Taking the dramatic turn

Pradita Nambiar

I was surprised to see one full period of 40 minutes allotted to drama in the school timetable. I sat down in the staff room wondering what I should do during this class. It brought back memories of my drama days in school. The last time I did drama was when I was 12 years old. I was keenly looking forward to saying a lot of dialogues, but the teacher decided to make me a palace guard and I was told not to even bat an eyelid. My mother who came to watch the drama, came running to me after the annual day function and asked, “I never saw you on stage, where were you? “I told her I was the guard who stood still. She sensed my disappointment and comforted me saying, “It’s actually very difficult to stand still on stage and only very few children can actually do that.” The next year at the school drama, I got to move, I was one of the many rats that went behind the Pied-piper. I wanted my mother to notice me, but all the rats had to scurry behind the piper and it was only our backs that the audience could see.

theatre-train What is it about drama that is believed to be integral to learning? I went around asking teachers who have been dealing with drama about their ideas on ‘doing drama’. The first year at drama was fraught with multiple challenges. The first step was to choose a play that I would like to stage. My co-teacher in the other section became my guide and mentor. I brought a number of short stories from home and we finally decided on a story which had children going on a train journey without their parents. I would be lying if I said that I converted it into a play. My co-teacher wrote the script of the play and I was trying to figure out what made her choose this story over the others. She then clarified that this story had many characters as it was set on a railway platform and thereafter the story progresses in the train. It had the serious looking railway guard, the omnipresent chaiwalla who is more heard than seen, the silent porter with his bright red shirt and the red bandana, apart from the various co-passengers and relatives who crowd the railway stations. This scene is also one which most children can relate to. It also enabled us to get a majority of the children to participate. The story was of a suitable length to be staged in the school. And finally, the story had an element of drama or theatrical to it which unfolds at the end.

What is drama without accompanying sound effects! This one had scope for plenty. We got the children into groups where they would seat themselves behind a tree and make the sound of the train reaching a station and leaving it. Mind you, it may be the same train coming and going but the sound it makes is different each time. Children covered their mouths with their lips against their palms and blew into their palms, making the sound of the train. With this the mouths let out a chuk, chuk… sound. The speed of the chuk, chuk sound depicted whether the train was arriving or departing. Apart from practice to perfect the sound, it required timing with the events happening on stage. The train announcements and sound that precedes it is very typical of railway stations. The children were becoming aware that these are voices that we only hear, but never see. Many children told me that now they listen to the announcements more keenly. We all know the quirky ways in which the chaiwalla and other vendors sell their wares. Each one of them has his own distinct style of calling out. The chaiwalla was so loud with his “chai…chai…chaaai” that his voice echoed much after the play ended.

The author is a teacher currently pursuing her masters in elementary education, TISS, Mumbai. Her writings are ways to evaluate and analyze her own practices. She can be reached at pradita_n@yahoo.com.

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