Ratna Pathak Shah turns tutor

Ahead of her talk about how theatre skills can be used beyond the stage, we chat with theatre icon Ratna Pathak Shah about theatre as a lucrative career for the new generation and the art of teaching and learning this craft

Ratna Pathak Shah will speak along with Simantini Dhuru, acclaimed documentary filmmaker, activist and researcher at Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum on July 12. The veteran theatreperson, who had been part of iconic plays like Ismat Aapa Ke Naam, Waiting For Godot, and Dear Liar among others, believes that schools must support theatre to take it forward for the next generation. Excerpts from an interview.

Ratna Pathak Shah

Q. How can theatre skills be used to teach more than acting?
A. First, we must define what are the skills and benefits conferred by theatrical activities. What do people gain from being involved in theatre? Teaching anything implies communication, and theatre is all about sharing ideas. The learner and teacher play-act, discuss, debate, differ, agree and feel deep emotions when any teaching learning is taking place. So exposure to theatre is useful for both to be able to participate fully in the process. For too long we have believed that teaching is a one-way process, and though any teacher knows this is not true, we imagine that it is possible. Theatre provides an environment in which meaningful learning can take place. I feel that engaging in theatrical activities is valuable to any communicator. Good teachers are good actors too, for they make their subject come alive.

Q. Is it a good idea to make theatre studies a part of school curricula or a permanent part of school programmes?
A. It certainly is. Learning about the history of theatre and participating in school plays can be great fun, as we all know. Who does not remember the pleasure of being in a school play or the disappointment of not being selected? My school had hardly any theatre or music or even sports and I deeply resented that, even then. Today, lakhs of children will pass through 12 years of schooling without experiencing that pleasure. It’s a tragedy I feel. But if we are to finally see sense and introduce theatre into curricula, we must be prepared with a plan, but most importantly, how will we find so many theatre practitioners who will implement such programmes? Who will train teachers to be able to use theatre in school productions as well as classrooms? How will we raise standards so that school plays are not the crude, unpolished exercises that they often are? Who will write the plays? How can the state help? How can theatre people help? The questions are many and the answers few, but they will emerge I hope.

Q. Theatre does not really pay well, does that deter the fast paced younger generation who look for lucrative careers?
A. Theatre has never paid well, but it has survived through all sorts of social, political upheavals — through the ages, too, in fact. So there is a deep-felt need in us to use this tool to express ourselves. Today, there are many more young people doing theatre full time in Mumbai than there were in my time. So it does not deter too many people. Besides, if schools encourage theatre they will also provide a way for theatre people to earn a living. I see this happening already and the scaling up will happen soon. The question is, will we be prepared? Will young minds have to put up with mediocre/unprepared teachers? In all my years of seeing theatre/film schools, I saw that those who could not do anything else, taught. And sadly, taught badly, without interest, and with poor skills. I fear that will happen on a larger scale.

On: July 12, 5 pm
At: Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, 91 A, Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (E).
Email: mumbailocal@ junoontheatre. org

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