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Kya Duniya Sabki Hai?- Aagaaz offers its first Theatre Workshop at Deepalaya’s Community Library in Shekh Sarai

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We had heard so much about the fantastic space that writer Mridula Koshy has created in the widing streets of Shekh Sarai that we knew we had to visit. After a couple of months of email exchanges, Nishant and Sanyukta walked into this orange canopied space in October. It was one of those low inspiration, questioning one’s life and work kind of days. As they started talking to Mridula however, inspiration started crawling back in. It is no ordinary library that just lends books to readers of all ages. It is a space that is dedicated to develop a rich critical thought process in the minds of all those who step in. As Mridula shared the details of all the programmes that the library runs out of three rooms full of thousands of titles, we saw how the space was changing the lives of readers of ages 3 years and above. Even as the passion with which the library is run rubbed off on us, we knew we were coming back.

It took us more than four months to find a slot of 6 days that suited both Deepalaya and Aagaaz, and between the 19th and the 25th of March, 17 children (ages 10-14) played with us. This was a first in many ways for both Deepalaya and Aagaaz. This is the first time that we as Aagaaz have offered a workshop. This was also the first time that 4 of our core group members from Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti co-facilitated a workshop for other children. For Deepalaya, it was the first time that a theatre workshop was being offered. Priiya, a member of Pandies’ Theatre and an extremely talented actor, writer and dancer and Tom, a young intern who is visiting India for two months and is a member of the Youth Theatre in England, along with Sanyukta, Nagina, Jasmine, Zainab, and Nagma, were a part of the facilitation team.

We began with the idea of creating a collaborative performance based on our first production as Aagaaz – Duniya Sabki. A poem written by Safdar Hashmi and by the same name Kabir’s  Mat kar maya ka ahankaar (Prahlad Tippaniya’s tune) are the framework and inspiration for this piece. Through the 5 days we workshopped our way into creating three short pieces attempting to answer the question – “Kya duniya sabki hai? Agar nahi, toh kyun? (Does the world belong to everyone? If not, then why?” We could tell how the world of literature had already begun impacting these young minds as the participants came up with instances of inequality and discrimination from their own lives.

 

Soon we had identified three themes – gender, religion and caste. We facilitated the participants into devising their short pieces – they created plots, characters, dialogues, and directed each other. The members of Aagaaz rehearsed the poem and the song (along with movement choreographed with Priiya). We had decided the workshop would end with a collaborative performance for the community on the 6th day. Having started with nothing we had a 30 minute play ready by the end of day 5. The participants painted a beautiful banner that hung by the canopy to invite one and all. The magic of drama prevailed – on day 1 we had begun working as new group of facilitators with children we didn’t know. On day 6 we ended the workshop with a beautiful performance played to an audience of about 70 odd children and adults, as 24 mad-hatters who are now bonded with a common creative exercise.

The play was deeply appreciated by the Deepalaya community of children, council members, parents, and volunteers. A mother, who saw her daughter on stage for the first time acting out the gender roles she is expected to play, went back introspecting. Mridula has invited us back and we hope to find resources to be able to add to the gorgeous work that she and her team are already doing. The sight at the end of the performance beautifully illustrated the connection that we have forged with this place – the actors were not willing to elave the stage even as the audience trickled out – the insisted we dance to their favourite drama exercise – hai re sakhi bajra  and sing the infamous kahab toh lag jayi dhak se one last time. In the times that we are living in – these are the small, but powerful pockets of hope that constantly keep the heart pumping for more. There are now 17 more children who ACTed to Change.

Four of our Brood begin their Journeys as Facilitators

We have begun our journey to train the core members of Aagaaz as youth facilitators. Nagina (17), Jasmine (15), Zainab (15), and Nagma (14), have embarked on this journey with elan. What began as apprehension, soon became an experience of deep reflection and many realizations. When Sanyukta asked them to reflect on the session on day 1, the first thing all four of them unanimously shared was a deep sense of empathy with people who have facilitated workshops with them. Jasmine said, “ab pata chala jab hum workshops mein aap logon ki baat nahi sunte toh aapko kaisa lagta hai (now I know how all of you feel when we don’t listen to you during workshops). Probed further about what that means as a facilitator, they all agreed that patience is imperative to working with children.

One of the highlights of this workshop for each one of them was traveling alone by metro and making their way from Nizamuddin to Khirki and back. They are now proud owners of metro cards and have a sense of unparallelled independence.

Watch this space for reflections from their experience in the next newsletter!

Tom’s Reflections

It was such a great week of workshops at Deepalya Community Library. In the lovely basement space of the building so avoided the heat which I was still getting used to. Still, the heat of the sun was replaced by the buzzing energy of the 17 children who took part.

At first it was clear, like me, they had some apprehensions and shyness. But breaking them in with fun, ice-breaking games that introduced elements of theatre and performance tempted them out of their shells. We slowly introduced them to improvisation using freeze frames and dialogue to give them a sense of what focus and thought performance requires.

As a facilitator it was important not to overwhelm them with the big questions straight away. Part of the process was letting them find their own realisations and stories. This is something I found such satisfaction in seeing unfurl before me. I did find it difficult, however, to help them in their journey as it was easy for my questions to get lost in translation. I found my questions were also quite complex and so I had to try to simplify them so they could be presented to the group in discussion. After stories had been shared I tried not to overthink my words and asked them about simple details: who was there? Where were they? What time was it? These would then form an image in their minds which could be ‘translated’ into a piece of theatre. They had the power. Another thing of being a facilitator is to let the kids take control and your only job is to intervene when they needed help staging a moment or direct them so the moment is realistic and true for an audience.

Throughout I was constantly having to use the context in a situation and people’s tone of voice or posture to understand what was being said as the words themselves were in a language I can’t speak. This was in the performances but also in games and group activities or discussions.

Overall, it was such a fulfilling week. Seeing these kids with no previous experience perform such thought provoking pieces on gender, religion and caste was just beautiful. The power of theatre for you. I hope I’m able to return in the years to come and see how this experience has changed them, their thoughts and their futures.

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