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‘Connections India’, a youth theatre initiative, returns in a bigger avatar

Students from ten schools from across Mumbai will stage performances based on plays by acclaimed playwrights

Students, aged between 13 and 19, have been attending workshops with prominent theatre directors in Mumbai since September last year.

By Deepali Singh

LAST PUBLISHED 09.01.2024  |  04:00 PM IST

For the second year in a row, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) has joined hands with National Theatre (NT), London, to bring ‘Connections India’ to schools in Mumbai. The positive feedback received from students, parents and schools has ensured that the youth theatre initiative returns in a bigger avatar in 2024, with ten schools—compared to eight last year—participating. Six of these educational institutions are affiliated with not-for-profits such as Teach for India, Aseema Charitable Trust, Akanksha Foundation and Angel Xpress Foundation.

Students, aged between 13 and 19, have been attending workshops with prominent theatre directors in Mumbai since September last year. The participating schools have selected ten plays by acclaimed playwrights to be performed at NCPA’s Experimental Theatre between 11-15 January. 

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Anahita Uberoi, creative learning director, Connections India, and her team have been planning for this event for months. From selecting the schools and shortlisting relevant plays from the NT’s library to finding ten directors who have either worked with children or are keen on working with them, and organising workshops—there is a lot that happens before the students go up on stage to perform. “At the end of it, the reward lies in seeing the smiles on the children’s faces. This is the beauty of theatre. It isn’t just about learning lines or knowing how to move across on stage; rather it teaches you teamwork, responsibility and sensitivity towards your teammates," she says.

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The plays by award-winning playwrights such as Jim Cartwright, Alison Carr, Dawn King and Deborah Bruce, among others, address themes as varied as the environment, bullying, family and the futility of war. “We went through the library and pulled out plays that we thought would work for children in India. Although written originally in English, whenever it was felt that children from a certain school were more comfortable speaking in Hindi, these were translated with permission from NT," shares Uberoi.

In August last year, facilitators from the National Theatre, Jack Lowe and Bethany Pitts, flew down to Mumbai for a workshop with the ten directors, each of whom had been selected to work with a school. In a note shared by the NCPA, Pitts writes, “With the workshops, we wanted to create a sense of ensemble. You don’t often get to spend time in a room full of directors. It was an incredible resource for everyone involved to have all these other directors investigating their play together, like one huge director’s brain." 

Actor and director Asif Ali Beg, who helmed the play Like There’s No Tomorrow about the effects of global warming, for students of Akanksha Foundation’s school, was inspired to come up with different ideas to stage the play. 

Although the idea of professional theatre is new for many of the students, director Rasika Agashe, who worked with the NGO Aseema on a play titled Variations, shares that it was a pleasure to watch the students grow from strength to strength in their confidence on stage. “I love working with children because they don’t overthink unlike adults. They are also better actors because they have no filters," she adds.

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In the future, ‘Connections India’ will also be adding a technical segment, as part of which children can learn about the technical aspects of theatre as well.

‘Connections India’ will be held between 11-15 January at Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Mumbai

 Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based art and culture writer