Yog Japee of Theatre Y and Krishnakumar Balasubramanian of The Little Theatre talk to Sudhish Kamath about their journey and training modules for children

They are from two different generations. And are introducing a whole new generation of Chennai kids to theatre.

Yog Japee of Theatre Y and Krishnakumar Balasubramanian also known as KK of The Little Theatre have been training children in theatre over the past few years.

They have both directed three pantomimes each for The Little Theatre and specialise in working with children.

Keeping with the spirit of staying young, we bring them both together for a photo shoot at a playground. “Can you do a pull up?” we ask them. “Yes, I can,” says KK. “Yes, he can,” says Yog, pointing at KK.

After an hour-long fun session of making them play with swings, slides and see-saws for the camera, we sat down to find out if theatre is child’s play.

Yog Japee

Age: 40

Banner: Theatre Y

Background: My first experience with theatre was a poetry performance through British Council and the Culture cafe in the winter of 1998. They had called for people to read poetry. My first plays were with Masquerade and The Madras Players. My directorial debut was Little Theatre’s pantomime Cleopatra (2000). Elves and the Shoemaker (2001) and Romeo and Julieto in Mexico (2010) were the other two pantomimes I did for The Little Theatre. I did four plays for Stella Maris College — Blithe Spirit, Arsenic and Old Lace and That, Then, This, Now - an adaptation of the Panchatantra and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

As an actor, I cherish the plays I did with Rajeev Krishnan — The Accidental Death Of An Anarchist and Government Inspector, an adaptation of Gogol’s Inspector General.

In 2003, I formed Theatre Y; and we did a production called Reality in association with the U.N. volunteers in Srilanka and other social outreach programmes with the UNDP in New Delhi between 2006-2011.

I was a fellow in Clore Chevening cultural leadership programme for a year, that included a secondment at South Bank Centre, London for six months (2013).

Most recently, I attended the Jagruti Yatra, the train journey with 400 other volunteers to discover India and build India through social enterprise.

I had started my acting career in films with Gautham Menon’s Kaakha Kaakha, then did the Telugu version Gharshana and Vettaiyaadu Vilayadu. For Vishnuvardhan, I did Arindum Ariyamalum, Billa 1 and 2, then Nandhini’s Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru and recently, Soodhu Kavvum and X with Nalan Kumarasamy.

USP: The three pillars of Theatre Y are training (we build skills), performances (where we explore alternate spaces, new audiences and new forms) and social outreach programmes (using theatre for development)

Nature of training: Our training is through creative expression. Learning through doing. Through experiential learning and creative exercises.

There is a strong focus on the individual, the group and then, the individual in a group.

We work with a diverse group of children from schools, special schools and the economically underprivileged and tailor-make programmes based on their needs.

We have a 15-day Funty programme in the summer and Funty Six, a six-month programme during the academic year. The programme covers Theatre, Creative writing, Poetry and Illustration. We also try to bring in cartooning and puppetry and other forms of art to facilitate learning.

Most important thing for an actor: To be able to find a space where you get to express yourself with absolute freedom. We create that space. We see a completely different aspect of their behaviour that comes out when they know they can be themselves.

Currently busy with: I have acting assignments, four different films coming up. We are looking at creating a programme for resource people who work with children. Training the trainers, we want to bring them together and work together. We are also scripting for a couple of productions. One will be a mythically driven play and the other is an experiment with form and presentation.

Next batch and fees: The 15-day Funty programme (for age 7 upwards) is in April and registrations open in March.

For details look up www.theatrey.com or call 98410 70796.

We also have the Funty Six programme later this year when schools reopen, it happens every weekend at our centre for six months.

Krishnakumar Balasubramanian aka KK

Age: 27

Banner: The Little Theatre/ Kickass Entertainment

Background: I got on stage seven years ago with The Little Theatre for a pantomime called Pirates of the Curried Beans directed by Michael Muthu where I played the dame, in drag. It was very well received.

In 2010, I was the only actor selected from India for the artists residency in Korea by ASSITEJ India.

In early 2010, I did a feature film called Kaadhalaagi, where I played the lead opposite Prakash Raj.

I have directed three Christmas pantomimes for The Little Theatre. Alice in ILand (2011), The Free Musketeers (2012), The Lord of the Bling (2013).

I have worked on the production of The Little Festival for four years and in the home productions for three years — Kingdom of Joomba (scripted and acted), Atita (scripted, directed and acted), Gapsaa Fully Loaded (scripted, directed and acted).

Most recent was Atita - Into the unknown, a science fiction production. All our productions are original musicals with original scores.

I was on the panel for imparting skills to youth at the world economic forum in Gurgaon in 2012 as a Global Shaper, the youth wing of World Economic Forum.

USP: Since I have had extensive training in martial arts and stunts from Korea and Australia, I incorporate dance forms and martial arts in my productions. We use solid elements of action, to create a hybrid between cinema and theatre because kids need to be excited about the visuals.

Nature of training: We do one and half hours to two hour sessions (a total of 15 sessions) where we get the kids to work with each other, communicate and bring aspects from their environment and channel that into the creative process.

The programme covers a lot of theatre, voice, body movement and they are trained to be actors, directors and choreographers themselves. By the 13th session, they start creating their own plays.

The methodology is improvisation. I would throw them a situation instead of giving them a fixed script. The idea is to create a level plane for the group — be it a leader or the bully or the timid kid, they all need to be equally comfortable.

Most important thing for an actor: To be completely comfortable in your skin. You will be willing to throw yourselves into situations only if you are comfortable. We don’t dwell into brutal theatre techniques, we teach kids through self exploration. We ask them to have fun with it.

Currently busy with: I am planning a trip from the South to North to work with NGOs and do theatre workshops with the slums. It is a short sabbatical before we start preparing for the The Little Theatre’s International Theatre Fest in July.

Next batch and fees: The registrations for The Little Theatre workshop start on March 14. The fees is Rs. 12,000 and seats are filled on a First come first served basis.

The workshop begins only by August and goes on till December every Saturday. The kids from the workshop participate in the Christmas pantomime.

We also have a storytelling workshop called Campfire Tales on the first Friday of every month. The next one is on February 7, between 6.30p.m. and 8.30 p.m at Cheria Aana, our rehearsal space at Village Road, Nungambakkam.

The fees is Rs. 200 a head (on the spot registration). Call 2821 1115 / 96771 25738 to register.