Towards a Theatre of Possibility~ Sakhi Upadhyaya

When Sanyukta and I walked into a “capacity-building” workshop organised by Junoon Theatre in Mumbai, I did not know what to expect. It was my first “professional engagement” as a member of Aagaaz. I was jittery, nervous even. What capacities were we attempting to build? What actually awaited us was two days of deliberation, not so much as building but breaking apart what we understood ‘theatre’ to be. “Theatre for children” to be more specific: What did the assembling of these words in this specific order entail?

Theatre, drawing from my interpretation of the haphazard combination of flowcharts and notes from those two days, could be anything one wanted it to be. Especially so with children, toddlers and young adults. A language, a space, an exploration, an activity. Theatre was social, it was political. It was relational, contextual. It was imagination and assertion. However, for me, theatre was always ‘in the making’. It was powerful, but a power that was malleable and subject to destruction or creation as one saw fit. What I mean is that in my limited experience of being a theatre practitioner in Delhi, the edifice of what we called ‘theatre’ was always being broken down and built back up; not by self-professed practitioners like me, but by its encounters with the public at large. Who best to tear something apart and build it back up, refashion it and give it new life, than children?

Theatre was, and in my experience with Aagaaz, has never been a “struggle” to perfect that performance, or to become an expert in this form. The Junoon workshop was an appropriate beginning, of thinking about the possibilities enclosed within what parades as ‘theatre’ and myself. “So let us proceed.” I thought to myself, “Let me allow things in my narrow worldview to fall apart and fall back together.” And that is exactly what I know August will bring, as my journey with Aagaaz “formally” begins. The possibility of many stories, many failures and many creations. Before we left for Mumbai, Sanyukta and I were talking over the phone. “You know, I’m not jittery in the ‘scared’ way, just jittery in the excited, there-are-so-many-things-to-do-and-discover kind of way. Get what I mean?” I told her. And I could hear her subtle acknowledgement in the giddy laughter she replied with.

Khirki mein Drama – Theatre and Music at the Khirki Festival ~ Sanyukta

Khirki looked like it was celebrating Diwali or multiple weddings for five days in the month of December. The month of December kept all of us on our toes. The entire studio was abuzz with workshops, exhibitions, food stalls, events – people of varied ethnicities and age groups running up and down the stairs, laughing and talking in the otherwise serene environs of S-17, Khirki. KHOJ International Artist’s Studio on its 20th year of being, celebrated through a festival in collaboration with the local community and artists/arts organisations. Aagaaz led three element that were a part of the celebrations – the Khirki Music Ensemble, two plays based with children from the Community Library Project and 4 Kisse Connections.

The Khirki Music Ensemble came together in August last year – Romeo and Zoom – two young musicians from Congo, Kumud, a prodigious 15 year old with no formal training in music but awe inspiring, her mother Leela who never did realise her dreams of singing publicly, Shahid – one of the core group members of Aagaaz who has been getting trained in vocals from Manzil. This motley crew was led by Baan – our Managing Trustee and the co-founder of Dastaan Live, a pathbreaking music ensemble. They jammed through many a hot and rainy day, with the one common language of music bringing them all together. Re-arranging known songs and mash-ups of a few others – their hour long set list left the audience at the Jamunwala park enthralled.

The audience was a fair sample of the diversity that Khirki epitomises – and for once they were sharing an experience that was beyond the everyday. Through the performance though we battled the energies of the group of children from the tongewalla community that we work with through Ajab Gajab. There efforts to be up on the stage and join the performance were endearing and frightening (for the sake of the musicians and their hardwork) all at the same time. Bigger were the fears about the performances by the children from The Community Library Project scheduled for the next day. Most of our young actors were going to be on stage for the first time – what if they were intimidated by these younger children?

Safdar Hashmi has been an inspiration for us. His works for children used in drama workshops, beautifully allow for conversations with children to open up. The Community Library Project shares our desire to create spaces for children to be curious, think, and ask questions. It is an ideal collaboration. We worked with two groups of children over a period of two months. One of the groups had already created a performance of Duniya Sabki – we did a movement based workshop with them and used Hashmi’s Kitabein as a thread to explore the notion of stories. We explored the stories that they had read and relooked at these narratives from the perspective of a lesser know character, or a changed decision, or a parallel ending. The final show had new versions of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and the age old fabe of the Lazy Caterpiller, while looking at Mahasweta Devi’s Kyun Kyun Ladki in the context of one of the participant’s life. The new group of children dipped into Duniya Sabki and explored prejudice based on the colour of skin and gender discrimination – simply explored from the perspective of the participants. Our core group members were a joy through the process – they have visibly grown in their abilities work with young children using drama.

We approached the the day of the performance with great caution – what with the experience we had during the show by the Khirki Music Ensemble. We spent the morning talking to the Ajab Gajab gang, clearly demarcating stage space, collecting volunteers to guard our young performers. Once the show started, however, we experienced the unexpected. Everyone in the audience, specially the little ones – watched, rapt in awe. They watched as children, only slightly older than them, from their neighbourhood captivated an entire audience – despite all the distractions that performances in public spaces right next to a busy main road and opposite a big mall can bring. After the show, the performers looked ecstatic with a furtive look that I have grown to associate with young people who have suddenly stumbled upon the addiction that theatre can be. The Ajab Gajab gang accosted us and demanded to be put on stage too – and of course we would comply – they have since done two short presentations for their immediate community and are prepping for a bigger show in the end of June. The play will be based on a book by Tulika – A Kite Called Korika. Do read Priiya’s article about the presentations by this group in December and January.

The Kisse Connection sessions during the festival were special – for we experimented with our format. Other than the regular format of exploring personal memories, this time around we also did a session in collaboration with the wonderful Khoj Canteen led by Devika Menon. We explored stories around food and to talk about our experience would need another feature and more space, so do wait for our next issue.

As with most festivals, we worked in a state of intense momentum and breathed a collective sigh of relief as it drew to a conclusion – however, unlike most such times, we didn’t dip into a state of post rigour ennui and instead continued all our engagements with a steady pace and renewed vigour. Watch this space for all that followed and is planned. Much excitement!