Rangaprabhath Children's Theatre, which was established to promote the talents of children has evolved as a community centre

Come weekends, a quiet, sylvan place in rustic Venjaramoodu comes alive with music, dance, mime, and more as children from the locality get together to learn about different aspects of theatre. Stories from folklore, classic plays and Tagore's drama are staged by children who have been trained by a dedicated band of teachers.

For more than four decades this place has been keeping alive a disciple's effort to make his teacher's dream come true. On 22 cents of land at Alumthara, near Venjaramoodu, is located Rangaprabhath Children's Theatre.

The late G. Sankara Pillai, the doyen of children's theatre in Kerala, had often spoken about launching a children's theatre movement in Kerala. It was his student, the late K. Kochunarayana Pillai who took steps to turn his teacher's dream into reality. Launched to integrate education and arts, Rangaprabhath has stood the test of time, thanks to a huge bunch of devoted souls. One among them is K.S. Geetha, daughter of Kochunarayana Pillai, and secretary of the 11-member Rangaprabhath Charitable Trust.

“My father used to be worried about the future of Rangaprabhath. We all knew it was his life. So, when he left us suddenly in 2007 at a public meeting, we were determined to ensure that Rangaprabhath did not fall apart. Many people have worked towards that, including the people of Venjaramoodu, especially the parents who've trusted us and believed in the system that Rangaprabhath advocates. In fact, we've a large family out here…,” says Geetha, with immense pride in her voice.

Not just theatre

Rangaprabhath isn't about theatre alone. Children from in and around the theatre complex assemble here daily, in the evenings, and indulge in activities such as story telling, reciting poetry, drama, music, dance, fine arts or learning folk art forms. The present batch has 25 children. In addition, there are classes on weekends and holidays when children from different parts of the district turn up.

Besides the children's group (named Kadambam) which is for those aged from five to 14, there are separate sessions for those in the 15 to 25 (Kalari) and the 25- plus (Kalam) age groups. “The Kalari and Kalam categories were started when those who finished the Kadambam stage expressed interest to be with Rangaprabhath. It was Professor N. Krishna Pillai who gave us the idea,” says Geetha. Now Kalari has a handful of active participants and the Kalam category includes senior hands like Geetha, who function as the cast and crew of Rangaprabhath's productions.

Geetha isn't the only one who has a long association with Rangaprabhath. In fact, those who serve Rangaprabhath as members of the trust or cast and crew of the plays or as office staff have been working here since its inception, such as B.S. Balakrishnan Nair, Sasikumar, Anilkumar S., V.S. Sreekumar, Anilkumar P., Prakash T., Chitralekha, Harish, Remya, Vibhu Pirappancode, and Vamanapuram Mani, to name a few. Also, most children who now attend classes at Rangaprabhath have brothers, sisters or other family members who were once students of this institution, as in the case of Anand G.R., a class nine student, whose elder brothers had learned at Rangaprabhath.

“The Trust president Dr. N. Radhakrishnan (who is also the working chairman of Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi) and people such as Professor S. Ramanujam and G. Gangadharan Nair have played pivotal roles in keeping Rangaprabhath alive,” she says.

The module

It isn't about acting alone. One is exposed to a lot of creative activities here, says Keerthi Krishna, Geetha's daughter. The children are first taught stories, poems, and songs so that they fall into the groove. Then they are made to do different exercises so as to develop rhythm. Voice modulation, body movements, theatre games, acting sessions, and other activities come under the training module. There are classes in classical music, folk songs, dance, musical instruments, painting, craft, clay modelling, wood carving, and origami.

Balvikas Mela

Rangaprabhath is currently conducting ‘Balvikas Mela,' aimed at the holistic development of children. It concludes on May 20. There are workshops on children's theatre, creative dramatics, theatre games, story-telling and creative music, and seminars on topics such as value creation, global warming, child rights, mental stress, nuclear safety, and so on. Counselling for parents and children are also being held. All this is in addition to the regular classes. Contact: 0472- 2872344.

The journey

G. Sankara Pillai, a reformer that he was, wanted Kochunarayana Pillai to work towards a children's theatre movement. Rangaprabhath was born on September 19, 1970, with 40 children at Vamanapuram, where the latter was working as a teacher. The first play staged was Sankara Pillai's Pushpakireedom. Later he shifted the theatre to Venjaramoodu, his wife's native place. “The classes were held under a mango tree then. Later a shed was put up,” says Geetha. In 1981, he bought 11 cents of land at Alumthara, had two thatched sheds to begin with and started monthly presentation of plays. By 1985 it had a new theatre complex ready. “He developed it step by step,” says Geetha, who become a part of Rangaprabhath as a four-year-old. A trained musician who chose running the activities of Rangaprabhath over her teaching job, she is ably supported by her husband, S. Harikrishnan, a government employee, who doubles up as the coordinator of the institution, and daughter Keerthi Krishna, a Plus Two student, who has been an active member of the troupe since her childhood.

Short takes

The cool confines of Rangaprabhath, dotted with huge trees, now houses the G. Sankara Pillai Memorial Centre for Performing Arts and a memorial for Kochunarayana Pillai.

Rangaprabhath has been recognised as a resource and training centre by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi, and the Department of Culture. Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) sanctioned a Programme Study Centre for Performing Arts here in 2010.

In addition to 12 plays of Sankara Pillai, the troupe has staged over 50 in-house productions, which include children's plays and those featuring seniors. Among its recent productions are plays based on Rabindra Nath Tagore's works in connection with his 150th birth anniversary celebrations and those based on famous literary works and legendary personalities. Theatre groups and artists from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Switzerland and different parts of India have come down to Rangaprabhath for seminars and workshops. Folk arts festival and community-oriented workshops are regular programmes.