In a little box on the screen are a boy and a girl, reading a strange book. Suddenly, a piece of folded paper falls out of the book – it’s a map to a mystical fountain in Egypt. It excites them no end. They are, along with their friends, going on a study trip to Egypt the next week. They want to share the map with their friends, hand it over from one to another.
Pause. The scenes – of a play written somewhere in the United Kingdom and enacted in several corners of India – have worked without challenge so far. It’s lockdown time in the country and the boy and the girl and their friends could not all come together at one place. Physically. So they came together in little boxes on the Zoom video conferencing tool online. Eight boxes and nine children, aged between seven and 12, guided by a teacher sitting in Thiruvananthapuram. At the end of one week, they finished a play in this manner and got it recorded too.
“The company I work for – Helen O’Grady International – is UK-based with franchises in India. We work with schools to enhance the communicative English and personality skills of students through theatre,” says Gopika Gopakumar, who has just finished teaching the first batch of children through Zoom, as part of a summer class.
Gopika is a creative educator and her job involves training kids from different age groups using certain exercises. “The physical space has been really important for us to do the face-to-face exercises. How to bring the physical exercises online, how can team building happen over Zoom, were the questions I asked myself,” she tells TNM.
She had a week to train the children to enact a play. Gopika had to make sure it was not just her voice the kids heard but also each other. Interactions are very important in theatre. She innovated with the ‘drama games’ they used to play as part of the training.
Gopika (top left) in session with the children
“For example, a ball is thrown from one person to another during these drama games. To replicate it online, I throw a ball. A kid catches it – or acts like he or she catches it – and then throws it to another person, calling out their name. In another game, we played a version of Dumb Charades. I would privately let a child know what role they have to enact, say that of a policeman, and the other kids will have to guess the role from the child’s actions. In this way, they were trained to observe each other very keenly, to listen to every line everyone said so they could react properly,” Gopika explains.
After the first five days of online sessions, Gopika got the kids to do a dress rehearsal on Zoom. She added music so that props on a stage could be replicated as much as possible. The kids had to forget they were not next to each other while interacting online and pretend to be together. When the passing the map scene came, Gopika added another task for the kids. Each made a map so it would seem like the same map was being passed from one kid to another. Here again, the kids had to remember whom each was taking from and giving to.
“These kids were in the lower primary group. We change the plays according to the age group. This week I’m teaching pre-school kids, aged between four-and-a-half and seven, and we have chosen an ‘Avengers’ theme for them. After that we will have kids of the upper primary group, for whom a play on creepy creatures is planned,” Gopika says.
All the nine kids in the first batch were from different corners of the country – one in Mumbai, another in Bengaluru, the rest in various parts of Kerala.