He reminds you of your favourite school teacher; only, every remark is accompanied by a heavy dose of wit. This veteran theatre director has been teacher to actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Manoj Bajpai, Freida Pinto; he does not, however, have the ‘airs’ to go with the image.
On a visit to Chandigarh to attend the last day of two-week summer theatre workshop — organised by a team from his acting studio, Barry John Acting Studio (BJAS) at Chitkara International School for students from 48 schools — Barry talks about his unique system of training, importance of theatre education and more.
About coming up with a workshop that was followed by a final performance of four different plays, he says, “It’s a great learning experience for children, especially since we are talking to them in their language, movement, responding to music, mime, developing voices through singing and indulging in gibberish. It takes some time for us to make them realise that we are listening to them. We listen and get story ideas from them; whatever they create together comes from their experience; we don’t hand them a script, it empowers them.”
So, should theatre be made an integral part of the education system? “CBSE Delhi is initiating a project for Classes 11 and 12 for theatre studies. It’s exciting that now theatre studies would be available for children. It will take some years, as we’d have to write textbooks and train teachers, but it must be done.”
Interestingly, the programmes for Classes 11 and 12 are written according to the Barry John Process. About his process, he says, “During the workshop, we trust children to come up with ideas. During primary education, drama is not a separate subject; it’s very much in a child’s language — the way he learns by singing, dancing, rhyming etc. In middle school, they recognise drama as a separate subject. It’s only in high school that they see it as a career-oriented subject. At this stage they can decide what to specialise in — writing, set designing, back stage, lighting, sound, music etc. The class will function more or less like a theatre company then.”
So, would theatre become as big or as mainstream cinema? “No. Films are for the mass media, like television. Theatre is small; it works on one-to-one basis; live, with real people, in real situations. It doesn’t come to you electronically through an idiot box. It’s about people coming together as a community that makes it special.”
Could the dearth of casting directors be the reason behind theatre actors not making it big in Bollywood? “Films are such a family business; the first opportunity goes to family members.”
Since we couldn’t resist ourselves — is that why he has kept himself away from films? “I’ve never enjoyed films much. I’m too much of a theatre and nautanki wala. Theatre is so much more actor friendly. Never felt that comfortable in front of the camera.”