Children’s talents came to the fore at Marabu Foundation’s workshop.

Marabu Foundation at Thillaisthanam near Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur district organised a children's theatre workshop recently. Thirteen children aged 10 to 14, all of them from the same tiny village, participated in the week-long workshop. They learned to speak on stage, to change a song into a story, convert that into a play with dialogue, and to present it. Shy children faced the audience and delivered speeches. They learned to play the roles of kings and ministers, moneylenders and farmers, lions and trees.

Dr. Rama Kausalya, founder and managing trustee of Marabu, guided the children. She offered themsome play outlines, but there were no scripts. The children themselves decided on the plot and improvised their dialogue. They first learnt breath control to make their voices heard. Modulation and body language also received attention. According to Kausalya, the way they grasped the nuances was amazing.

The workshop taught the children the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. By the time the workshop was at midpoint, they were correcting each other and themselves, said Dr Kausalya, without her prompting them.

While presenting the plays, they used no costume, props or makeup, but the audience had no trouble understanding who was a lion and who was a farmer. This was especially clear in the forest skit. The animals of the forest, finding all the trees cut down, invade the villages. The villagers turn to a rishi for advise and he proposes that the forest replanted. During the performance, the sage, animals and villagers all portrayed their roles and conveyed messages using posture and vocal expressions.

During the week, the children also learned a dozen songs, many of Bharatiar’s, including the battle cry ‘Achcham illai achcham illai.’ The children sang these between skits, standing in a circle with their hands joined, and the effect, especially of the freedom songs, was moving. The setting of the performance was a brilliant touch. The stage was a simple blue tarpaulin spread over the earthen courtyard of a village house. Cows and calves continued to feed on the one side of the stage, with a haystack looming behind. The small but attentive audience of villagers and visitors sat on a second tarpaulin. Though the children had not rehearsed with microphones and lights, they were as calm as professionals in the limelight.

The workshop concluded with a sparkling performance of the children, who sang songs and presented skits.