Theatre as process

Nesting Grounds Amphitheatre

Nesting Grounds Amphitheatre

"Light, Action, Camera"

"Light, Action, Camera"

Some time ago, we had a spell when there were lots of kids visiting, and we found that having the children indoors led to trouble. Board games would end with acrimonious claims and counter-claims of cheating. And even solitary pursuits were not possible because “he has hidden the book that I want to read”.

So we banned kids indoors, except to eat, and found that trouble was less likely to arise outdoors. There are always plenty of sticks and stones and what-have-you to go around.

One interesting outcome of this was that their play developed into plays. Many sets of kids put up plays of all sorts–some from books, some in verse, some written by them, about dinosaurs–all sorts. They were extremely delightful to watch at the Nesting Grounds amphitheatre. It was great to see them using the trees and rocks to good effect and learn technique out of need, rather than being taught. The whole thing being kid-driven meant that there were some really inspired improvisations (and in fact, no performance of a play was quite the same as the previous one)

What was even more heartening was the spirit of co-operation that developed; after all, a play succeeds or fails depending on the whole bunch of actors. For us adults, it reinforced something that we knew: Children can resolve conflicts through a consensual approach, rather than through “Might is Right”. It is for us to provide the support and the environment so that this can happen.

Recently I read an essay by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, part of which eloquently sets out a similar story. Departing from my usual practice, I will quote him at length with minor editorial interventions.

“In the theatre that I was used to in school and college, the actors rehearsed in secrecy and then sprung their finished perfection on an unsuspecting audience who were of course, surprised into envious admiration: oh, what perfection, what talent, what inspired gifts–I certainly could never do such a thing! Such a theatre is part of a general education system which practises education as a process of weakening people, of making them feel they cannot do this or that–oh, it must take such brains!–In other words education as a means mystifying knowledge and hence reality. Education, far from giving people the confidence in their ability and capacities to overcome obstacles, tends to make them feel their inadequacies and their weaknesses and their inability to do anything about the conditions governing their lives. They become more and more alienated from themselves and their natural and social environment.

Education as a process of alienation produces a gallery of active stars and a mass of grateful admirers. The Olympian Gods of Greek mythology are reborn in the twentieth century as superstar politicians, scientists, sportsmen, actors; the handsome doers or heroes, with the ordinary people watching passively, gratefully, admiringly.

Kamiriithu was the opposite of this. The Kamiriithu practice was part of education as a process of demystifying knowledge and hence reality. People could see how the actors evolved from the time they could hardly move their legs or say their lines to a time when they could talk and move about the stage as if they were born talking those lines or moving on that stage. Some people were in fact recruited into the acting team after they had intervened to show how such-and-such a character should be portrayed. The audience applauded them into the part.

Perfection was thus shown to be a process, a historical, social process, but it as admired no less. On the contrary they identified with that perfection even more because it was a product of their collective contribution. It was a heightening of themselves as a community.”

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4 Responses to “Theatre as process”

  1. Sri Says:

    Ah! That second photograph is absolutely beautiful. Quite theatrical, too.

  2. shilpa Says:

    What a lovely way of seeing and showing- education mystifying knowledge.

  3. Madhu Says:

    Wow! I love this way of looking at things – “perfection as a process” and demystifying education.

  4. Suseela Says:

    I was wondering whether the photographs were paintings by Sonati; Can your website be listed on alt.ed? How nice it would be if all the adults dealing with children see perfection as a process and then perhaps they could help children also see it as a process.

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