The newly renovated auditorium at Hyderabad’s MCR HRD Institute is packed – mostly children, some still in their school uniforms. The stage is dimly lit and the excitement is palpable. Kids are heard asking their parents where Rosa is and why Rosa hasn’t come yet.
Just as the kids start getting impatient, Rosa comes on stage in a bright pink long frock and a red nose, riding her bicycle. She stutters while talking and trips while walking. Six-year-old Rosa is clumsy and alone at home. Rosa, eager to find someone she can play with, tries her hand at magic and what follows is a laughter riot for the children.
Rosa, played by Norwegian theatre artist Katja Brita Lindeberg, is a character from Katja’s famous solo clown act If Only Rosa Could do Magic. Though on stage Rosa’s magic spells failed, Katja had an entire auditorium of young audience laughing at her clumsiness and consoling her every time she horribly messed up a spell.
The one and only theatre festival for children in Hyderabad, the curtain raiser of the 10th Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival took place amid much glitz with Katja’s show on November 28. The 10-day fest is set to begin on December 8.
The brainchild of three women theatre artists, the children’s theatre festival was started in 2010 by Vaishali Bisht, Priyankaa Vir and Deepthi Pendurty. Speaking to TNM, Vaishali, who has been running theatre workshops for children for the past 20 years, recounts how the theatre festival came into being and why it is important for children to be exposed to art apart from mainstream entrainment.
“It was an oft-heard complaint in theatre circles that while cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata had a vibrant theatre scene, Hyderabad had very little to boast about when it came to theatre for kids. Priyankaa, Deepthi and I were classmates from drama school. In India, unfortunately, theatre doesn’t help you pay all your bills. Yet, we were hopeful, and thought of starting something new for the kids, and that’s how the theatre festival kickstarted in 2010,” Vaishali recalls.
The festival will consist of performances, workshops and exhibitions. This year’s edition has performances from a gamut of theatre artistes from across the country. Dur Se Brothers, a theatre company from Mumbai, will open the festival with their play Elephant in the Room.
“It took us a lot of efforts to convince the Dur Se team that the play was suitable for children. The play is about Ganesha who is on a journey to discover his own identity. We felt that kids must watch since they too are in the process of building their own identity and they should be able to empathise with someone else’s struggle too,” Vaishali says.
Talking about the kind of content that the festival offers, Vaishali says that the team does not prefer to be preachy or pedantic and doesn’t believe in talking down to children.
“Since I have been closely working with children, I know the way kids today perceive things. They are incredibly complex. They don’t need to be talked down to. As adults, we may feel that since we too were once kids, we can decide what’s appropriate and inappropriate for their age. We are wrong. No subject is off limits as long as it is dealt with in a manner that helps young people to understand the complexity of the world they inhabit,” opines Vaishali.
This year’s festival will include performances by the Theatre In Education Company of the National School of Drama; puppetry workshops by French artist Sabrina Arusam; a workshop on set design with recycled materials; and a troupe from Telangana’s Ammapuram village showcasing their puppet show called the Bommala Kala Brundam.
“We do not promise that all our events will enjoyed by every kid in the audience. It’s a fine balance of shows that are spectacle heavy, spectacle plus use of speech, and others like Basti Mein Masti which is pure fun. There will be something for everyone at the festival,” Vaishali says.
Every year the theatre festival receives funding from corporates and the state, but this year the organisers say they are running tight on cash. “We are yet to receive any money from the government and most of our funds have been crowd-sourced. We hope to find more sponsors so that at no point in time we have to compromise with the quality of our events,” Vaishali notes.
The festival will begin on December 8 and on till December 15 at the MCR HRD Institute, Telangana. The event is open to children above the age of four.