While most theatre festivals in Mumbai cater to adults, Tifli, International Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences welcomes children between the ages of three and 15. In its third year, the festival has finally expanded to Mumbai after being held in Delhi and Hyderabad for the past two years.
Starting from December 7, the event will be co-hosted by various city-based theatre groups such as Kalsootree, Tram Arts Trust, Swangwale and Gillo Theatre Repertory. Theatre groups from across the world will take part in the event, including France’s Cie La Boîte à sel , Mexico’s Tricicolo Rojo, Kolkata’s Jhalapala, Delhi’s Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust, Mumbai’s Ideas Limited and Pune’s Maharasthra Cultural Centre. “Last year the theme was toddlers and the year before it was climate change. But this year, we don’t have a focal point. In fact, the focus I would say has been to take Tifli to two more cities. We would like to take it to Kolkata next year,” says festival director Shaili Sathyu.
Talking about children’s theatre in India, Sathyu says, “Unfortunately, theatre for children is not very popular in India. In Mumbai, we have seen a rise but the phenomenon of adults creating theatre for young audiences is not common across the country”. Sathyu admits that “the main challenge is getting school students to come for the shows.” “In Delhi, the challenge was to get them to attend a festival like this, because it’s not just entertainment it’s also exposure to arts. So, the advocacy, that we are not just promoting theatre as an event, is a hurdle. Out of the 6,000 people we are expecting in Mumbai, 5000 people will come from schools and NGOs working with children. Our aim is to make theatre a part of the school calendar, so that children are taken to watch plays by their schools every year,” she adds.
LANGUAGE NO BAR
Even though there is no binding theme, non-verbal plays seem to be a festival favourite. Four out of the six acts deal with object, puppetry and mime. One of the highlights at the festival is Cie La Boîte à sel’s Play, a quirky celebration of toys that mixes coloured tape and sound to present ideas. The objects used are “symbols, open doors and gates for imagination”. “We have had a great connection with children in our previous shows. When I move a shape, they [children] try and enact the shape, when I destroy a building, I can see them feel the destruction. They often also hum or sing the music or sounds that are played. I had the same experience in France, Brazil, Canada, and at the Jashnebachpan festival in Delhi. I hope this connection with children continues. It is a true gift for an artiste to meet children all over the world and discover what makes them laugh, think, express their feelings, and what stories they will invent during the show,” says director Celine Garnavault.
When asked if non-verbal theatre is a preferred form of expression to communicate with children, Choiti Ghosh of Tram Arts Trust says, “Non-verbal theatre helps reach out to children and does not limit the play to a particular language. It triggers the imagination of children by showing them images and not simply feeding the story. It provides them an open platform to comprehend and interpret it in their own way. Non-verbal theatre is slowly catching up in India.” Explaining the popularity of non-verbal theatre worldwide Garnavault, says, “In object or non-verbal theatre, often only a look or a gesture is needed, without necessarily needing to move the object. And that alone gives life to things. This is what we want the audience to experience in Play — the simplicity, the creativity, and the sincerity of a child sitting on his rug in the middle of a senseless mess, which only comes alive with his or her desire to play.”
• Play, December 7, 6.30pm, PL Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy, Prabhadevi
• Ekda Kay Zale, December 7, 4.30pm, Yashwant Natya Mandir, Matunga (W)
• Mohan’s Masala, December 8, 6.30pm, PL Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy, Prabhadevi
• Vagabundo, December 8, 7.30pm, Yashwant Natya Mandir, Matunga (W)
• Shadow, December 9, 6.30pm, PL Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy, Prabhadevi
• Dinosaur, December 9, 7.30pm, Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, Matunga (W)
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