How does a folk tale from Karnataka make contemporary sense to students of Std 8 in an international school?
How does one combine the outward energy of a performance with the inward direction of introspection and awareness?
How does traditional shadow puppet theatre come together with LED textiles that respond to sensory provocation?
Then how do these all these elements interact and make meaning in a way that is accessible and engaging to an audience?
And above all how does all this not be ‘taught’ but generated and learnt through a student led process? This was the task in front of us.
At first it seemed impossible – the challenge too great and the time too less. But then like a slow jigsaw after much discussion and brainstorming it began to fall into place. Using A. K. Ramanujan’s essay on The Flowering Tree as a starting point, we began to deconstruct the themes of the story – what is a man’s tale, what is a woman’s tale? What is the place of a woman’s tale in mainstream culture? How do we fit in? What happens if we don’t? What about stereotypes, peer pressure and emotional manipulation? How do we act in the face of expectations? Are they helpful, are they not? How do we use and manipulate nature for our own ends?
The story was broken down into parts and the children generated connections and parallels to real lives from their experience. These connections then turned into pieces of theatre and design – visual and verbal metaphors of expectations, dialogue and physical characterization, symbols of the various characters through LEDs, journal entries on fitting in, multi textured mood backgrounds and audience interaction.
In the final weeks, all these aspects were woven into a multidimensional production – a contemporary re-telling of The Flowering Tree through shadow puppets, devised theatre and interactive textiles. The dramatic design of the play was kept transparent and open, keeping the process and staging visible and allowing for audience interaction. Directed by Anitha Santhanam, in collaboration with Arzu Mistry, Sadhvi Java and Alisha Panjwani, the entire program was conceived, designed and executed by CERTAD (the Centre for Educational Research, Training and Development) at the Srishti College of Arts, Design and Technology at Bangalore.