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'Theatre should be a part of school education'

S. Thirunavukkarasu Photo: Special Arrangement  

“Children are excellent art material,” declares Chennai-based theatre artist S. Thirunavukkarasu. “We have to let them be. Their expressions are genuine and we don’t have to do anything. They improvise,” he adds. But he says “Children’s theatre in Tamil Nadu has a long way to go. In Karnataka, it is very active. At Jashne Bachpan, an annual15-day festival in Delhi, children theatre productions from across the country put up more than 40 plays by children, but there is hardly any representation from Tamil Nadu.”

Thirunavukkarasu regrets how children here hardly know about the state’s traditional theatre folk art Theru koothu and Paavai koothu. “There are only two families left in Tamil Nadu who practise Paavai Koothu. We have moved away from our roots,” he says and adds, “Somehow in Kerala, Karnataka and Maharasthra, there is a balance between academics and theatre.”

The theatre artist was in Coimbatore recently to direct a children’s play Koondu Palli based on Tagore’s short story The parrot’s Training.

He has worked with Shanmugaraja of Nigazh Theatre that conducts regular workshops for children in Madurai. “NSD also has Theatre in Education (TIE) that promotes children oriented theatre in places like Tirupura and Sikkim,” he says.

He calls theatre, an ‘organic medium’ that engages children. “As a child learns to use his body, mind and voice, he develops an interest in art, dance, and music. He overcomes stage fear, learns to make eye-contact and communicate with an audience. He begins to observe life with a keener eye and learns to work in a team. It opens up his imagination and creativity. And, makes him energetic. Theatre is a total medium,” he says.

A Tamil literature student himself, Thirunavukkarasu says there are so many stories in Tamil literature that can be adapted to theatre.

“While studying in Madurai, I was influenced by Constantine Stanislavski and Bertol Brecht. After studying acting at Ninasam Institute in Karnataka, I taught theatre for school students at Thriuvannamalai and then joined the three-year course in acting at NSD.”

“NSD was an eye-opener,” he says. “I thought acting is magic. But at NSD, I learnt that acting is science and there are different ways to approach a character. And, that is how a modern actor is born.”

But Thirunavukkarasu emphasises that to become a modern actor, one has to have the base in traditional theatre. He himself has learnt from traditional theatre forms such as the Parsi theatre that highlights loud acting and melodrama (popularised by actors like Sivaji Ganesan in Tamil Nadu), and the more subtle Koodiyaatam from Kerala where the eyes and expression do most of the work. “I also learnt Ankiaa Naat from Gunakar Dev Goswami, a big name in modern and traditional theatre in Assam. This art form brings dance, aatam and paatam together. Then, there was Shakespeare...”

Thirunavukkarasu, who is from Virudhunagar, has also acted in a Tamil film produced by students of the Satyajit Ray Film Institute in Kolkata. “A base in theatre helps an actor to make the transition to films. He can adapt to any medium. It is in theatre that a real actor is born,” he says.

At his workshops he breaks stereotypes. “We help children bring out their ideas, creativity and imagination. They become confident and stand out. They begin to articulate much better.” And this is the reason Thirunavukkarasu appeals to schools to introduce traditional art forms.

“They can invite a puppet artist. Children can enjoy silambam, Therukoothu ... each art form teaches us something. Not everyone has to become a professional theatre actor but the skills they learn will help them in any field they choose to work. One of my friends who is a teacher approaches her classroom teaching as a performance. She brings energy and excitement to it and the students love her classes.”

Thirunavukkarasu acts, directs plays for children, and teaches acting at Koothu Pattarai and Rajiv Menon’s Mind Screen in Chennai. To know more, call him at 89406-53507

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 3:48:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Theatre-should-be-a-part-of-school-education/article16667550.ece

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