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     Volume 4 Issue 43 | April 22, 2005 |

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Children's Theatre Movement
marching forward

Sabira Manir

Theatre for children, although has not been popularised as in the West, its importance is certainly growing. Last month's National Children's Theatre organised by the People's Theatre Association (PTA) at the Public Library auditorium had 65 children theatre groups from all over Bangladesh. About 10,000 children came to see the plays.

Apart from the activities of Bangladesh Group Theatres, the children's theatre movement is making good progress. About 110 children's theatre groups that are concerns of the PTA hold performances across the country. Led by PTA, children's theatre has been gathering momentum for the last 15 years.

Drama is no longer a mere entertaining medium but a leading tool of learning for kids. The "Drama Therapy" or the "Creative Therapy" has become a popular way to help children to develop creativity.

Director of PTA Liyaqat Ali Lucky says, "The first and foremost thing that is required to develop a child is to understand him. No child can develop himself if we fail to identify his needs."

The children's theatre activities started in Bangladesh way back in 1970 and was an endeavour of "Kochikachar Mela". The activities started to spread over since 1973. In 1976, "Shishu Natyam" was active in child theatre. After that, "Dhaka Little Theatre" was formed in 1978. This group staged plenty of plays in the stages of Dhaka. Right after the forming of "Dhaka Little Theatre", "Obhijatrik Kishore Natyagoshthi" started rolling with a lot of promises. Through "Obhijatrik" Nazma Jasmine Chowdhury came forward to stage children's plays in 1980. Even a theatre magazine was published by the group. After seven long years, the "Shishu Kishor Sanskritik Federation" was formed in 1987. This federation brought "Dhaka Little Theatre" under the same umbrella. But the federation was extinct due to several reasons.

Bangladesh Shishu Academy organised a few theatre festivals to take the children's theatre a step ahead. But it did not go as far as expected. Such activities were flagged in the mid eighties. In 1990, the secretary general of PTA and the director of "Loko Natyadal" Lucky took the initiative and came up with some plans. PTA was able to speed up the children's theatre practices within a very short span of time.

PTA has already completed six children's theatre festivals. "We believe that these festivals will spread theatre practices in each school of the country," says Lucky -- and this will subsequently help bring a large number of kids to take up in performing arts.

PTA's efforts were not limited merely to the festival. "The children's theatre workshop" has made a positive mark in the theatrical arena of the country. The children's theatre movement is no longer revolving around Dhaka but is spreading all over the country. "Theatre for children" activities are being carried out among school-level children. Even the workshops for children's theatre directors are giving a guideline to the children's theatre movement. The audience is showing increasing inclination towards watching children's theatre as well. Theatre critics have also projected a new focus on children's theatre.

The most inspiring and noteworthy thing about Bangladesh's childrens theatre is that it has established a unique place of its own even in the international field of theatre. The International Children's Theatre Festival started in the city of Lingen, Germany in 1990. Bangladesh first participated in the festival in 1994 along with 22 other countries. The play "Sanghar" directed by Lucky which was adopted from "Fandibaj Bagh" by Hashi Siddiqui was adjudged as one of the three best plays by the critics. The two other plays were by children from Russia and Denmark. The play "Bobby" directed by Lucky and written by Bijoy Tendulkar was highly praised in the fifth festival in 1998 at the same venue. In the year 2000 People's Little Theatre's musical drama "Bajao Bishaw Bina" and Tagore's "Tasher Desh" stirred up the Hanover festival. Another People's Little Theatre production "Rup Bodoler Rupkatha" directed by Lucky was the talk of the festival that took place in the city of Tyoama, Japan in the sixth festival in August, 2000. The play "Laloo" directed by Lucky, written by Abdul Matin -- yet another People's Little Theatre's production was staged in the seventh festival in the city of Lingen, Germany in 2002. People's Little Theatre attended the eighth festival with their Fusion Production in the 2004 Cuba festival.

For the last 10 years or so, International Children's Theatre Festival has been held annually in the Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Orissa. PTA concerns regularly participate in these festivals. "Almost all the productions have been admired. The little performers were inspired and Bangladesh's image has been upheld in all the festivals," says Lucky.

One of the biggest tasks is to convince the child actor's family that theatre will ultimately benefit the child. There have also been some obstacles in children's theatre practice aside from the success stories. The biggest predicament comes from the individual performer's family. Every family thinks that the theatre practices cause trouble to a child's academic education. But Lucky believes that children's theatre can be a good foundation for a kid's education. "The parents have to be made aware of the positive outcome of children's theatre."

With the sponsorship of ITI and CIDA, the People's Theatre Association plans to take more steps to promote children theatre: This includes forming school theatre, activities for children between two and six years, workshops for children, directive and teachers. Hopefully, these efforts will encourage more children to express themselves through drama.




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