part of the curriculum and, therefore, familiar. Sometimes plays with excessive platitudes and good intentions are sent in and invariably turned down in favour of more spontaneous and real material.

Atelier’s artistic director Kuljeet Singh says, “We usually look for how well their ideas are going with the performances, the relation of content and form and a certain unstressful simplicity giving the children an opportunity to step away from their intensely pressurised lifestyles.”

One problem that Singh and his team have encountered is that most schools tend to regard the exercise as an extended English language learning session, which naturally undermines the festival’s free flowing intent. In some cases there were pleasant surprises too. Singh talks about a play from a Delhi school, which put together a play on Tagore in an unusual and rather unsophisticated production. “On reflection, though, we found that their presentation and understanding was not very far from the truth of the play,” he says.

To promote its vision for school theatre, Atelier is also devising Interactive Short Plays for teachers and students. Next year, Bachpan intends to travel to Dehra Dun and Pune with support from the Ministry of Culture and YFM-Youniform Experts.

Bottomline: Exposing young actors to critical discussions of their work in a non-competitive environment

Bachpan Children’s Theatre Festival

When: October 4 (Grand Finale)

Where: Alliance Francaise, Bangalore