Summer Is Here

Divyani Rattanpal

It's summertime! Six-year-old Anya has just walked inside the Prithvi theatre campus, hand-in-hand with her mother. She's wearing a blue dress whose hem ends just above the knee, and is carrying a pink coloured bag on her tiny little shoulders. It's 2 PM, and the sun is shining with all its might. But Anya is undeterred. She goes inside the box office and registers herself for one of the 19 summer workshops being organised by Prithvi Theatre - as part of Summertime@Prithvi, a season of workshops for the youth.

Through this workshop, Anya could improve her imagination and creativity through the glorius medium of theatre.

Come May, and the theatre meccas of Mumbai - Prithvi and NCPA - will be inviting children and teens of all ages (from 3 -19) to become tiny tot thespians, with a summertime of highly engaging and well curated workshops.

Although most of these summer workshops have gone on for at least a decade at the said venues, they had ceased to operate for the past two years because of the lockdown. However, against the backdrop of the pandemic paranoia slowly fading, the summer workshops have resumed after a 'heartbreakingly' long gap.

This season, Prithvi Theatre is hosting 19 workshops, of which at least 15 are dedicated to performance: theatre, dramatic storytelling, creative writing and expressing emotions through dance (abhinay).

Om Katare, who is running three of those workshops: STORYTELLING, GAMES AND IMAGINATION; IMPROMPTU IMPROVISATION AND MORE; and OBSERVATION, STORY CREATION AND MIND GAMES shares that he's always found a lot of talented children through these workshops, which he has been conducting for the last 20 years or so. 'Few actors from our group were found when they were doing these children's workshops. Now 10 years later, they are working with Yatri, my theatre group.'

AT NCPA, there are 24 in-person, or shall we say, in-child workshops! One such is THEATRE AND THE MOVING BODY for 8-11-year-olds, conducted by Sujay Saple of Shapeshift Collective, from April 25 - May 1.

For seven days, NCPA's Little Theatre will see pre-teens being introduced to the basics of theatre and performance through the world of body language, via the workshop conducted by Saple over a period of two hours every day. Participants will learn how to create characters in a non-judgmental, safe laboratory-like environment through playful participation, bonding and observational learning.

Saple has been doing summer fiesta workshops at NCPA for many years, and has witnessed first-hand many transformations in students, like shy students learning to hold their ground. He suggests that theatre workshops could be a healing gateway for many kids who've suffered during the pandemic. 'Kids have been through a lot in this pandemic. For the older age groups (10-16 year olds) who wish to process and articulate the pandemic, workshops can be a process to speak about it, like losing a grandparent, and creating art from that darkness.' he says.

Saple's workshop is priced at Rs.5000, and although that could only mean access for some privileged ones, he hopes that these workshops could also be given as a gift, especially for kids from underprivileged backgrounds. 'I hope that kids from all backgrounds come,' he sighs.

On the last day, there will be an informal experience sharing session with the parents. Saple, who is as eager as perhaps the kids to be conducting this workshop after two years, says he will make it as much fun for kids this time around as he used to before. He shares: 'I remember this one kid Alex - she is German - she would have the best time at the workshops and attended the same workshop every year again and again!'

Greek myths anyone? Shruti Sridharan and Sananda Mukhopadhyaya of Sphere Arts Education are conducting a workshop at Prithvi which will enable 12-15 year olds to learn skills of character analysis, acting, world building, script writing and production design through ancient tales such as Narcissus' reflection and Pandora's curiosity.

Meanwhile, Jasleen Kaur Sachdev is conducting a workshop for 12-16 year olds, which promises to benefit both shy and expressive teens through a fusion of drama and dance movement therapy.

On a mission to motivate the next JK Rowling or Shakespeare of tomorrow, Shabnam Minwalla has been doing creative writing workshops for kids at NCPA for longer than she can remember. Using different exercises, Shabnam makes 8-13 year olds acquainted with the world of story.

'In one of the creator exercises, I give them a simple sentence, 'She went to school,' and ask the kids to embroider it with visuals and details. Sometimes that one sentence goes on to be 30 sentences!,' laughs Minwalla as she shares.

She also gives the young adults different settings, like historical, contemporary, alien, etc., to push their imagination a bit further. Says Minwalla: 'Fiction is the one place where there are no rules. The barrier is the mental blocks to rules.'

During the workshops, sometimes Shabnam also encounters a child who wants to share something, but is hesitant. Through fiction, he or she is able to share much more. 'I tell them, write about yourself as if you were a character in book. Lots of interesting things come out - tension, worry, anxiety.'

When asked if there is a particular genre her workshop students tend to gravitate towards, Minwalla shares that kids love comedy. Oh, and horror too is a favourite!

If she finds a budding writer among the ranks, Minwalla goes out of her way to encourage them. 'There's a boy who is 14-15 years-old, he attended one of my workshops. He's halfway through a book. We discuss its components. It's always the case with writing workshops. What you know, you pass it along. '

However, given the giant shadow cast by the pandemic, the response is not as robust as it used to be with these workshops. Om Katare of Yatri Theatre shares that although the response to his otherwise housefull workshops has been rather slow this time around considering the reluctance among some parents to still get their kids out, he is sure that by the time May comes, it will herald a fresh new season of summertime.

'Even children are bored sitting at home. They want to come out, have new experiences, and make new friends,' Katare signs off, hopeful.

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