She is a soprano, ballet dancer, actor and theatre educator. She also makes masks and puppets, writes scripts for skits, composes music and plays the guitar. There are perhaps very few facets of the performing arts that Maryruth Stine, also known as Mar Stine, has not been involved with.

Having studied and toured extensively in the U.S. and Canada as a theatre performer and trainer, Maryruth was in Bangalore, Chennai and other places in south India for around four months this year to assist various marginalised communities in bringing out their own narratives.

Teaching theatre

“Theatre is a tool not just for personal expression, but for social change and communication across the borders of language and ideology. This is integrated into my work through a commitment to educational exchange, with teachers and students as equal participants, both as audience and artists,” said Maryruth.

During her stay in this country, she conducted intensive theatre workshops and rehearsals that included aspects of technique, choreography and mask construction.

Among the groups that she shared her knowledge with are Vanavil (a school for children of economically backward nomadic tribes affected by the 2004 tsunami in Nagapattinam), LesBiT (a Bangalore-based support group for gender minorities) and Marappachi (a cultural space in Chennai).

“Their brave and beautiful work was absolutely inspiring. The relationships I developed and lessons I learned with them are very meaningful to me,” Maryruth said.

Satire in Madurai

An important part of her Indian sojourn was teaching theatre with Saalai Selvam, a educationist and writer in Madurai. The art form that they had taken up was commedia dell'arte, which uses satire from the Italian and French Renaissance and mime, clowns and masks to critique the aspects of class in society. The two women are bringing out a book in Tamil about commedia dell'arte.

Maryruth has taught in a variety of urban and rural settings that included youth with special needs. Her lessons have focused on self-expression, imagination and cooperation where she emphasises that the skills acquired are useful for life outside of theatre and school. “I feel strongly committed to supporting and encouraging the young as they dare to experiment and mess up,” she said.

Maryruth added, “Art and learning are powerful bridges across social barriers and the combination of the two is at the crux of my commitment as a teaching artist. And of course, there is the sheer joy and exhilaration of it.”

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