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BREAKING BARRIERS

Finally a play where children speak and behave as children do offstage and enjoy themselves immensely. Actually, the fact that the little actors are so much at ease makes one wonder whether they are acting at all. The Creative Arts’ production, Waiting in the Wings, breaks new ground in children’s theatre-making.

The Creative Arts, headed by Ramanjit Kaur, has since 2008 distinguished itself with children’s plays that take on issues of ecology and modern living through entertaining productions. In their latest play, however, theatre and teenagers, who “wait in the wings” for the final ‘performance’ of adulthood, are under scrutiny. Conceived and directed by Kaur and Shuktara Lal, who has also scripted it in collaboration with Baisali Chatterjee Dutt and Sangeeta Bapuli, the play presents a theatre studio preparing for a show of Rabindranath Tagore’s Tasher Desh.

Lal, who is the new director of Children’s Courses, said that the play came about when an attempt to stage Tasher Desh in the original was met with indifference from the English-medium school students. So this play evolved through queries like how much does Tagore’s work actually convey to today’s children, what excites and upsets modern teenagers — like gender consciousness, issues of the ego and peer pressure, careers and passions. It includes snippets of real-life experiences.

The play presents a kaleidoscope of emotions as the children rehearse; help out with the production and in the process learn new values. Interestingly, none of the children is given character names. They use their real-life ones. So it is not the characters but they who learn to stand up for themselves and their likes and dislikes, they who read Tagore’s script and discover parallels in the cruelty and meanness of discrimination and envy. They discover the joy of embracing the New as in new friends who share their tastes. Like the characters of Tasher Desh, they too are overwhelmed by the first stirrings of love.

Songs of Tasher Desh are used in the background and a small puppet theatre (from an earlier workshop by Anurupa Roy) deftly handled by the children and projected on the backdrop presents brief excerpts from the play. The parents (played by a few older teens) who wait for their children and have their own set of norms of fashion, career, success and time management, seem at times like the rule-bound card regiment of Tagore’s play. The dilemma of whether a conservative or a ‘new’ and ‘radical’ approach is needed for a Tasher Desh production is taken up at intervals, culminating with all the members uniting in singing “Bandh bhenge dao”.