Learning happens best when you embrace creativity: Sanjna Kapoor

Kapoor reveals how the programme is inspired by son, and why watching plays should be a norm and not an exception

Early last year, when Sanjna Kapoor held her first press conference at Horniman Circle as the face of Junoon and not the force behind Prithvi Theatre, she proclaimed excitedly to the media representatives present that she was aiming to reach out to school children and give them an opportunity to experience a high that comes after watching a good play.

Sanjna Kapoor
Sanjna Kapoor

She confessed that she was simply following her grandfather, Geoffrey Kendall’s footsteps, who, for the uninitiated, was the founder of Shakespearana, India’s first travelling theatre company, and staged the works of the Bard, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde in the remotest of Indian villages. After conducting a series of workshops and organising plays, last week Junoon kick-started its Arts at Play-School programme at two Delhi Public Schools (DPS) in Pune and Patna. Excerpts from the interview:

Teachers of  Delhi Public School in Pune underwent a series of activities to tap into their inner selves as part of Junoon’s Arts at Play-School Programme’s creative arts workshop

What was the response at the two-day intensive creative arts workshop held as part of the Arts at Play-School programme at the DPS School in Pune?
It was overwhelming. I had been dreaming of this for so many years. We hope this programme becomes a long-term meaningful engagement for students, teachers and parents alike. It was heartening to see that teachers were willing to participate in a workshop on weekends. They enjoyed the 16-hour programme over two days thoroughly without feeling exhausted and went home elated. We will get the real feedback from the teachers after a week. We don’t expect an overnight change but we are hoping for a gradual deep-rooted engagement through the arts.

What does this year-long programme encompass?
It took us five months to plan this programme along with 25 conductors. We have an 11-point plan to reach out to junior-school students (aged six to 10) and middle-school students (aged 11-15). Junior-school kids will get an opportunity to see a professional play in an auditorium, visit the green room and also interact with the cast and crew. Then artistes will come into the schools and perform either short plays or scenes for the children and thereby demystify some aspects of theatre. In this regard, we are looking at tapping various individuals such as nautanki artistes, street theatre groups and companies that perform plays penned by Vijay Tendulkar, etc. The programme changes slightly for the middle-school students. They will get to watch plays especially designed by theatre troupes for them. Also, they will be able to interact with international artistes over web chats.

Interacting with artistes over Skype is a fairly new thing. Did a personal experience propel you to incorporate it?
My eight-year-old son was the brain behind it. Some months ago, I had got him a book by an American author but he never bothered to read it and it ended up lying somewhere in our house. But one day his school organised a skype chat where my son interacted with the same author. After he turned home, he turned the entire house upside down as he wanted to find the book and read it. I actually saw the impact that one skype chat had on him. For my son, the author came alive. Likewise, we want to touch kids with these valuable, incredible experiences. After all, learning happens best when you embrace creativity.

This programme also focuses on teachers and parents. What prompted you to tap them?
We decided to tap teachers and parents as they are the biggest influences on a student’s life. At the workshop in Pune, we worked with 27 primary teachers and helped them get in touch with who they really are through a series of activities. What happens is that in the frenzy of hectic schedules and back-to-back classes, very often teachers forget who they really are when they enter the classroom. The whole focus is towards completing a certain portion of the syllabus in class. We want teachers to tap their inner selves, reflect on their engagement with students, gain a deeper understanding of contexts and subtexts of communication and nurture the empathy so critical to their interaction with students. Likewise for parents, through a series of workshops, we will help them understand the value of arts and support the school in its endeavour to make the arts a regular part of the students’ lives. After all, arts is an extremely powerful tool to engage with other people.

How does the entire process work?

The school just pays us a set amount like Rs 750 for one year for every child. We curate the programme, decide the plays and co-ordinate with artistes, etc.

What kinds of plays are in store for students at Pune and Patna?
In Pune, Makarand Deshpande’s Ansh group will stage Time Boy, which is about how a seven-year-old boy travels to the future, and writer-actor-director Jaimini Pathak will be interacting with middle-school students. At Patna, Shaili Sathyu’s Gillo Gillheri group will stage Taoos Chama Ki Myna, based on Urdu story by Naiyer Masud, Kyun Kyun Ladki, based on Mahashweta Devi’s story and Manav Kaul’s Aranya Productions will stage Lal Pencil that tells the story of a magical pen that changes the life of a girl.

How do you plan to take this programme forward?
In the first year, we want to reach out to 10 schools and especially focus on two-tier cities such as Kochi, Patna, Benares, Baroda and Jodhpur, etc. In the near future, we are looking to reach out to about 6,000-7,000 kids. For us, it’s all about building relationships. I still remember how Naseeruddin Shah had once told me that he felt miserable in boarding school. The only time he was happy was when my grandfather Geoffrey Kendall would travel to his school with his theatre company Shakespearana and perform plays for the kids in the school auditorium. Naseer would eagerly wait for him to come. We want to have that kind of impact on children. We are hoping to get a grant in the near future. We are tapping foundations such as the Tata Trust. We want to cater to low-income schools, municipal schools etc. We want that as many schools as possible should inculcate our programme. It shouldn’t be an exception but a norm.  

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