It’s child’s play!

It's child's play!

A visit to the theatre will not only fire your kid’s artistic impulse, but will also encourage them to express their emotions. Here’s everything that you need to know about theatre for children Amasterclass on early years’ theatre by Roberto Frabetti of La Baracca, Bologna, Italy, was held in Mumbai recently and attended by an amalgam of theatre practitioners, preschool teachers and educators. Organised by ASSITEJ India, an international theatre network of theatre for children and young people, the workshop was conducted in collaboration with Gillo Theatre Repertory, a city-based organisation working exclusively for children and young people. “The masterclass was more about living the experience and sharing creative ideas rather than a hardcore skill-building training. Every artist is different and so is his sense of aesthetics. There’s no rulebook for art, and theatre is an art,” says Roberto.
A theatre artist, researcher and teacher, Roberto is the creative head of La Baracca -Testony Ragazzi in the city of Bologna, Italy. He has been working in the field of theatre for children and early years for the past 30 years. Roberto’s theatre has created a hub for tiny tots from nursery schools, involving parents, teachers and theatre professionals from all over the world. His artistic experiments and avant-garde approaches in this field have proved that it is possible to produce and present dramatic work based on literary texts even for the young.
It’s easy to communicate with a preschooler, but how do you connect with a toddler who can barely walk? Roberto strongly believes that our eyes speak our minds. They are an ideal way to establish a strong relationship, even though it may be a temporary one. “The way we use our eyes as actors is vital, especially before an audience of very young children” he affirms. In his workshops, Roberto emphasises the need to subtly win the trust of the young. “Everyone wants to touch the face of a child sitting in a pram, and that can be extremely annoying for him or her. Instead, one needs to observe the child and build trust through the eyes,” he adds.
A rich performance certainly evokes a gamut of emotions, but it must be noted that the responses are subjective. “During the three-day masterclass, we watched a lot of performances by Roberto. These videos documented the reactions of children during the show to understand what worked for them and what didn’t. During their initial days, Roberto and his team limited their performance to 10 minutes given their short attention span. However today, they can engage a group of toddler for as long as 45 minutes.That’s truly incredible,” lauds Choiti Ghosh, object theatre artist and creative director of Tram Arts Trust.
While a play may or may not trigger something within the child, it’s a good idea to pick up cues by observing the child’s facial expression. “Different kids react differently. Some may fear the blackout at the beginning of a play, some may be displeased with a loud voice, and many others may not be too fond of the use of a mask. While one needs to figure their way out as an educator, it’s important to make these little ones feel at ease. Their level of comfort is directly proportional to their ability of reception,” reveals Roberto.
La Baracca’s acts for children between ages one and four include And then… they fall!, a story that combines real experiences with imagination, Tiketak, an adventurous tale of Piccololorso, a little bear who is waiting for his little sister to be born, and The Balloon Seller, which revolves around balloons and answers some fundamental questions of humanity such as `where do balloons go when they fly away? And why do they fly away?’. “The easiest way to choose a theme is to observe the lifestyle of children: how do they respond to everyday things like a ball or a bucket of water,” suggests Prerna Bagaria, experience designer and founder of Mannmela.
You may even pick themes and topics ingrained in the Indian culture. “India has a vibrant culture and a rich legacy of exceptional storytelling. These folktales can be very well modernised to appeal to the sensibility of the iPad generation,” points out Chetna Mehrotra, founder, Rangbhumi, an art-based facilitation space.
Although it’s about time we look beyond the fantasy land of Cinderellas and Snow Whites, it’s a good idea to bounce back on them provided the fairytale is perceived through many lenses, and Cinderella is more than just a poor girl who finds a rich boy.

The unhealthy consumption pattern of adults in the past decade has led to a significant increase in kids being addicted to digital devices, so much so that even a toddler knows to swipe right. Although children imbibe knowledge on these devices the point in question is, do they really need to learn what they’re learning? “Between the ages one to four, children need to be made aware of their senses; they need to be exposed to a colourful world that isn’t there on their iPad. You see, in a storytelling session, the child’s focus is more on their mother person who’s reading out a story rather than the book; cartoons are fun, but the child isn’t in the same space as the character. A theatre, on the other hand, is an experience in which the children are breathing in the same space as the actors, they can very well walk up to them, touch the props,” stresses Prerna.
Moreover, theatre is also a collective experience. It gives children an opportunity for social activity and fosters a sense of belonging to a community. “You may read out stories to teach meaningful values, but you also need to create an environment for the child to apply what he or she has learnt. A theatrical experience by experienced practitioners at balwadis, creches and playgroups also works better as kids here are already familiar with each other. It’s essentially this team spirit that enhances their social interaction and sharpens their interpersonal skills,” shares Shaili Sathyu, artistic director, Gillo Theatre Repertory and executive committee member, ASSITEJ India.
According to Chetna, the biggest challenge faced by theatre practitioners is parental pressure. “Our workshops focus on improving the child’s motor skills management, attention span and listening skills.We also work a lot with body movements, voice and expression. The journey, however, is gradual as well as subjective. Most parents want immediate results. Aspiration is one thing, but what’s worse is that they also get competitive. This is one reason why we always have an orientation session with parents or teachers before we begin with our workshops. It’s important that theatre is treated as an experience rather than a learning,” she highlights.