The time has come for the several schools that so painstakingly invest considerable labour and money on theatrical productions to take the next step. Instead of an extracurricular activity, they should place it on the curriculum. Many of these institutions belong to the ICSE/ISC council, which now offers Drama as an optional subject with an exciting syllabus. Others follow the CBSE board, whose revamped “International” prospectus recommends Performing Arts among the five pedagogical petals of learning. The less said about our own stolid Madhyamik/Higher Secondary, the better.
I want to see which enlightened principal breaks ranks with the conservative educational phalanx and allows pupils to choose drama as an elective. On the basis of shows during the past month, I know they have the teaching expertise to do this, and the student talent wanting to take it up. And if the schools don’t have the teachers, Padatik (organizers of the Patton Inter-School Play Competition) vowed to find and send qualified persons to conduct classes part-time. The usual excuse, that the timetable has no space, really holds no water. A will promises a way.
St James’s colourful Alice-er Abol Tabol (picture) innovated by mixing Lewis Carroll and Sukumar Ray bilingually. More adventurously, the conceptualizers, Indrashis Laharry and Chandan Sen, workshopped with the boys and two girls from Pratt Memorial (acting Alice in each language) to form the script, imparting insight into literary creation. As on their Tempest (2009), I argue that a canned soundtrack robs children of the opportunity to sing and play live (which other schools have done successfully), though I appreciate the technical problems that arise. Also, while I heartily approve of the Tagorean process of teachers and students performing together, I personally would give more of the latter a break.
For Loreto House’s grim but moving Red Earth, Anindita Banerji combined Tagore’s Post Office and Celeste Raspanti’s short play, I Never Saw Another Butterfly (on children of the holocaust in Terezin camp), with factual material on Dr Korczak’s Polish orphanage into a harrowing story of man’s inhumanity, enacted earnestly. An object lesson for both history and values, it could have done without the prefatory Powerpoint presentation of graphic concentration-camp photos — essential for research, but not for the stage.
In the brief one-act spans for Padatik’s competition on adapting literature, the ten participating schools put their best feet forward. Despite the inventive interpretations, however, I noticed a certain scrappiness this year and wondered whether they had devoted sufficient time. Still, after British Council withdrew its festival, this remains the theatre event of the school calendar.