“Stand at the right corner of the stage. Once you hear the sound of the gushing wind, sway gently,” the teacher told the little boy. “Understood? When it goes ‘gusssshhhhhhhhhh’, you must move this way and that,” she repeated the instruction along with a demonstration, with her arms stretched sideways. “And remember to smile.”

The cue may be clear, the costume — a long piece of cardboard painted brown with shiny plastic leaves stitched together on cloth — may be novel, but that doesn’t really make it any easier for the ‘tree’ in the school play. The lead characters often wear pretty clothes and make-up, get to speak on stage and draw a lot attention from teachers during rehearsals. But the tree’s role is to watch all this quietly, without uttering a word. The only expression permitted is a mild sway and a plastic smile. Of course, with the hands stretched sideways.

Not just trees. From kings, queens and their subjects to mythological characters, prophets, birds and even ants — a school play offers an interesting platform for all that children might want to be. It is one thing to play the lead and be in the spotlight and yet another to be one of the artistes on stage. Not always are students convinced with the casting, but many see mere participation as an opportunity to depart from their mundane routine in school.

My friend whose four-year-old son plays “one of the Lord Krishnas” in his school play this week, told me: “I don’t know what the experience means to him, but I am having a tough time chauffeuring him around for rehearsals and costume hunts.”

I vividly remember watching Pied Piper of Hamelin which was staged when I was in middle school. I was fascinated that hundreds of my friends and juniors were selected to play mice. Interestingly, they were made to sit among the audience, and would emerge suddenly and parade up to the stage as the menacing mice.

Children were attired in different shades of grey and brown. They had caps in the matching colours and tails in black. They even had whiskers drawn on their faces, and if I remember right, red lipstick. It was a delight watching them running up to the stage — some giggling, some looking serious and a few running faster than they needed to.

How were they chosen? Some of them merrily volunteered to take part when the teacher made an announcement in class. Others regretted having given their names in a moment of weakness, as their parents were not amused at all. And when our teachers found out there weren’t enough mice, they playfully coerced a few more of my friends into agreeing to play the role.

Most of them had a good time, no doubt. Being in the school play meant getting to bunk classes legitimately for practice, treating themselves to samosa after school and chat endlessly with seniors, often playing more “important” roles.

Like my friend said, parents did have a difficult time. They had to pick up their children at a different time every day, hire costumes — often from one of the costume and wig stores in Vadapalani — and make sure their children caught up with classes they had missed and homework they had forgotten about.

My friend complains, but feels the trouble might still be worth it. “At least they (children) get to do something different, learn a story or a few lines and maybe, make new friends. It’s okay,” she said. “And, it’s a good time to find out who is teacher’s pet,” she laughed.

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