Friday, August 05, 2011

Story telling workshops and peformances

Story-telling. It really does conjure up some truly fond memories, doesn’t it? Tales from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panchatantra, Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales – an entire plethora of stories that we’ve grown up with. Told to us by beloved grandparents, parents, kindergarten teachers, favourite uncles and aunts. Heart-warming memories that stay with us, sometimes forever.

These sentiments were completely in keeping with the story-telling session that was organized as part of Art Arattai Aarpattam 2011 on Saturday, July 30. What made it so much fun? Why, the story-tellers, of course! We had Geeta Ramanujam, executive director of the Bangalore-based Kathalaya, teaming up with Sweden-based Ola Henricsson to bring alive, some of our favourite stories from years long past. The story-telling was followed by a fun-filled performance by Alf Mouwitz and his daughter, Anastasia, from the Buratino Puppet Theater, Sweden.

Preceding the shows was the workshop on how story-telling can be used as an effective tool by educators, meant for teachers and parents, conducted by Geeta and Ola. It was wonderful to see so many people participating in the session and more amazing to watch Geeta transform into every animal that she was describing – be it the crow, the bee, the snake, the rabbit, the peacock – name it and there she was, bringing it alive, right before our eyes. It was truly educational to see how she held the audience spell-bound with her tips on how story-telling can be used so effectively to connect with audiences of smaller age-groups. Geeta’s session was followed by Ola’s, who took us through some well-loved (though maybe a little forgotten) Swedish folktales, including the one about how the bear has such a short tail and the one with the fox and the rooster. The interactive session that followed these sessions offered interesting insights into the kind of challenges that educators face today, when it comes to catching and retaining the attention of children. We are very thankful to both Geeta and Ola for the time that they spent interacting with the participants and answering their various queries.

And then the fun began! Saturday, the last day, was action-packed with 3 shows - each show had a story-telling session by Geeta and Ola followed by the puppet show and magic show by Alf and Anastasia. And our hearts flip-flopped a million times all through the day as we saw our young audiences trudge expectantly into the hall, holding their teachers’ hands or their parents’ hands or each others. Our first two shows for the day largely saw participation from schools while the evening show was open to the public – and what amazing participation it was! We had children ranging from 4 years upwards and absolutely loved the way they participated in the story-telling sessions and the puppet and magic shows. We loved more, the way they worked with Alf to create magic as they chanted offe, puffe, duff, duff and helped him change circles to squares, the king of spades to the queen of hearts and so on. The story-telling sessions made us realize how easy and simple working with children can really be – if only we make the effort to understand what they want, what they enjoy and what makes them smile. If only we, as parents and teachers, understand how best to help a child deal with his / her environment.

Unfortunately, this seems to be something that the educational system largely lacks nowadays. The focus on the numbers game is so absolute that the child pretty much has no choice but to be a part of a rat race that he/she doesn’t even choose in the first place. And once it begins, forget it. It’s all about being in the top students in class, juggling millions of tuition classes, figuring out what to be when grown up (just out of curiosity, how many children do you know, who say they want to be happy when they grow up?) – I’m sure you get the drift. The truth is that childhood, as it is, isn’t an easy thing to deal with. Are we, as parents and teachers, aiding children in their attempt to make more sense of their world? Or is it to the contrary? Just a thought.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, this brings us to the end of Art Arattai Aarpattam 2011. It has been a tremendous journey over the last two weeks for all of us associated with the festival. We are grateful to everyone of you who has made this journey with us. And sincerely hope that you’ve enjoyed it as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing you the entire experience of the arts festival.


The first week of Art Arattai Aarpattam 2011 has been incredible for all of us. We’ve learnt a lot, had the opportunity to listen to established artists from different fields and watched some of the best movies made for children. Enter week two and it was time to up the ante a bit, we thought. And what better way to add to the excitement than to have a series of competitions that would not only give the children the platform to showcase their talents, but to also tweak that latent (or maybe not so latent, in some instances) competitive spirit in them.

Week 2 at Art Arattai Aarpattam 2011 saw various schools participating in each of the competitions, namely Gram Slam (music), Curtain Call (skit), A Matter of Opinion (debate), Mix it Up (variety entertainment) and Posterize It (poster-making). The participation completely outbeat all our expectations, both in terms of the kind of numbers as well as the very enthusiasm with which children took part. Every child, every team and every school put in tons of effort into the contests and it has indeed been very heartening to watch them perform.

What was also equally exciting was the sheer variety of performances that we saw. The music contest, for example, had some teams singing folk songs while others rendered semi-classical and well-known classical songs. Similarly, the variety entertainment also saw the teams donning on their creative hats, as they put together various interesting pieces that included dance, music, mimicry, mime and theatre. The skit and debate competitions also saw tremendous display of talent. What made the skit contest, which was based on the theme Save, more interesting, were the various interpretations that we saw of the theme. And the debate contest brought to the fore, some incredibly good and confident speakers who argued the finer points of their respective topics. Their passion floored us all. And indeed, brings back fond memories of what it was like when we were one of them.

Needless to say, the entire second week exposed us to an ocean of talent in each of these contests. And what has been important for us is that so many students have so effectively leveraged the platform that we aimed to create for them. Besides this, we are wowed by the number of government schools who have participated throughout the festival, be it in the film screenings, lecture demonstrations, the competitions – whatever the activity. The very aim of Art Arattai Aarpattam is to provide an equal platform to students from all schools, government or private, and it was wonderful to watch them participate with so much josh in all of it. And when the students all got onto the stage to shake a leg as the children of the Government’s Home, Royapuram, put on one of their trademark foot-tapping performances – well, suffice to say that our hearts overflowed with affection for all these children who were having such a good time, and showed us they were having a good time!

We are very thankful to all our judges who took the time to be with us for these events. And we’re certain that they’ve all enjoyed these competitions. It may be a cliché to say that every participant is a winner. But I guess there is a reason why there are clichés in the first place – the very truth contained in them!