Children were the main cast. To these Chennai school kids, the process of putting together a play was more appealing than the roles they donned.

One month. Two hundred and fifty children. Two plays. Kadhai Carnival 2, staged at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubbarao Hall, Chennai, by renowned playwright, Feisal Alkazi, and starring all of Kids Central School kids (aged nine months to 11 years) proved to be a benchmark for children's theatre in the city. But wait, there's more to this story.

The experience of writing, acting, singing, dancing, making sets, recording at the studio, watching the adults ponder over costumes, lights, and music, and remembering entries, exits, lines, gestures touched the children in a myriad ways.

First-person

In their own accounts, the process of putting together the plays was one of the most exciting, but also difficult experiences in the lives of many children. KC teachers Lakshmi Suresh and Sreedevi Nair asked the second and third graders to write logs on the play and what it meant to them.

Khubear, who played Ali Baba, wrote: “This is my biggest experience, and my biggest act as I was the main character, Ali Baba.”

Akshar writes: “I am lucky that I got my favourite part. Now I know how difficult it is for the actors who work so hard!”

Anoushka sums up the process: “The teachers put in a lot of effort making the props, I learned that the person who was recording the voices had to check each line to see if it is okay. It took four weeks to put together costumes, dance, music, and the props!”

Karan Berry, father of seven-year-old Mehek, feels that having an artist-in-residence enhanced his daughter's performing talent. My son, Manu, was in tears a month ago about playing the bandit leader in Ali Baba. He asked: “Am I a bad person to play a bandit?” As the rehearsals unfolded, he realised the importance of his part, and played it with zest!

Several parents rescheduled weekend and evening programmes because the children refused to miss any of the activities leading up to the play.

Teachers from all grades remarked on the spirit of teamwork and responsibility that they saw in their children.

Sathvik, a first grader, was caught in a dilemma of attending rehearsals or going on an exciting trek with friends and family. He decided that he would stay, as his role was central, and his absence would affect the rehearsals.

Pooja, mother of three-year-old Shreeya, remarks that older and younger children learned to mingle well, as a result of being grouped together.

Divya Ananth, an LKG teacher, added: “This play gave them the experience of being a part of a whole.”

Teachers and parents remark on the mix of emotions, the almost-visible churning of wheels in the mind, and the shedding of shells, as little ones fit into their roles, interpreting them in original ways.

Laiza shares the examples of Trisha and Rida, both aged five, who froze even during informal presentations. The process of creating and rehearsing their characters gave them time to get used to their parts, and they both visibly enjoyed the final show.

Five-year old Dhruv, who played a wise elephant, could remember all his lines, but had a hard time animating his character. He gave his all to improving his performance, and bowled over the audience with his beautiful portrayal.

Krupa Prabhudesai, a first grade teacher, says that Vikram a first-grader, showed his expressive side over the course of the rehearsals, and his demeanour in class also grew more animated.

Arya took his cue from the name of his character, Teeny-weeny (a grasshopper), and imbued it with a nasal voice, trademark gestures, and perfect comic timing.

Yunjin, a special child, was thrilled to be in the play, and took care to remember her entries and exits on stage, and keep time with the others during the dance sequence.

Mr. Crow, played by first-grader Vyaas made you feel like you were watching a real bird, with his stance, cocked head, and perfect delivery of a challenging part.

Lakshmi Nagappan, a parent, says, “It shows that if you trust them and give them the right direction, they will do their part.”

Priya Ganesh notes that her daughter Smrithi understood that even her character, a tiny ant, has the right to live; and each role is critical to telling a story. For Valli Subbiah, the head of the school, drama is a medium for learning that brings together concepts, language, expression, through teamwork and commitment.

Keywords: Feisal Alkazi

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012