Neuro- Dramatic Play Workshop with Sue Jennings ~Devika

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Aagaaz has embarked on a journey towards nurturing and enhancing the development of its team members. In November, Devika attended a 3 day workshop on Neuro-Dramatic Play and brought back new ideas and plenty of insights. Here is a small reflection, that highlights her detailed observations while interacting with children during this process:

The first of our workshop was a beautiful journey of self-exploration, sensory play, and rhythmic movement. We experimented with themes and ideas and put ourselves in the shoes of the children. It was an experiential session, and it would never have been authentic enough without that element. The real learning, however, started on the second day. Discussing theoretical frameworks about pedagogy or pretend play with adults could never compensate for first-hand experiences with children.

Luckily! This training involved children. I found myself in a group of 4 adults who facilitated for 3 children. Their distinct personalities made the whole process more dynamic. Vaishnavi (6-girl), Shweta (6-girl) and Shalu(8-boy) responded to the same stimulus in very different ways. I spent about 4 hours with these children in the span of two days and managed to observe various skills and patterns in the limited time period.

My first lens for exploration was- ‘Connection with metaphors’. Sue had introduced us to a rain metaphor that was used as a narrative for all our activities. Vaishnavi and Shalu didn’t show much resistance to this idea. Vaishnavi, whose play resembled that of a younger child was more fascinated with sounds, repetition and displaying her capabilities. Shalu, with his hearing and depth perception difficulties, was quite active and enthusiastic about what we brought to the table. Shweta didn’t connect to the metaphor at all and got distracted every few minutes.

Messy Play was another revealing exercise for all of us. It led to joy, energy, imagination and social play for the children and the adults. Vaishnavi was initially quite enthusiastic about the activity. She spent a long time playing with the shaving foam and liked the possibility of connecting with others through the medium. After a while, she got quite flustered and annoyed with the substance on herself, and wanted to clean it off as soon as possible. Shweta also explored the texture of the medium, tried to extend her imagination and wanted more and more for herself. Shalu on the other hand, engaged in individual sensory play, without paying much regard to what others were doing.

I was quite fascinated by the children’s tendency to adapt to the new flock of adults around them. Initially, they all operated with apprehension and curiosity which soon transformed into openness. The first indicator was visible when the children decided to include us in the drawings they were making. All three of them were particularly friendly, yet they showed different characteristics. Shalu was accepting of the facilitators, yet he didn’t seek much attention. On the second day, however, he chose to go and hug one specific older person he felt comfortable with. Shweta liked the attention and holding our hands, yet she managed to separate herself from us when she felt like it. Vaishnavi sought a lot of physical touch and affection, and constantly indulged in hugging and kissing. This led to a lot of questions in my mind about the care at their centre. However, I was aware that I couldn’t jump to any premature conclusions about attachment behavior.

Stories became a good tool to gauge listening skills and memories. Sue had narrated a story on the first day the children arrived, and we asked them to recall details on the second day. My co-facilitators and I had noticed that Shweta was particularly restless and distracted during the storytelling. My assumptions around her lack of attention were challenged, when she managed to recall important details from the story. Shalu was also quite attentive and his body language coincided with that. Vaishnavi, didn’t show signs of having remembered much from the story. She seemed to be struggling with sitting still and paying attention. What I love the most about working with children is that they are unpredictable and more than capable of shattering perceptions.

I was curious about the extent to which children exhibit initiative taking and leadership in group activities. On the first day, I noticed that both Vaishnavi and Shalu enjoyed leading the singing and dancing exercises, while Shweta found the theme difficult to connect to. On the second day her attitude was very different and robust. She seemed way more confident and enjoyed the process of initiating aspects of the work, especially while narrating the story.

Lastly, there were a lot of unique patterns that I tried to pay attention to. Vaishnavi, was particularly restless, resisted following instructions after a certain point and went into sudden outbursts of expression- especially anger. Her patience levels were very low and told more than one facilitator that they were making her dirty during messy play. She also wanted a lot of things while doing a craft activity and showed very little inclination to share. Sue had made some very acute observation about how she was involved in games such as ‘peek-a-boo’ which were developmentally inappropriate for her age.

