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Catch them young

Kids, here's your chance to act up

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CATCH 'EM YOUNG: Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar would like kids to watch at least one play a year


For school children, excursions mean day trips to the planetarium, the museum or, if they're unlucky, the local zoo. However for children in Mumbai, a trip to theatre could join the itinerary.

In February, Sanjna Kapoor and Sameera Iyengar, the two engines of Prithvi Theatre, announced their departure from the institution, and the foundation of Junoon, an organisation that promotes drama in the city especially among kids. They are joined by old Prithvi hand Ayaz Ansari, market researcher Satyam Vishwanathan and Swati Apte, who works in financial services. And one of the items on their agenda is to coax schools to send children to watch a play at least once a year.
"We've been complaining that there's no support for the arts, " Iyengar says. "But people can't support the arts if they don't know what it can give you. Living with the arts adds tremendous value to society. " Junoon's first step was to take over the running of Summertime at Prithvi, an annual festival of arts workshops and plays for kids. The next was to convince schools that sending kids to the theatre is a good idea. Kapoor and Iyengar will curate plays for kids of various ages. The idea, Kapoor says, was inspired by Shakespeareana, the travelling theatre company that her grandfather Geoffrey Kendal ran with his wife and two daughters.

So far around 60 heads of schools that follow various boards have been met, Kapoor says, including those from schools that cater to low income groups. Initially, plays will be staged at four venues: NL Sheth High School in Malad, St Andrew's Auditorium in Bandra, Karnataka Sangha in Matunga and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Chowpatty.

Both believe that they've begun Junoon at an opportune time. Schools that at one time might have been reluctant to sponsor activities unrelated to the curriculum have been receptive, and even parents seem to be less anxious about children producing spectacular results at workshops. Iyengar stresses that what's important is "the process of a workshop. The end product is not of any consequence to us".

Junoon also plans to hold performances in public spaces, workshops for teachers and "encounters" that Iyengar says, "demystify art forms". Prithvi has, for instance, had shows of kathak and Keralite percussion in which performers engaged audiences in discussions on their art forms. The monthly Chai and Why? a collaboration with Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, is a conversation on scientific matters. Also on the agenda are scholarships for theatrewallahs to attend foreign theatre festivals and major performances by groups from abroad and around India. First up is The Tempest by Footsbarn, a travelling British theatre company that performs in a tent. The company has toured India before minus its tent. However this time - either the end of this year or early 2013 - the tent is coming along.

While Junoon is being funded by grants and donations, Kapoor and Iyengar say they are working on making it sustainable. To this end, Junoon workshops cost more than previous Summertime workshops. Kapoor says that Summertime costs so little (Rs 1, 500 for 20 hours on an average) because she wanted as many kids to attend as possible. But it wasn't sustainable. "At Junoon, we want to give it but does the public want it?" Iyengar says. "Do they want to put their best foot forward? One of the worst things that has happened in this country is that the government believes that it must bring culture to the people free. Bhopal, for instance, was a thriving cultural space. Because the government gives shows free, a theatre group in Bhopal cannot sustain anymore because people will not buy tickets. "

Even though workshops for children attached to NGOs are subsided, the NGOs are required to contribute. "We tell them to do the best they can, " Iyengar says. "It's amazing that when you put the onus on other people they actually do the best they can. "

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