Youngsters are exposed to violence at a very young age today. It starts with their journey to school. Simple things like crossing the street has become a stressful activity with the heavy traffic in cities. And then they have to deal with studies, unfriendly pedagogies and peer pressure.
Living in a nuclear family, where the parents are working professionals and don’t have sufficient time for children, the little ones get glued to television but the cartoon shows they watch too show violence!
So what would be the life of a young person who is going through or has gone through such violent atmosphere? What kind of ideas would evolve in their minds? Can we at least look at the emotional needs of such young people? Can we equip them to deal with such scenarios?
International Association for Performing Arts and Research (IAPAR) has come up with a play — The Balancing Act which addresses these issues in a light, yet unsparing manner.
The play was first performed in March 2014, and has been staged 26 times since then. They are now visiting the 35th ITI World Congress in Segovia where they will be performing their play. Aditi Venkateshwaran, who is acting in the play, says, “This is a play that looks at violence as experienced essentially by young children. Violence is in mundane things that we have become immune to. It is in parents hurting each other in front of kids, bullying, peer pressure, or in fact in cartoons like Tom and Jerry where the whole idea is to hurt the mouse or the cat. But while addressing these issues, we are trying not to be preachy. The play involves a bit of clowning and communicating these issues in a subtle way.”
There will be five clowns on the stage who will be talking gibberish. This aims to break that verbal barrier in some way. Says Venkateshwaran, “Violence is a part of our day-to-day activities — without even realising we hurt each other. It is necessary to take a step back and understand what our actions are and how they can affect a child,” she says adding that some people have come and said that they never realised that their parents’ fighting or beating up the children was such a big deal until the play conveyed the message.
“The play is a part of the research where we are trying to understand if we can find a better way to tackle these situations. There are also many barriers that we face such as the religion, caste system and sect — all these play an important role while growing up.”
While addressing these complicated issues to children as well as parents, there is an amount of sensitivity that the directors or the characters have to maintain on stage. Did it get a bit taxing emotionally? Venkateshwaran says, “As performers, it can be sometimes taxing to deliver a message like this without being preachy. But the performance is designed very intelligently and is so subtle that you won’t even realise when it hit you.”
Talking about one of the experiences during the recent performances, Venkateshwaran shares, “A few days ago, we were performing in a school and we could see teachers instructing the children that they should not be laughing or smiling. That was a little disturbing for me — they were all five year old kids and there were five clowns laughing in front of them, how could you expect them to stay still? This is how basic our conditioning is — we are told to smile or not to smile and dos and don’ts are pushed down our throats. This is the reason why elders need to watch the performance. They need to know what we are knowingly or unknowingly doing to a child.”
Vidhyanidhi (Prasad) Vanarase who has designed and directed the play, talks about the idea behind pursuing topics like these.
“It was not something that I sat down and decided to write on. It was a vague idea which slowly evolved. With the first team, we sat and wrote down our own memories, of the times when we felt violated. When we were reading them out to each other, we realised that we all had had similar experiences. One of the scenes we do is about child abuse and almost every girl in the team had in some way gone through it.”
Vanarase says that each performance is different and has evolved a lot from their opening act. He also explains how they address issues through sounds and expressions. “After every scene, we come together and smile and then the smile fades. I decided to be harsh while addressing a sensitive issue like molestation but in the entire scene, nobody touches anyone inappropriately. The man just touches the girl briefly on her shoulder.”
Is it easy to explain these situations to young kids who are still unsure about how to talk about them? Vanarase states an example, “When we were performing this show in a school, girls and boys were seated in different rows. During this scene, there was sheepish laughter from the boys’ side, but there was an instant reaction from the girls’ side. So it was quite evident that they were understanding it. Many a times we underestimate the kids, the age of puberty is coming down and the understanding of body is increasing a lot, media and television are also primarily talking about the relation between man and woman, so the kids are not alienated from it.”