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Leading a children's theatre movement

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TRAILBLAZER: A scene from the play 'Ponnumkudam' enacted by the Rangaprabhat Children's Theatre.
TRAILBLAZER: A scene from the play 'Ponnumkudam' enacted by the Rangaprabhat Children's Theatre.

Staff Reporter

Rangapraphat wins G.D. Birla global award

Thiruvananthapuram: The Rangaprabhat Children's Theatre, which has been selected for the prestigious G.D. Birla International Award 2005, represents the successful evolution of a unique movement to harness creative arts for an alternate medium of education.

Humble beginning

Located at Alumthara, a rural suburb about 30 km from the city, Rangaprabhat was set up in 1970 by K. Kochunarayana Pillai, a retired teacher.

"At that time, the only inspiration I had was a dream and the infectious enthusiasm provided by the noted playwright G. Sankara Pillai who is considered the father of the alternate theatre movement in Malayalam," recalls Pillai.

To the outsider, the daily routine at the theatre may seem to be all fun and frolic. But for the children, every day at the centre represents new opportunities and challenges.

The training programme helps to hone their creative instincts and instill moral values and cultural ethics.

Rangaprabhat believes that the inherent interest in children for telling and listening to stories, play acting and creative games can be put to better use as a means of education. "Children like to learn, not be taught," reads a poster inside the complex

The routine at the theatre includes storytelling, singing, improvised games and dramatics. According to Pillai, Rangaprabhat is not an attempt to create stage artistes out of children; it is an effort to utilise the infinite potential of performing arts to propagate noble ideals among them for social change. "Children's theatre offers opportunities to discover the child in each of us," he says.

Most of the children attending the training classes are from economically backward, rural families. Devoid of the trappings of sophisticated city life and urban manners, these children are more receptive and respond more easily to the loose regimen at the theatre.

The children are regularly exposed to ritual and folk arts like Padayani, Poorakali, Kambadi kali and Thiruvathira, which easily lend themselves to creative adaptations for children's plays.

Says Pillai: "Studying the traditions of these art forms also helps to create a sensible theatre audience among the rural public. We do not try to control the creative instincts of the children, we only channel them. Once the story is imbibed, the children are free to select their roles and make adaptations."

A large number of the plays performed here are based on folk tales like the Panchatantra and convey strong morals. Nidhiyum Neethiyum (Treasure and Justice), directed by M.K. Bhanumati, highlights the importance of adopting truthful means in life while Ponnumkudam (Gold Pot), directed by Pillai himself, is a play against colour discrimination conveyed through the experiences of a young princess who gets trapped in an iron safe.

Workshops, seminars and discussions are regularly conducted at Rangaprabhat. Some of the children in the earlier batches have even made it to the stage as professional artistes.

"The G.D. Birla award is a recognition for children's theatre and its role in education," says Pillai.

Rangaprabhat is already working on a travelling troupe to introduce the concept of children's theatre to schools across the State. Efforts are on to publish a biography of G. Sankara Pillai for theatre students.

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