Children’s Theatre by Annu Mehta is the uninhibited and lively world of children that lights up the stage and leaves people mesmerised. Come with me to get a glimpse of the most celebrated shows. You’re welcome to the world of young actors. Wow! The auditorium is full. The stage is set and the curtain looks poised and calm. Shadows of hurrying figures float time and again like angels all set to descend on the tresses of the night. Costumes are laid out in the dressing room and faces are being painted. These little ones are all set to perform. Parents make up the restless audience. Ah! lights dim and the audience settles. As the ropes of the curtains are pulled, months of preparation come to fruition, and The Jungle Book comes to life. It has Baloo the bear, Sher Khan the tiger, Akela the leader of the Seeonee pack of Indian wolves and Mowgli, ‘the man-cub’ who was raised in the jungles by the wolves.
Annu – I go back in time and find my little self; roughly four years of age, lighting up the stage with rhythmic steps. Loved ones exclaim, ‘Look at this dramebaaz! Her facial expressions change every moment and the glint in her eyes mesmerizes the audience.’ Yes! Theatre mesmerized me in school but it was in college that it swept me off my feet. The Hindi Dramatics Award in Lady Shri Ram College was my dream come true and since then theatre is my life force energy. I played various roles to perfection after getting married to a paramilitary personnel. With every transfer I would find opportunities to teach in schools but with the aim of introducing theatre to my students.
BV: When did you become a full-fledged drama teacher?
Annu Mehta: 2006 was a watershed year for me as the Art Education envisaged by the National Curriculum Framework 2005 was implemented in schools. With this CBSE made it mandatory to make the performing arts a mainstream subject and thus music, dance and drama were integrated in school education. I was delighted as performing arts encourage out of the box thinking and develops problem-solving skills that lead to holistic development of children. I got a new meaning in life. Within two years I became a drama teacher with the aim to introduce life skills through theatre.
BV: Share the impact of theatre on your life.
Annu: My deep involvement in the teaching-learning process of drama transformed me. As parents and teachers we are guilty of judging children on the basis of their talents and academic performance. Theatre made me more of an observer than an actor and helped me evolve and understand that, ‘the world’s a stage and we all actors who never get to rehearse their roles. Academic worth and talents do not help us to deal with real life. Here comes the role of theatre that equips children with life skills and empowers them to play their unique roles to perfection. Children’s Theatre by Annu Mehta is all about gifting children creative opportunities to learn life skills.
BV: Do you see yourself as a unique historical character or someone from a fairy tale who is poised to make a difference on the stage of life in general and in the lives of the children in particular?
Annu: Yes! I see myself as the whistleblower, the one who always stirs a storm in the teacup. I see myself fighting for the introduction of more “to do” methodologies, almost rising up in revolt against the instruction based ideologies in education. Well! This spirit of mine did fetch me recognition and I was awarded for implementing inquiry-based learning in classroom in a long-term workshop conducted by Educomp and sponsored by Wipro. I also relate to Jhansi Ki Rani for I am a fearless spirit riding towards my goal with the fervour of a warrior. My work is like a mission and I have fought, changed systems in schools, made enemies, quit jobs to feed the Theatre in Education (TIE) ideology for the larger interest of children, to replace annual functions with TIE programs and to make class assemblies audition free.
BV: What is the purpose of your life and how do you intend to fulfill it as a theatre enthusiast?
Annu: I believe we all come on this earth for a short while. The purpose of my life is to fortify the little creations of God with life skills and to create good human beings. So that’s the tagline of Children’s Theatre By Annu Mehta -”Preparing Children For Life.’
BV: Trace the scope of theatre for our readers who plan to take it up as a professional choice. Give tips and share the challenges that one needs to embrace in this field.
Annu: This form of process-based theatre needs a lot of educational enthusiasts to make education more skill based. One doesn’t need to be an actor or a performer. One just needs to have love for children and firm belief in the ideology that skill development is more important than academic excellence for a human being to lead a happier life. It took me fifteen years to develop the curriculum as we don’t have much of formal guidance in our country. I became a learner and explored the curriculum available abroad to realise that I was on the right track. It is all about giving experiments and innovations a chance by being lifelong learners.
BV: How does the inner dramatist help you to deal with your varied roles as a woman? Are you able to get into better moods with amusing dialogues or cope with the difficult situation with a motivating monologue?
