“The arts make us feel connected to one another and less isolated. Through the arts we share an emotion and that sharing connects us with each other and we realise we all feel the same emotions. We find our identity and make it more pleasurable to live and they also give us wisdom. We see our problems acted out and it’s an important socializing force.” -Arthur Miller,playwright and director
Drama activities help children learn about emotions, build self-confidence, improve communication, and develop teamwork and stage skills. And…. there’s a play. Still, if you are thinking twice about encouraging that li’l budding actor towards theatre. Clearing all your doubts in this conversation is, Director and Actor – Taher Ali Baig who also conducts popular theatre workshops for children in the city.He is the Managing Partner at flickrollers. He has assisted critically acclaimed directors like Nagesh Kukunoor and has worked with The Little Theatre of Alexandria and Kennedy Center in DC. He has conducted workshops at Gymboree, Mosaica International, Yi, CII and is now collaborating with the New York Academy.
KE: Over the years, many schools have slowly revived the theatre arts in their curriculum as many studies indicate the positive role that it has in developing creative thinking, cognitive and problem-solving skills. But, not all kids show an interest in theatre arts. Your thoughts on how theatre is good for learning many life skills for children?
Taher:Every child is different, some are energetic, some take their time with things, some are physically strong, some mentally. Some kids like sports, some enjoy art – there are few who like both. You can’t force a child to learn art, either they are driven towards art or they aren’t. I speak out of experience when I say that theatre has helped lot of children in many ways. Take the example of a 9 years old girl who’d participated in one of my ‘Nautankids’ workshops. She used to be extremely shy, hiding at the back of the group, had to be told to join in on activities every time. As the workshop went on, and her talent became more apparent we eventually ended up giving her the main lead in the play. After that experience, she began to take a lot more initiative at school and volunteering to take part in things she enjoyed – a pleasant surprise for her, her teachers and her parents. It’s safe to say that if theatre didn’t have some concrete benefits to offer kids, these big schools charging huge fees wouldn’t have it in their curriculum.
KE: Is theatre just for the outgoing kids? Many children are actually stage shy and sometimes get intimidated by the thought of performing in front of large audiences. Then how do we encourage the children towards drama or theatre. Does theatre actually help to build confidence in children?
Taher: How will children lose their stage fear if they don’t go on stage? And the size of the audience actually helps – it boosts any performer’s morale to see people turn up in large numbers for their show, be they 10 or 50 years old. I have seen my actors perform better to full houses, every time. The applause and cheers truly improves their confidence because it’s such a real and easy way to understand feedback. There are a large number of kids that I can name who have managed to come out of their shells to become expressive and participative. So yes, theatre does give you confidence, whether you’re reticent or outgoing.
KE: Many parents fear participation in drama will damage their child’s academic progress as a production requires a lot of work and the child has to attend many rehearsals. Please suggest ways on how parents and kids both can be prepared for such a time commitment.
Taher: The child has lots of time, it’s the parents who don’t. Whatever problems I have faced in my workshops have been due to the parents, not the child. If a child comes late for my class I don’t say anything to him or her, because it’s not their fault, it’s the parents who cannot manage time. And it’s not a massive time commitment – our workshops are conveniently scheduled so that they aren’t too early or late, and leave enough time for any other engagements the child or parent may have. To be honest, theatre is an excellent supplement to academic learning since it builds language skills, critical thinking, helps the child make a connection between muscle and mental memory. I could go on and on about its benefits. Allowing the child to have an outlet for their other talents or skills is simply the best way to help them bring their best to their studies as well.
KE: Are theatre workshops outside the school more beneficial for the budding actors? What is the right age for children to start theatre workshops?
Taher: It’s more a matter of convenience to choose one workshop over the other. But workshops that are a part of the school curriculum have some extra benefits. Parents and kids take these more seriously to start with. It has a competitive edge to it, allows children to shine at something and be acknowledged for work other than sports and studies. It gives the kids something to look forward too .at school as well! Integrating theatre with the regular school schedule give children the opportunity to see art as making a contribution to an otherwise humdrum reality. And there’s no ‘right’ age to start theatre workshops, I just find that children over the age of 8 are more adaptable and slightly easier to direct.
KE: Please elaborate on the concept of the workshop ‘Story sketcher that you conduct which seems to be quite popular with parents and children.
Taher: ‘Story Sketcher’ is a totally original concept as far as children’s workshops go in this country. Children under 8 years don’t take too well to theatre, even though there are exceptions. Like there have been a couple of children who’re just about 4 or 5 years old but they were just like “pros” on stage, they could outshine me on stage any day, but as I said they are exceptional. Children under 8 years are good at memorizing and reciting poems but when you ask them to act they close. Giving them a brush or pencil and asking them to sketch, paint or draw actually helps them open up. They feel in charge after holding that pencil in their hand, and we use this to improve their performance and creative thinking. For example: if a child draws a lion we ask other children to draw animals and build a story around it. Each class is different, we have a class where we make kids doodle with objects, in another class we make craft and build a story using clay. It has worked brilliantly so far and we hope to improve with each workshop. Faraaz Farshori is not just a good artist, he is amazing at sketching with the kids; I couldn’t have done it without him.
KE: Also what are the main features and theme of ‘Nautankids’, another program that is organised and conducted by you.
Taher: “Art ka kaam sirf pyar se hota hain aur sirf pyar se hee sikhaya jaa sakta hain”, ( Art is a form of love and can only be taught with love) and that’s something I firmly stand by. You can’t force children to learn or spoon feed them and expect them to grow as individuals. I don’t believe in being strict with children, or even with my adult cast and crew.
‘Nautankids’ is a fun-based workshop where children learn performance techniques through interactive games, and before they even they realise it, we have tricked them into starting rehearsals for the play. Many children have returned to my workshops for second or third runs, and I have worked with Gymboree, Mosaica, Yi, CII and I am now collaborating with New York Academy.
KE: Lastly what is the message that you would give to all the kids who are aspiring to become theatre actors or even directors?
Taher: No one can teach acting or directing, no matter what they claim. You are born with this – you either have it in you or you don’t. If I said I could teach you to act or direct I’d be lying, I can only coax the actor hiding beneath out to come out and play. I cant create actors, I can only find them.
For Taher’s complete profile and contact details, click here
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