“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Oscar Wilde
Theatre - a flurry of activity, a burst of colour, a palette of emotions! With its sometimes hair-raising, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes rib-tickling stories of humanity, theatre is definitely an experience worth having.
Theatre as a form of expression
The origins of theatre can be traced back to around 550-220 BC in ancient Rome. At first, it was believed to have been engineered to satiate the Romans’ thirst for action and entertainment. From the time of its origin, to its near annihilation and resurgence during the renaissance, to the modern interpretations of the art, theatre has remained the most honest reflection of society and culture. What makes theatre such a popular medium of expression?
Juhi Sharma, a theatre actor-turned-cinematographer, based in Chennai, says, “Theatre is very close to my heart because it is a combination of many forms of expression. Today, I am a cinematographer and photographer, yet most of my inspiration comes from what I know of theatre. You need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You also get to work with a diverse group of people brought together by their love for theatre. It is a wonderful experience. You could say the best part about theatre is it puts you in touch with yourself!”
John Pradeep, Academic Dean of Evam’s Happy Cow programme for children adds, “Theatre is so much more about self-expression than other performing arts. You take a technique and put your own personality, emotions, creativity and ideas into it.”
Theatre for children
As a performing art, theatre has much to offer children and young adults. One might think that to train in theatre arts would be to act, direct or pen the script. But the fact is that there are more ways to be a part of the show than acting and directing.
Theatre is a great skill-building exercise for children. It is no wonder that theatre workshops and camps are gaining popularity in cosmopolitan cities. John Pradeep says, “There are various aspects of development that we can address through theatre classes – from cognitive skills for toddlers and young children to socio-emotional skills for teens. We use auxiliary activities that aid in developing the unique set of skills required in theatre. We teach puppetry, miming, shadow play, etc. In a class, we would ideally spend 15 minutes to teach the technique. We then ask groups to come up with their own act - something completely original. What we see is that these performances usually stem from something personal, something very intimate that comes out of the shell. Not just that, we also see individuals taking up roles in line with their own strengths.”
Skills acquired through dramatic arts help in:
- Boosting eye-hand coordination and cognitive skills in toddlers.
- Overcoming stage fright and inhibitions.
- Building self-confidence.
- Enhancing socio-emotional skills in older children and teens.
- Letting children think out-of-the-box and be creative.
- Encouraging children to work in groups, thereby boosting their social skills and team spirit.
Theatre as a career
There are several prestigious institutes in India today that offer courses in Theatre Arts and Drama. However, those truly passionate about the art form can also learn on the job. John Pradeep says, “I didn’t have any formal education in Theatre Arts. I completed an MBA and entered this field purely out of passion. There is much that I have learnt through experience and by being a part of the scene and act.”
“A formal education in the field is helpful but not a must-have,” says Priyanshi Bahadur of The Company Theatre from Pune. “It’s helpful because it instils in you a certain sense of rigour and sound technical know-how. (Formal education) is not a must-have unless it’s an art form that requires a specific skill-set like a dance form or music,” she adds.
While for most people theatre is a vocation to be pursued for leisure, there are many youngsters who have devoted their lives to theatre, performing with two or three different troupes and groups at a time.
Priyanshi says, “The theatre scene in India looks quite enriching. We have young theatre artists surfacing every day. There are young theatre professionals who learn on the job, and I can say with some experience, that it is the best way to learn.”
She adds, “People are taking up theatre as a profession. There is just so much to do now, and I think it’s definitely not a dying art form. There are many avenues that have opened up and it’s not just actors and directors, but even backstage and production people who are becoming inevitable to the process of making an idea a reality and putting it up on stage.”
“Theatre is not just about acting. There’s costume-designing, script writing, backstage management, putting up sets, taking care of lighting, etc. We are supported by fashion designers, by engineers who work on sound and lighting, and by people who manage the backstage activities,” says John.
- Theatre Actor
- Costume Designer
- Stage Manager
- Arts Administrator
This theory is supported by Priyanshi. She says, “Yes, there are many facets to theatre than just direction and acting. There is lighting - which requires sound knowledge and skill, and there’s sound, which again requires technical knowledge and aesthetics. Then there's production which gives you a major sense of accomplishment since everything needed to make a show possible is your responsibility. You need to be able to foresee things when you are in production because it’s your play and you need to bring it together and ensure a smooth run.”
Up front and centre, or waiting in the wings, the theatre has much excitement to offer the creative individual.
Top colleges for theatre arts
National School of Drama, New Delhi: Three-year Diploma Course in Dramatic Arts
University of Calicut: Offers both BTA (Bachelor of Theatre Arts) and MTA (Master of Theatre Arts)
The Drama School Mumbai: Offers a one-year certificate course for theatre aspirants, as well as a range of short courses and workshops
University of Hyderabad: Offers a three-year Masters Programme in Theatre Arts
Courses for kids
The Academy for Creative Expression (ACE), Mumbai: Offers a range of certificate courses and summer workshops, for children between the ages of 2 and 13.
Evam’s Happy Cow, Chennai: Organises various short courses for children between the ages of 2 and 14; specialises in kindergarten and toddler classes.
Ranga Shankara, Bangalore: Organises summer express workshops through its AHA! -Theatre for Children branch.
Helen O’ Grady International, Hyderabad: Offers a one-year course for children over the age of 6; Classes are held once a week and the focus is on vocabulary, sentence formation, body language, voice modulation and confidence.
National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai: Organises workshops to nurture creativity and understanding for the performing arts in children.