Annu: My experiences as a drama teacher give such a wonderful insight into human nature that it becomes easy for me to deal with people as well as situations. Yes, I am capable of switching moods. Nothing pulls me down as I know that the next scene of life will surely be different. I can fake a smile and then make it real. I can alter my breathing pattern to appear angry or scared for a storytelling session.
BV: As a resource person, you interact with children in your day to day life. What are the challenges that our children face nowadays and how does theatre help them to combat the same?
Annu: The worst challenge that children face is the lack of joint family system and presence of siblings. “You are the best” is nothing more than an unnatural label. Either children prove the label right or feel its constant pressure. Next in line is the ‘heavy pampering’ loaded with gifts that carry tags. Unconditional love, priceless values and naturalness are nowhere in sight. The audiovisual aids that our children are exposed to make their brains responsive to very strong stimuli and regular life appears boring. Everything is ‘done’ or ‘provided for’ at home and in air-conditioned and high profile environments. The artificial environments fails to stimulate their life skills, leaving them very vulnerable to the real world with which they come face to face with time.
Process-based theatre workshops provide a very real lifelike situation to kids with ample stimuli to help them enhance and develop life skills like attention, alertness, observation, team spirit, empathy, time management and confidence.
BV: What are your story telling workshops all about?
Annu: We call it Story Theatre. This program is meant for 2.6 yrs+ age goup. I do interactive sessions where the kids participate impromptu to bring a story to life. Participation happens in various ways. We use varied styles to narrate different stories.
BV: How do you organize yourself for an annual function where you groom, dress up, produce as well as direct young performers on such a big scale?
Annu : Planning has to happen in the head. Script is the soul of any production and I spend a lot of time on it. Once planning is clear then the basic ingredients needed to handle large projects are – time management, creativity, delegation,to do lists, strong man management, discipline in self to inspire participants and team’s discipline. Above all, I am blessed to foresee the challenges and visualize the impact of the production on the audience and kids as well.
BV: Tell us something about your ‘Theatre Workshops For The Child In You’ and ‘Teacher Training Workshops.’
Annu: “Theatre For The Child In You” is a highly fun filled one day theatre workshop for adults to connect with their own self and re-fresh their life skills. We all have that child in us who loses expression as we walk down the crowded alleys of life. If this ‘child’ receives strength to express itself, gets to play and wonder or may be just question and look at life innocently then what we experience is ‘child like’ joy, energy and feel revitalized.
Teacher Training workshops – CBSE has been talking about the Integration of Theatre in Education since 2005 very strongly. The TIE methodology makes the teaching learning process highly funfilled and bring the learning alive for the learner. I presented the NCF 2005 Position papers on Theatre in Cambridge Schools and wrote a paper myself for them in 2011 on the subject. There is a huge need to train academic teachers in the subject to empower them to make their classrooms funfilled and use theatre as a tool to make boring academic concepts interesting. I have been training primary and NTT teachers in this area for sometime now.
BV: Catharsis and storytelling or theatre are interwoven. Share a memorable moment when you actually made it happen for a group or an individual.
Annu: Process oriented theatre and storytelling is heavily used for catharsis. I organized a workshop for a primary school and involved students of all the 15 sections to handle the bullying issue. As the workshop progressed kids were encouraged to enact incidents that had hurt them and the kind of emotional trauma they went through. Role reversals saw bullies being bullied and children cried once they realised the pain one experienced at the hand of the bullies. The final outcome was miraculous and I think it gave me a lot of satisfaction.
BV: Do you have a soft corner for musicals? Why?
Annu : Music is the rhythm of life. In theatre, it helps to express and enhance the emotional quotient and the feel factor. Music helps us to express when words fail. Music calms me down on one hand and also sets me free.
BV: Sum up your journey with the help of a song.
Annu: “Make me a channel of your peace” is a hymn that has stayed with me since childhood but when I embarked on this journey I understood its meaning. It makes me feel like a channel, the chosen one whose purpose in life is to empower children with skill empowerment, make them better humans and prepare them for life!!
A Quick Rapid Fire Round:
Your favourite play: My own – Sevamay Jeevan Ki Gaatha- A lok Katha on Baba Amte
Your favourite classical playwright: William Shakespeare
A contemporary play that you can watch over and over again: None
A character that you would love to portray– Jhansi Ki Rani
Your ultimate dream project: To have my centers all over the world !!!
A quote to live by: The World is a stage and we all are actors, who don’t get a chance to rehearse our roles.
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