Theatre

A view from the wings

Aysha Rau (Founder, Little Theatre) , Photo: R. Ravindran.   | Photo Credit: R_RAVINDRAN

Here’s why Aysha Rau’s life panned out the way it did: she realised she’d rather talk to people than fish. “This was just one more turning point in my life that directed me towards this city and made me do all that I did,” says the 59-year-old.

Aysha grew up around the world, since her father was in the U.N. Despite a degree in Marine and Microbiology from the University of Portsmouth, U.K., Aysha decided to move to India and work as a copywriter with O&M, Calcutta. In 1982, she moved to HTA (now called JWT), Madras and met Jayaraj Rau. It wasn’t love at first sight, she says, and yet, a year later, they were engaged. She took a step back from advertising when Rohini was born in ’86, and Ajay, two years later. “But I didn’t see myself as someone who would just look after the babies and the house. Women should do something with the privileges they have to be a good mother,” says Aysha.

And so she did, with her bustling energy: Aysha taught her children papier-mâché and puppet theatre; she took a teacher’s training course for learning disability when she realised her son had borderline dyslexia; she found innovative ways to teach and encouraged her kids to act, dance, draw, sing, sail, play music and learn martial arts. “I think bringing up a child through the arts helps them a lot. There’s a correlation between math and music. Dance helps with posture and movement. Acting, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, teaches empathy, and being on stage helps with self-expression and self confidence.”

Suddenly, in 1991, she had a thought: instead of limiting these activities to her children, why not open it out to many more? Thus came the idea for The Little Theatre (TLT). “It became my talking point at every dinner party after that. I wanted children to register for the annual programme; by the time we opened our doors, we had 99 kids enrolled.”

Now, the city, beams Aysha, is full of TLT kids who are all grown up. Chennai’s annual Christmas pantomime, which TLT took over in 1995, has been a rite of passage for many city-based actors, musicians and dancers. The outreach programme, begun in 1995, reached out to talented children from underprivileged backgrounds. From 2010, Toddler Theatre has engaged two-to-four-year-olds. The Little Festival was started the same year to bring international productions by adults for children to this city. In 2015, the hospital clowns programme took flight.

Aysha was at the helm of all this, while juggling freelance careers in advertising, model coordinating and casting for feature films. She’s also published short stories and three children’s books on marine life. She’s acted in a few productions, scripted many and produced most.

Seems like she’s got a lot of energy, doesn’t it? “I’m always thinking one thing, doing another and planning a third. But I just do things I enjoy. I don’t mull over them for too long — I just dive headlong and make things happen.”

This month, as The Little Theatre turns 25, Aysha says she’s handed over the reins of the company that popularised children’s theatre in this city to her daughter and son-in-law, Krishnakumar Balasubramanian. “I’m letting the youngsters take over. But they don’t have to worry about marketing and raising funds. All that is on me.” Does she enjoy it? She chuckles, “Well, I’m good at it. I’m a hard negotiator and I guess, a tough nut to crack.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 10:27:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/a-view-from-the-wings/article8541235.ece

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