By Kirtana Kumar
The development of my pedagogical principles, which I practise today with Theatre Lab (Youth), began with my daughter when she was about six years old. I wanted to play with her and her classmates, so we mucked about with the witches from Macbeth. I gave them a big rasam pot, and with paper and colour pencils we made an eye of a newt, a toe of frog. Then the little girls, dressed in witches hats, frolicked in the outdoors one dark night.
It has been more than two decades since then, and a lot has grown. Today, my students would challenge why these animals had to be tortured for the witches to have some fun. Plus, why do only girls get to be witches? Who are these witches anyway? Are they gendered? Ha! How did young people get so persnickety? I guess the fault lies with democracy, post colonialism and modernism 🙂 Theatre Lab (Youth) has been in existence for 20 years, our workspace is Infinite Souls Farm, and a great many children and young adults have wandered through, made plays, taken drama exams and become adult agents of changing themselves since that night of Macbeth’s witches. But the heart remains the same. In essence – a playful, inclusive, non-hierarchical and political pedagogy that seeks to expand the imaginative scope of the individual, to empower them within their families and communities and bring them closer to their own unique nature. Skills and tricks of the trade that include a flexible voice, body and knowledge of plays previously written are just one aspect of a wider sweep of understanding that seeks to connect the individual, outwards, to the larger community and nature itself.
Because Theatre Lab (Youth) works with young people from urban schools, Summer Camp at Infinite Souls Farm was the mainstay of our pedagogy that includes living in tents, trekking in the hills, learning how food grows, taking care of the animals and making theatre on subjects they felt deeply connected to. e.g. The Blue Whale phenomenon and fractured urban living led to the making of The Abhimanyu Project. Personal experience of loss, identity and gender led to The Big Bolly Boo Hoo, which was invited to #Play! In Munich, Germany. Etc
The pandemic has offered us an incredibly liberating opportunity vis-a-vis the environment. We now feel confident to share that this method of joining the dots, as per the feedback received from young people, parents, educators and psychologists, could be a road map for the future. In the past, our engagement with the environment had been restricted to the Summer Camp bubble, but during the pandemic, we moved our entire practice, lock, stock and barrel, to the farm. This meant that Theatre Lab (Youth) was now a hybrid space of exploration and experimentation.
The first thing we did in June 2020 was to organise an international symposium on Theatre Pedagogy in Times of Zoom called Because the World is You. The intention was to harvest ideas on creating community-centric and interactive theatre on digital platforms. Then we continued classes twice a week on a digital platform and, on popular demand, even had Summer Camp online. Free from the stressors of production-line activity and task-related theatre-making we were now leaning into conversation, research, survey, and focus group discussions. The result was two digital plays but, more importantly, a manifesto from young people on what they wanted for this new world. Resoundingly, we heard four words – Empathy, Nature, Climate, and Community.
We realised then that the farm is not incidental to our pedagogy, but central. It provides a living classroom where nature can be observed, provide stimulus, and heal us. For young people who have suffered the extremes of the lockdowns, this is genuinely a clean break from the anthropocentrism of the theatre of the past. Recently, we were able to observe the results up close when we had 19 drama students stay with us for a three-month residency. Next, we collaborate with Schauburg, Munich and that will forward this experiment of living, working, sharing, learning, in nature, further.
The witches mean something more today.
Kirtana Kumar is an Indian actor, director and dramaturg. She has been working with young people through Theatre Lab (Youth) for 25 years. In 2009, she developed and organised a national symposium on Theatre Pedagogy for Children. In 2020, she organised an international symposium on Theatre Pedagogy in Times of Zoom.stado do Rio de Janeiro – UNIRIO.