Creativity at play to catch them young

Theatre duo from Wales perform for babies aged 6 to 18 months

By Chandreyee Ghose
  • Published 11.09.17
Babies at play after a show of Out of the Blue as actor Kevin Lewis looks on at British Council on Saturday. Picture by Shuvo Roychaudhury

Sept. 10: They chortled, they clapped, they cooed but not for once did they cry. It was playtime for babies as a theatre group from Wales performed for six- to 18-month-olds.

A first of its kind, Out of the Blue by Theatr Iolo of Wales, in association with ThinkArts, is a 25-minute interactive performance. The play ends in a party for the babies as they are invited to rip paper and do what they please.

Kevin Lewis, the only actor in the play, is seen coming on stage and doing various antics with various objects - two dolls, a pair of baby socks and a rattle packed in an array of boxes and bags. A doorbell makes him leave the stage repeatedly, only to return with a gift with which he has fun - discovering new colours, patterns or just making a mess. "I learned from experience. I remember how my now- grown-up children would react as babies. I try to replicate that," said Kevin.

Sarah Argent, the director of Out of the Blue, came upon the idea when a friend requested her to devise a play for babies. "I thought she was crazy," smiled Sarah, who till then created plays for older children. It took five months of research on child behaviour and watching them from close quarters for Sarah to come up with a play about an artist who has to handle a baby for a day.

"It's not as easy as it seems. We have had to go through years of research and trial and error before hitting on the right plot. The current plot is an improvement on the original one. It is rooted in everyday situation and is better accepted by our audience," Sarah said. One of the lessons she learnt is that kids love uncomplicated stuff and simple colour sequences. So, the set for her play has only two colours - blue and white - that are calming for both babies and their parents.

Eighteen-month-old Izyan Karim was both sleepy and hungry when he reached the venue. "I was worried since my son is usually very active. He seldom sits down. But once the play started, he went quiet. He was busy observing," said mother and doctor Shabana Roze Chowdhury. From smiling at the actor to reaching out for props, Izyan seemed to enjoy his time at the theatre, much to his mother's surprise. "Everything from the sounds the actor made to the props he chose were just perfect. I wish there were more such plays," she said.

Sarah and Kevin, who have been performing around the UK and other countries for a decade, are eager to pass on the baton. Theatr Lolo is already training artistes in the city, Delhi and Mumbai to create many more plays for babies. "Kids are the same everywhere. But Indian parents are far more interactive," said Sarah, who prefers a small audience of not more than 16 babies. The duo put up six shows in Calcutta, all to packed houses.

Ruchira Das, the founder of ThinkArts, is excited about the next stage of the collaboration with the group. "Three artists from India will be working under Sarah and Kevin to create new pieces for baby audiences," she said.

"The best part about the play was that it opened a new vista of perception for the parents. I think the they took away as much from the show as their kids," said Debanjan Chakrabarti, the director (east) of British Council.