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Creating a Platform for the Children

Ershad Kamol
A colourful display of Mandi culture at the festival.

Tuntuni, a Chandraboti Theatre from Kishoreganj production, features the sufferings of the child domestic workers in society, who are deprived of basic rights. Through their apparently comic dialogue the child actors of the troupe, aged below 10 years, addressed the story of oppression. That was the beauty of the show that made the children in the audience aware of the dark side of the society through comedy. Child actors across the country gave remarkable performances to portray serious themes such as oppression, discrimination and lack of care from the parents brought under the spotlight amazingly by the child actors from across the country. Besides these hard hitting social issues, there were pure entertaining plays suitable for children and adolescents.

Both privileged and underprivileged children from the Bengali community participated in the festival. Besides this, an impressive number of children from ethnic minority groups such as Santal, Banoa and Oran staged plays featuring the diverse cultural heritage of these communities.

A scene from a comedy.

Some young adults also took part in the festival, since the event was arranged for people aged between three years and 25 years. The youth troupes presented mainly social satires. Moreover, mature actors presented clown theatre, shadow theatre and puppet theatre for the entertainment of the children.

The plays were presented at the 10th National Children and Youth Theatre Festival organised by Regenerative Action for Kaleidoscopic Human Activity and Learning (Rakhal) at the Central Public Library Auditorium from July 17 to July 31. 130 member troupes of Peoples Theatre Association (PTA), a platform of children and youth theatre troupes across the country, staged the shows with the motto “Amra shobai manchokuri natnandoney phutbo".

The festival attracted a sizeable number of children-- both performers and viewers. Over six thousand enthusiastic child actors from all across the country participated in the festival. Many of the children were from outside Dhaka. The organisers claimed it to be one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the world in terms of the numbers of participating troupes and attendants.

The event created an opportunity for children and youth to display their creative potential. Shibli Noman from Dinajpur came to Dhaka to perform in a play featuring racial issues at the festival. Shibli, a student of class 8, says, "I'm really encouraged to get this chance to perform in Dhaka. In future, I want to be a prominent actor."

Liaquat Ali Lucky.

Another member of Amader Theatre, Dinajpur, Nazia Sharmin Linda also hopes to become a theatre activist. A student of class nine, Linda says, "I've been in theatre for the last seven years. I am fortunate to get the encouragement of my family to pursue theatre activities."

There were many others like Shibli and Lina. A few came to perform despite the fact that many had upcoming exams. Sonia Karim, a college student, says, "Even though the first year final is on, I am here to perform with my troupe, Children Art Theatre, which I joined in Class 5." Her teammate Sheikh Mohammad Saikat adds, "Ours is a 40-member team. And we have all come here to participate at the theatre festival."

There are many organisations working in the sphere of children's theatre. But, what's the scenario at the district level? Tarequzzaman Tareq, the general secretary of Amader Theatre, Dinajpur, says, "We face infrastructural and financial constraints. Nevertheless, we continue with our mission to create future actors, especially women."

Children of ethnic minorities and underprivileged families struggle even more when it comes to theatre practice. "It's really a tough task to get the parents to allow their children to take part in theatre. It requires continuous motivation to keep the children going with theatre," says, Roshmi Shengma, the organiser of Garo Shishu Kishor Theatre, Sripur.

Playwright cum director of the troupe Premnath Rabidas, who actually directed most of the plays performed by several ethnic minority children at the festival, says, "I always try to address the problems of children from ethnic minority groups taking elements from their distinctive cultures."

"I never diffuse elements from other cultures, rather try to present the elements 'as they are', since I know the importance of preserving the distinctiveness of their culture", adds Premnath Rabidas, who is also from an ethnic minority group called Rabidas.


Some plays featured fables.

Besides children, parents attended the festival as well. An enthusiastic mother Nilufar Khan, says, "I never knew that my child could perform so well. Through the play she has conveyed the problems that she and many others like her face because their mothers are at work. It is a common problem of city life which sometimes we, as parents, fail to understand."

There were awards to boost the young actors. The best child actors and organisers received awards in three categories: “Manchakunri” award. “Manchamukul” award and “Manchoshena” award.

"The festival is a part of our regular activity," says convener of the festival theatre personality Liaquat Ali Lucky, who is also secretary general of PTA, "Theatre helps children to be enlightened. Some of the most important developments happen during childhood. Surveys show that through theatre a child's verbal, visual, musical, logical and aesthetic senses can be developed in a more positive way"

Children theatre is practiced all over the world. In Bangladesh there has been a continuous dearth for such organisations; once there were a handful of active organisations such as Abhijatrik and Khelaghar. Even Bangladesh Shishu Academy has not been able to cater to the children all over the country, who constitut 45 per cent of the total population. Then I thought I should contribute in this field and formed a troupe for children's theatre, says Lucky.

Liaquat Ali Lucky has been active in promoting and providing patronage to children's theatre activities in Bangladesh for the last two decades. During the last two decades he formed Peoples Theatre Association (PTA), a platform for theatre troupes including children and youth theatre activists. So far PTA has 210 members across the country. PTA gives support to form troupe, to train directors, playwrights and actors arranging workshops. Lucky says that in the workshops the directors and playwrights are trained to address the problems from the children's point of view.

"We give support to form theatre troupes not only the privileged children, but also for underprivileged and marginalised children. We have troupes for the children belonging to different classes of society. We run troupes at English medium schools, Bangla medium schools, children living outside Dhaka, for differently-abled children, children living at Geneva Camp, street children, Dalit and Harijon children. For the last few years we are focusing on our activities among the ethnic minorities and underprivileged class. We have also expended our activities for the youths," he adds.

"We have developed about ten college-based theatre troupes in Dhaka. By the end of this year, 20 more colleges will be added in the programme" says Lucky. "We will include these troupes in the Children's Theatre Festival that we hold every June. Moreover, we have been regularly staging plays for children. These types of theatre productions have received a huge positive response at the school level".

Youth troupes presented social satire at the festival.

Liaquat Ali Lucky's activities for the development of children and youth theatre in Bangladesh has given him international reputation. Members of PTA troupes have participated at the international theatre festivals. Moreover, Lucky has become the representative of Asian countries at the six-member International Children and Youth Committee of International Amateur Theatre Association (IATA). Moreover, PTA is a member of International Association Of Theaters For Children And Young People (ASSITEJ) that links thousands of theatre organisations and individuals through national centres in more than 70 countries.

"Our activities have been highly appreciated by ASSITEJ," continues Lucky, "Recently I got invitation from the Laos government. They want to introduce a platform like PTA."

For more elaborate programmes on children and youth theatre in Bangladesh Lucky hopes patronage from the government. Which is why he is planning to involve the policy makers in his activities.

The 10th National Children and Youth Theatre Festival was inaugurated by the Speaker of Jatio Shangshad Advocate Abdul Hamid. The festival was supported by Swedish SIDA, Swedish ITI, Art Venture and ActionAid.


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