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Seriously, let's have some fun

ROMESH CHANDER

Dileep Shankar's `The Circus Beyond' mounted this past week raises a serious question, which is, why can't people enjoy their lives.



PLAY TIME A scene from "Circus Beyond" mounted in New Delhi this past week.

It was about two years back that the well known film and theatre actor Om Puri set up the Centre for Creative Expression with Vivek Mansukhani, Dileep Shankar, Shrupa Dutta, Puneet roy, Anamika Haksal and Jiji Bhattacharjee as board members. Puri commented then that, "Art is not only about expressing oneself, but is an excellent medium to interface humanity with divinity. Active creative channels represent to us a two-way communication channel between the university and human kind. This is the foundation of our work in which we, as creative channels, especially in the fields of theatre, film and television, have experimented with and seen more amazing results". High flung words indeed but if the organisation's first major public event, The Violet Gold Theatre Festival in January this year was any indication, they, to a large extent, lived up to their declaration.

For theatregoers the Violent Gold Theatre Festival was a new experience in many ways. First of all, Bluebells School International had loaned its auditorium for the plays and what is more promised the facility for future productions. Then again, what is very important, all the 15 plays in the Festival were original works and were being presented as a first time performance.

Apart from theatre for adults, Centre for Creative Expression, through its workshops has been working on empowerment of individuals. These workshops led them to schools and its second big project, the just concluded Orange Gold Theatre Festival, for children that featured six plays and a puppet show by Varun Narain.

First, a word about the Children's Theatre in Delhi. In recent years, thanks to Theatre-in-Education wing of NSD and Sahitya Kala Parishad (Delhi Government's Cultural wing), children's theatre movement is catching up but it is still mostly confined to summer vacations when scores of theatre workshops come up in different parts of Delhi, some really good with competent co-ordinators and a few outright money-making rackets. Most of the schools in Delhi including the prestigious public schools pay no attention to children's theatre as a regular activity. As far as this critic is aware Sumermal Jain Public School, Janakpuri, is the only school that has a full time theatre director. Then again, apart from NSD's Theatre-in-Education unit, there are just about four or five professional theatre directors like Feisal Alkazi, who runs The Little Actors Club at three different centres with 40 children each, Ashish Ghosh of Anant and Dileep Shankar, the youngest of them all, who apart from working with children is a playwright who has written more than 10 short and full length plays both for children and adults.

The Circus Beyond

In the just concluded Orange Gold Theatre Festival of children's plays, we saw Dileep Shankar's `The Circus Beyond' with a cast of 32 children from Bluebells School International, Gyan Bharti School and Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. The play opens with a group of children playing in a park. A stranger walks in, we don't know who he is and as the children begin to talk to him, they get more and more frustrated at his answers to their questions. He says he comes from beyond the mountain whereas the children had always believed that no one ever lived there. What do you do? Nothing, he says. So they assume he is lost. "But you have to do something to live say the children and when he says he was curious to find out more about them, some of them conclude he is a spy. Finally they decide to take him to the cafeteria, where some adults also join them. Since we don't know who he is but looks strange, they assume he is a clown. Then follows an interesting chat that raises many questions such as why do we have to work, what is money and so on. As no one seems to know who the stranger is he is tried by the town council and it is decided to isolate him and put him in jail because he is a danger to society.

The play raises a serious question - why can't people have fun while they live and why you have to work so hard to live. The play ends with the children wondering if they could may be have fun and when they grow up. What follows is a discussion in the park, where the adults and children all try and figure out what this stranger is all about. As the curtain comes down there follows a most interesting and intelligent interaction between the cast and the audience - the best that this critic has seen for a long time after the show.

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