Story time across cities

Updated: Apr 22, 2020, 10:28 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

Bengaluru theatre's summer festival is inviting young ones to listen to stories, in an all-new online avatar

Rangashankara's Old Man and the Sea, AHA 2019
Rangashankara's Old Man and the Sea, AHA 2019

A little girl lives on a farm; one day, she spots a big red, green, yellow bird. Lo and behold, the girl strikes a friendship with this big bird," says Arundhati Nag, artistic advisor, Rangashankara over a phone call from Bengaluru. "It is a story I heard from my mother, and would tell my daughter. I would keep adding in characters if she wasn't falling asleep. So her father, the dogs and the staffers at home would make an appearance, too. The girl is called Meena but she would be called Kavya [her daughter], in this version. That's what children like. It's like planting the seed and empowering them to take flight," she explains.

When the theatre knew their popular annual children's festival AHA (held in July) wouldn't see the light of day this year, they decided to take the theatre to children who are stuck at home. Titled Little Cloud, the storytelling festival spanning 10 days features 22 stories in five languages (Engligh, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Bengali) by 15 theatre artistes. The names include Ratna Pathak Shah, Pamavati Rao, MD Pallavi, Sharanya Ramprakash and Pondicherry-based Adishakti among others. Puppeteer Anurupa Roy and Kutiyattam dancer Kapila Venu make an appearance, too. Also available is a story in sign language by Kavya Srinivasan that Nag describes as "magical".

Ratna Pathak Shah, Arundhati Nag and Sharanya Ramprakash
Ratna Pathak Shah, Arundhati Nag and Sharanya Ramprakash

Involving minimal curation, the artistes have selected the stories themselves. While Pathak narrates Emperor Akbar gets an Education, Adishakti's Vinay Kumar tells stories of Bhima and Kapila Venu draws from her well-known piece Sita in the Forest. The artistes also use a variety of techniques including puppets, props and live music to make the stories come alive. The themes are varied, too; ranging from mythology and folk traditions to historical narratives.

What sets this festival apart is the fact that save a few like Shah and Rao, it features artistes who have never created work for children before. "It was our way of challenging the community. We have pulled them out of their comfort zones to see where this goes," says Nag. "And they all agreed, wholeheartedly. That's what sets theatre apart from other forms — its positivity and generosity to accept everyone and everything. There is no gharana and no Bible or gurus as such," she adds.

Padmavati Rao, MD Pallavi and Vinay Kumar
Padmavati Rao, MD Pallavi and Vinay Kumar

Nag hopes to turn Little Cloud into a series and add more stories to it over time. The stories are posted on YouTube so parents can revisit them with children, again and again. "The idea is to instigate word pictures in the minds of children, instead of showing them animation. When a child listens to a story, s/he imagines the world it inhabits," Nag explains adding that it could be a welcome opportunity for parents to engage children outside screen-time.

Besides the form, the digital leap is new for the theatre and for several artistes involved. Talking about it with trepidation, Nag says, "This is how everybody is creating work now, when we are unable to do the things we do every year with so much conviction. It's a paradigm shift." It is evident though that Nag is anxious to return to the stage. "I am unwilling to accept a world that does not let us meet each other," she says.

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