Theater for Change

Jan. 27, 2017

- Ruma Maharjan

Theater is entertaining and yet very powerful way to make people realize the importance of what they have been actively ignoring. With positivity and a pinch of humor, theater makes a powerful means to make a change.

I, since my school days, was very keen towards acting, writing script and directing plays. The hobby was lost after I completed my high school. But, school life happened twice in my life – the second time with me not as a student but as a teacher. Being a teacher has allowed me to relive the school days teaching and learning from the kids. One such opportunity was when I was helping students in organizing the Children’s Day celebration. Many of the students were dancing and some were singing, but a very few were interested in acting in a play. I then decided to help those very few students interested in acting because that was what I enjoyed during my school days. 

Students came up with different ideas related to children like child labor, child trafficking, child abuse, etc. These were regular ideas – regularly sympathized and ignored. These issues were not the biggest issues hindering the growth of kids in the community I am serving, but definitely caused by adults my students are surrounded by. I was waiting for my students to come up with ideas of issues they are directly affected by. I asked them to concentrate on little things that stop them from doing what they want to do. Some replied that it’s the burden of household chores, some others the fear of getting humiliated, and others society’s pressure. Kids expressed that parents, the society and the school never understood how badly the above are harming the kids. Because they are not frequently talked about, we made it the theme of the play.  

Very few students were interested in doing the play. The script demanded many. So, I chose the students who were low achieving and not participating in any other activities. They became ready once I asked them. It was as if they were waiting for that one person to ask them and tell them that they were the ones needed. A strong team was formed, very enthusiastic and ready to learn and teach. The concept was simple but we worked to portray it very artistically. A girl carries a basket (doko) throughout the play which symbolizes her capacity of carrying burdens, and the stones kept on it symbolizes the burden she is given. The stones are added to the basket every time she was given a burden in the names of household chores, humiliation from a teacher, pressure of marriage by the society, fear of failure, etc. When her basket is full and she is unable to move on with the load, she stops. This is followed by a scene that represents her dream. On the scene, the scenario is exactly the opposite and a better version of what she has experienced in her real life. This involves dialogues that are also the opposite and a better version of what she experiences everyday. And, with each dialogue, a stone is withdrawn from the basket. Finally, the basket is empty and the girl moves on with energy and enthusiasm. The play ends with a question – “Is such a day, a day without burden is possible for us?”

After the Children’s Day, the Dashain program offered another nice platform for a play as more parents and other people from the community could join. This time the act was about alcoholism. The problem of alcoholism is severe in Tamang community, so we decided that the play should be an appeal by the kids to their parents and the community to address alcoholism. We made the play more artistic and full of humor this time. We dressed a kid as a bottle of alcohol - a walking and talking alcohol. The play didn’t SAY what alcohol does, the bottle of alcohol SHOWED what it does by acting itself. It showed that alcohol deters the father to take his responsibilities, pushes him to beat the mother, hinders the daughter from concentrating on study, compels the mother to leave the home and finally makes the father ill and turns the happy family into a complete mess. This play also ends with a question – “Who do you love the most, alcohol or your family?”

The two plays were appreciated by teachers and enjoyed by the students. But the parents who were mainly targeted as the audience were not present in a good number. Such plays are of no good use without the right audience. So, I am now going to place greater effort to take the plays to the community. It won’t be easy to manage and to organize it inside the school premises, but I know that my little artists are going to rock it wherever we do it. 

I have seen smiles on those “low achieving” students’ faces. They felt important and confident. The ones who were good at studies have found a new tool for expressing and presenting ideas. The teachers were surprised to see Binod, a student well-known for his mischievousness, delivering his dialogues calmly and without a single error. Saroj, a student with a heart disease who has never participated in any sports but strived to become part of an ECA, smiled big when appreciated for his acting skills. Roshan, who rarely speaks, came up to me and requested for a place in a play. As for myself, I’ve found myself rejoicing to relive my hobby. The plays were intended to impact change and it might have compelled the audience to think about the issues I strongly feel about. The changes I wish to make through theater may take much longer but for now, I have already started seeing changes in my students and I am very proud of it. I believe if they can change themselves doing theater, they will also make changes in the larger community doing theater.

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