Andrea Gronemeyer
The Ranga Shankara-Schnawwl production- BOY WITH A SUITCASE will be performed in Mumbai on 27th, 28th and 29th April 2012. Directed by Andrea Gronemeyer of Schnawwl theatre in Mannheim, Germany, the play is a collaboration between Schnawwl and Arundhati Nag's Ranga Shankara in Bangalore. Here, Andrea talks about the collaboration, the play, of the theatre that Schnawwl does for its young audiences, and of how she sees the future of children's theatre.

 Deepa Punjani

ANDREA GRONEMEYERHow did the collaboration between Ranga Shankara and Schnawwl happen?

In 2006, Schnawwl was touring in India and was invited to perform our production of ROBINSON & CRUSOE at Ranga Shankara. The response of the audience was very good and since Arundhati Nag was thinking to start a program for young audiences, we were very happy to be part of it. We were amazed by the whole project at Ranga Shankara and were ready to support its initiative for young audiences. On the other hand, we were very interested in learning more about Indian theatre, its amazing roots and its contemporary outlook. Hence the idea of a collaboration which would bring artistic profit to both our theatres and audiences, was born. It took some time to find the funds for it, but in 2009 we could start the exchange project between artistes from Bangalore and Mannheim, who travelled between the two cities for workshops and performances.

One of the wonderful things was that we could create a Ranga Shankara version of our ROBINSON & CRUSOE by sending our actor Gracias Deveraj to Bangalore to direct it, and our stage designer Christian Thurm to design the set. In 2010 we were supported with the staging of a play based on the Ramayana, with which we wanted to connect our German children to the important Indian myth. Kirtana Kumar from Bangalore worked as a choreographer and Amba Sanyal designed the costumes for this production. The masks where produced in India.

The next step was to do a co-production with a mixed cast to be shown in Bangalore as well as in Mannheim. It was a big challenge to find a play that would work for both our audiences, and which would make sense to be staged with a mixed Indian and German cast. After many discussions and with deeper understanding of the culture and the reality of both our theatres and audiences, we found Mike Kenny's BOY WITH A SUITCASE. The play convinced us from the very first moment.

What is special about BOY WITH A SUITCASE?

The play combines the very cruel reality of fugitives with a very poetic theme. The children in the play have to suffer a very hard and challenging journey. They find a big emotional support in the stories that the boy remembers being told by his mother. Stories are part of our cultural roots and give us hope, and hold practical advice too! The boy in the play has fled from a war-torn-country to London. He is depressed because he has lost everything on the way. But the girl whom he meets tells him: "you've got stories." For her, the stories carry a bigger value than all the material goods that the boy has lost.

What was your experience as a director working on this play with actors from different cities, including Bangalore?

I profited a lot from the different experiences and skills of the cast. I think my way of directing has changed through the new perspectives and the new horizon of musical and performing expression that is there in this production. I did not only enjoy the work with these wonderful actors and musicians, including MD Pallavi, BV Shrunga and Konarak Reddy, but also profited a lot by the big big contribution of Kirtana Kumar as assistant director and assistant dramaturg, of Amba Sanyal as co-costume designer, and especially Arundhati Nag as an important consultant for the work. They all harmonized perfectly with my German team- Sophia Stepf (dramaturg), Christian Thurm (set design), and Eva Roos (co-costume design). It was a big challenge for all of us to learn to understand each other and we really did! For me this is - apart from the artistic result - the most important profit from the project.

BOY WITH A SUITCASEHow do you view your role as a director?

The wonderful thing in theatre is, that the staging is always a collaboration of artistes. The director is the person who has to steer the ship and has to take care that everybody who is on board can bring in their respective skills and qualities. In the beginning, the director has to show the direction of the journey and in the end, has to take the decisions. But in between is a long collaboration, and a good director is always willing to modifiy the direction and learn from the team when it creates better maps.

Is there any particular kind of theatre that the production fits in? Does it have anything to do with the GRIPS style of theatre, although the form I believe is not as popular as it was in the eighties and early nineties.

From a German point of view, I would say it differs a lot from the GRIPS style. BOY WITH A SUITCASE is psychological theatre; it tells a story and is also very poetic. All these are attributes that I would not state for the GRIPS style which is based on the genre of political cabaret and is more interested in analyzing the political surface of a problem than the emotional reaction to it. In Germany the GRIPS is still, but less popular than in the eighties and is mainly performed by the original GRIPS theatre in Berlin. Most of the professional theatres for young audiences are more interested to explore new forms and to challenge children with a wider horizon of performing art: there is opera for children, modern dance for children, cross-over projects with artistes from the fine arts and new media. In the classical drama department, there is new dramatic literature which is poetic and also political.

BOY WITH A SUITCASECan you elaborate on the 'imagetheatre' and 'storytheatre' that Schnawwl does?

For us it's important to address children of different ages and to react to the very big differences that we acknowledge in the different stages of their emotional, intellectual and physical development. We do a lot of performances for toddlers and for them we need a different dramaturgy and lesser words than we do for the bigger children. For them we produce theatre that is based on images and sounds. The children of grammar school are interested in more complex topics, again different from what the teenagers want. The horizon widens and also the interest expands from family to social issues every year.

Storytelling is just one branch of the genres that we present at Schnawwl and it is very good for children's theatre because it is based on the ability of imagination. It also involves their intelligence and evokes a lot of emotional participation and identification. The repertory of Schnawwl includes around 20 different kinds of plays: realistic plays, myth and fairytales, music theatre, dance, improvisational theatre, puppetry, with a big variation on themes and topics. We want to give children the whole panorama of performing art and also to have them ask questions. So we tell them about love and war, about school and society, about friends and family, about conflicts between different generations, about sexuality, about the different cultures of the world, about finding their personal and cultural identity. Theatre for children should be a big pleasure but at the same time, should also be a window to the world and a mirror for their souls.

How do you see the future of children's theatre? Have you come across any exciting work in this area of late?

Children's theatre all over the world is growing and improving as a distinct genre of the performing arts. The children as an audience are so open and so true that artistes can profit a lot by meeting this exiting audience. At the moment I am very amazed by the new crossover projects between drama, dance, opera and fine arts, and of the new experimental forms that are created especially for toddlers. I have been lucky to see a lot of brilliant Indian theatre for adults at Ranga Shankara and since I am so inspired by it, I am very curious how the Indian theatre for young audiences will develop in the coming years, given the rich tradition and skilled artistes.

Click here to read about BOY WITH A SUITCASE

*Deepa Punjani is Editor of this website.

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