Teater Sagohuset, a Swedish theatre house, gives children with disabilities and the very young a chance to fly with their imaginations

Theatre for babies - as young as eight months old? That’s what Swedish theatre house Teater Sagohuset has been successfully experimenting with for the last three years.

They have collaborated with Irinjalakuda based Natanakairali, a research, training and performing centre for traditional arts, and together made forays into the field of theatre for children with disabilities and for children below the age of five.

Working with children

Margareta Larson, artistic director of the group explains, “It is a tradition in Sweden that started in the 60s to make theatre with children as much as we do with adults. Even big theatre groups give as much importance for children’s theatre but it has been generally for children above the age of five. In the last ten years theatres in Sweden have been working consciously with children below the age of five.”

Margareta, a theatre veteran founded Sagohuset 27 years ago and since has been working in developing and widening the scope of theatre globally. Kerala has a special draw for her work as she finds the levels of schooling and literacy conducive to the tenets of her group’s experiments.

Asa Allander, an actress with 20 years experience and one from the group believes that as theatre need not have a language it is easy to work with kids and babies.

“This is the most exciting aspect because theatre many times does not need words. While on stage, the spotlight is on you and you need not look at anybody in the audience but with babies you need to be involved. We have to integrate them into the play,” she says. Asa Horling, a dancer brings in the movements. “This kind of theatre works in a small space. There is intimacy and involvement. It’s a fine mix of different aspects of theatre.”

Margaret looks back when she first set up Sagohuset in Sweden. The space she set up is stark with windows at a good height. “One can see only tree tops. Hence while performing there is no distraction and the actors concentrate.” The principle that she expounds in this current project is of laying emphasis on concentration among the highly excited and attention deficient children. “It is a big problem globally with children and adults. Our attention spans have shortened and children get distracted easily. Theatre brings in concentration.” She lists out many examples from among her students who began concentrating and got rid of their restlessness after working with theatre. “A 11-year-old danced so beautifully and his special school teacher was surprised that the boy had moved,” recounts Margaret a case where theatre helped a differently-abled boy. “Our aim is to give the disabled children an opportunity to participate in cultural activities.”

Oscar Hielm, a musician and a participant, reiterates the efficacy of theatre for special children. He says that theatre allows them to play with their imagination. “We tell them a story and then together we make a play.”

Storytelling

The process the group generally follows is of telling a popular story and encouraging children to take part according to their abilities. “Some children are full of words and some dance beautifully. We put no pressure on the children and they slowly emerge from their limitations and rise beautifully to perform,” says Margaret adding that babies, sitting on the stage, quickly learn to respond to sounds with movements, clapping and such.

The story which is often a very simple tale as of Max’s takes the kids to a dramatic climax and then to a solution which peters to a satisfactory end. “The kids go through the drama, they even get a bit sad and you can sense it,” she says adding that they keep the stories extremely simple for babies and children below five.

Teater Sagohuset performed at Don Bosco Snehabhavan, Palluruthy yesterday.