Shweta had a fantastic memory that remained throughout the 4 hours. Her understanding of subtlety was quite impressive. I noticed this in two instances. One of them was the story recall, where she was clearly more confident than the other two. I made simple eye-contact with her when she spoke out of turn, and she always caught it as an indicator to slow down. Her drawing also showed some very interesting details and nuances. She coloured the bird in her drawing, in two different colours to signify that some movement had taken place. She also seemed to enjoy the process of mocking others, especially adults.

Shalu was expressive in his drawings and very calm at the same time. He showed very little resistance to any activities. He wanted to do the work given to him and also liked the process of displaying and showing it off. She showed curiousity and interest in other people’s drawings, and seemed to have very little competitive tendencies.
My favourite moment in the whole workshop was when the children were asked to pull apart their craft work. I could hear my heart breaking, because they had put a lot of effort in creation and ideation. The children, being their wonderful selves were actually quite open to that process. I was awestruck by their responses and felt almost sad they would have to grow up to be adults someday.

Kaath By Sanyukta Saha

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In one of those existential moments earlier this year I was wondering why I took the plunge of birthing Aagaaz. With some pondering I realised that I enjoyed being on stage and the process that precedes it so much, that I decided to create that opportunity for the enthusiastic bunch of bachchas I worked with in Nizamuddin (yes, I am talking about the formidable group that is now known as the Aagaaz’s core group). Until the end of 2014, being on stage as an actor was a big part of life. I would often brag about how theatre was my life’s energy source. However, with a fledgeling of an organization making its own demands, my own practice of theatre took a backseat. With a great sense of purpose, I had decided to make 2017 the year I went back on stage.

Friends know that I keep reiterating that if you say something often enough, it will happen. It’s true. It does. I happened to be a part of four productions this year (one is still a work in progress). While the first was a play with the group I grew up with – pandies’ Theatre’s Ismat’s Love Stories, the second was Third Space collective’s short play – Malang (a piece that’s been memorable and important for a few heart reasons). The other two are pieces for very young audiences. Here, I shall write about only one of them (the other you are most definitely to read about next year in April). Ruchira Das, the Director of Calcutta’s Think Arts, a company that creates and curates arts and literary experiences for the young, reached out. Helios Theater, Hamm, a company revered for its plays for toddlers, had given one of their shows – Woodbeat to Think Arts. Ruchira wanted to know if I would be interested in performing the piece. Of course I agreed with a lot of excitement – after all I had made a pact with myself to do theatre this year.

A couple of days spent in Hamm was enough to realise that working in this production was going to be a huge learning experience. Woodbeat is an exploration of wood in its various forms with elements of puppet theatre. Other than a cursory participation in a week long workshop with Anurupa Roy years ago, I had never attempted puppetry. Brought up in Delhi, with a very conventional schooling, I had also never held an axe, let alone using one to sever blocks of wood. As the dates for working on the piece drew closer, one of my most reccurrent nightmares was losing a few fingers during a show, in front of an audience, mostly comprising of toddlers. The nightmares only went up in frequency and sub-genres once I started working with Michael and Marko on the creating the piece. While the experience watching the duo perform in Bombay and then Calcutta was fantastic, it only led to more and more doubts about whether I could actually pull of the performance. At Aagaaz we believe that arts create powerful learning experiences – for children as well as adults, and, what I never for a  moment doubted was how much I was going to learn about working with toddlers through the creation of the play.

As the show premiered in The New Town  School in Calcutta, I realised how fantastic the journey with Kaath (that’s what the name of the Indian version of the show) was going to be. The audience was full of 5 year olds and they were all engaged in each and every moment of the play. Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of performing the first run of shows was in Nizamuddin. We performed at the MCD Primary School in the basti for children from aanganwadis, nursery class, and grade 1. I was performing in the very space that saw the beginning of my journey with Aagaaz more than 8 years ago. After the show, the teachers walked up to me in awe, “these children were not screaming and running. They were sitting quietly and watching performance. That’s never happened. We didn’t have to ask them to be quiet even once.” With all my fingers intact, I smiled.