As the clock hit 11:00 am, 20 children aged between six and 14 gathered on the stage of the Theatre Mall, Kathmandu. They made a circle for a warm-up. Then, they sat on the floor to begin action.
It was April 17, the second last day of a training session organised by the theatre group. This year’s session was the 9th edition of Little Theatre Garage, a two-week theatre workshop conducted by Theatre Mall and Theatre Centre for Children, with the sole purpose of increasing the participation of children in the theatre in Nepal.
Their mentor Kedar Shrestha asked two of them, Arbien Khadka and Swayam KC, to go to the centre of the stage and perform a role play in the assigned situation.
As they completed their performance, the other two children, Udikshya Rai and Hisi Lama, came to the centre of the stage and performed another role play.
The process continued for 45 minutes until all of the participants completed their role plays.
Children at the workshop looked sincere, happy and energetic. They were helping each other by reminding each other of their dialogues, situations and prompts. But why does this group want to promote the participation of children in the theatre?
Taking children to the theatre
The culture of taking children to the theatre has not developed well in Nepal, which Shrestha believes is the first reason why they need to work on the participation of children in the theatre. Most parents and schools are not aware of the culture. But the Theatre Mall and Theatre Centre for Children say they want to change this.
“Everyone, especially children, should have access to the theatre,” says Shrestha, the founder of Theatre Mall.
Therefore they organised a workshop under the theme Take a Child to a Theatre, which concluded on April 18. On the last day of the workshop, the children performed a play written jointly by themselves.
Shrestha argues the elements and tools of theatre do not merely teach acting but also develop children’s personalities by enhancing the capacity for critical thinking, imagination and communication skills. “Performing a single play helps their mental growth and teaches them about society, art and culture,” he says.
Reportedly, the presence of children in the theatre helps their creative, emotional, intellectual and spiritual quotients. The theatre also builds confidence in the children and teaches teamwork and empathy.
Arbien Khadka (14), one of the participants, says that learning theatre has changed him a lot. He says that earlier he was shy about speaking with others, but now he has become vocal.
This is Khadka’s fifth time in the workshop.
“Every time I come here, I learn new things,” says Khadka, who aims to become an IT engineer. “The skills I have learnt during the theatre workshop have improved my presentation skills in the classroom,”
He has also been teaching the skills to his classmates that he acquired from the theatre workshop.
Likewise, 10-year-old Viviana Thapaliya also shares a similar experience and says that she has also seen a lot of changes in herself due to the workshop.
“The workshop has built my confidence to interact with people and express my feelings,” says Thapaliya, who aspires to become an actor. “I will again join such a workshop in future.”
The parents are also equally happy with the growth they have seen in their children in the theatre. They again want to send their kids to the workshop next year.
“The change I have witnessed in my child after she attended the workshop has amazed me,” says Ganga Ghimire, the mother of Viviana Thapaliya.
Earlier, she was a shy kid, who could not express her things easily, but now, her confidence has boomed and has become more expressive than earlier, according to Ghimire.
Despite the children in the theatre gaining so much, only very few of them have been to it. According to theatre practitioners, parents and schools have not explored the benefits that theatre can provide to children.
Similarly, major theatre groups in the country also do not notably stage plays that are child-friendly and enjoyable for children. Their training and workshops are also limited to adults; people do not want to take risks by investing in children in the theatre in Nepal.
“There is a risk in handling children; they can sometimes fight with each other and run around recklessly,” says Shrestha. “They can also irritate you by not listening and disobeying you.”
However, Shrestha finds it very fun to work with children. “To teach children, you also need to be children, which I find interesting and challenging equally,” he says. That is why he wants to continue working for the increased presence of children in the theatre.
There is also a dearth of child artists in the Nepali theatre scene. This is where Shrestha believes he has a lot of opportunities in training children in the future.