The first thing that hits you is the noise — over two hundred children perched on their seats chatter excitedly, shuffle in their seats and tear open packets of potato chips and chocolate.
“I love fantasy,” pipes one little spectator while her neighbour continues perusing her Dora the Explorer picture book. Another little boy, who has reserved a seat for his friend by placing a bag on it, moves it aside and jumps up to greet him when he arrives while a gaggle of small girls exchange virulently coloured cake and biscuits.
More students troop into the hall, filling the vacant seats and even the staircases of the Museum Theatre, Egmore where South-Korean Theatre Group Taroo, is showcasing its production, titled The Tiger with white eyebrows . Related in the Korean Pansori tradition of musical storytelling, four Pansori singers and a few musicians, tell the story of an interesting encounter between a thousand-year-old tiger with white eyebrows and a little child. Simple, engaging and endearing, the story elicited laughter and participation from every child in the audience.
And if the response to that play is anything to go by, the fifth edition of the Little Theatre’s The Little Festival has been an unqualified success. “Schools have been so supportive this year. We are really happy about it,” says Aysha Rau of the Little Theatre, a not-for-profit children’s theatre company that focuses on helping children overcome inhibitions and unearth hidden talent through theatre.
“Theatre helps you suspend disbelief and transports you to another world,” says Aysha. And that according to her is its latent power, “It really helps children develop their imagination and learn to be creative.
In today’s world, we need to have leaders who can look at life with a different perspective and come up with out- of -the -box solutions.”
She firmly believes that sustained instruction in the arts made children better more rounded human beings.
Nisha, who teaches Hindi at the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan School agrees, “Life is so mechanical these days and children end-up getting so lost in school work. It is so important for their creative side to come out as it helps them understand varied cultures, improves their overall personality and opens their minds more. And if given a chance, every child is an artist.”
Rathi Jafer, Director of the Indo Korean Cultural Centre which was instrumental to bringing the play to The Little Festival believes that not only is art educational but it also helps bring families together and allows traditions to stay relevant, “By exposing children to different cultural forms at a vulnerable age, you help open their minds and be respectful and accepting of differences between people,” she says.
But it’s not just the differences that it highlights but also the essential sameness of the human spirit that transcends geography, language, traditions and religion.
According to Kim Mi Jeong, the director of the show, “We focus on children because they have impressionable minds. The themes we tackle here are universal and children in any part of the world will be able to learn and relate to them. Art, after all, is not about language but about feeling.”
“We wanted children to be happy coming for our production and decided that we need to have a festival of global standards. There is no point in dishing out mediocrity,” adds Aysha. “By raising the bar and demanding higher quality, we will create a bunch of children who understand and appreciate theatre better. This will inevitably lead to the formation of adults who will choose to make theatre-going a part of their culture when they grow up.”