Vaishali Chakravarty stands in the middle of an animated group of children. They are about to perform a poem and the excitement is building. Aware of the audience, some burst into giggles, some steal surreptitious glances at the audience and some others are just delighted to be performing. Vaishali gives the cues and the children move about the terrace, their temporary performance space, reciting Christina Rossetti’s What is Pink.
Vaishali, a theatre actor and educator has been training children at Mridulasparsham, an integrated training centre and educational institution for children with special needs, at Irumpanam, since November. “I feel more lively teaching these children. They are more spontaneous, more energetic,” she says.
Vaishali is grooming 16 children from the Centre for a Trinity College, London, exam in Performing Arts (under a special category). Being the academic consultant for Trinity College, London, in drama, speech and communication skills, she is training them for a basic grade from Trinity. “I want the message to go out to people—that these children are capable, too.”
“Children with disabilities have more courage to take on challenges. They are innocent and honest. I am not a special educator, but I don’t use a different approach to teach these children. I just tweak my methodology a bit. I just have to be more jumpy than them, to match up with their energy,” she says.
Drama, Vaishali says, would go a long way in helping the children deal with daily life challenges. “It helps in problem solving, critical thinking. I believe there are no bad students, only bad teachers. A teacher has to guide and direct the students, help them see and learn about the world around them,” she says.
The group she is handling is mixed—including children with various kinds of developmental disorders and one with hearing impairment. Vaishali chose a Rossetti poem, because “her poems don’t question your intellect, they are easy flowing, as inquisitive as children.”
She uses a Kinaesthetic approach, which involves the use of all the five senses, and ensures that the child learns faster and retains better. “If one uses all the senses to engage with a piece of literature, the retention would be better,” Vaishali says.
By now the students are familiar with her and are friends with her. “I teach drama to children in Delhi, where I am based, and I do have a few special students,” she says. As a drama educator, she feels every child should be exposed to it. Children who study drama are exposed to prose, poetry and mime and they learn a lot of things through the playfulness of the medium. “Drama gives them a sense of ownership of their own ideas and words, a certain confidence. Drama is a very safe space to introduce any idea. Clear communication, more than impeccable pronunciation, is the need of the hour and it can come through drama.”
Director of the Vaishali Chakkravarty Creative Education and one of the founders of the Actor Factor Theatre Company, Vaishali believes drama goes far beyond the stage. “It opens your mind to imagination. It is also catharsis on stage, you are freed from the mental, sometimes even physical blocks you have. I would say that it is drama that made me brave.”
As a college student in Mumbai, Vaishali used to do drama. But it was much later, when she found a job as a copywriter at an ad agency in Delhi that she took it up more seriously. She found that she was surrounded by theatre enthusiasts and that was how Actor Factor Theatre Company was formed.
She visits Kochi twice every month and has been training teachers in speech and drama.