Wifey decided to make Cubby part of a historical moment in Rangashankara's history. The first time that they allowed 20 month olds to enter their hallowed halls-- a space normally reserved for 96 month olds and above. The promise was something special, only for infants and toddlers, in a language they'd understand-- Gibberish. We went to see "The Great Lalula".
It was a disappointment.
To be fair, Cubby did enjoy parts of the performance. He stood and clapped and waved his hands in glee. Some kids chanted along with the artists, some completed the rhymes before the artists could and others merely walked up on the stage, mesmerized. Everything you'd expect from a motley crew of 20 to 30 month olds. There was also some talking on the phones, some flashing of digicams and some running up the aisles: stuff you've come to expect from the yuppie, 'adult' Indian audience.
Despite the success of the play in getting li'l children to enjoy some theatre, I came away disappointed. Probably more for how they squandered a wonderful opportunity, rather than the performance itself.
Here are my reasons:
The artists took themselves too seriously. The focus was on technique. Their 'subtle manoeuvres' really didn't engage the "attention" of the young audience. It was a humorless performance.
Then, there was no music. Children respond best to 3 things: music, physical comedy and surprise. Surprisingly, all of these were lacking. The first half of the performance was too silent, broken only by utterances from the "poem". The actions were slow and deliberate, opera-like. It wasn't until they started clanging some utensils (10 minutes into the show of 20-25 minutes) that most children even looked away from their fidgeting to watch.
Secondly, I wish they kept bright lights on and had something cheerful happen on stage (peppy music, funny cartoons, maybe a clown/juggler?) right when the kids entered. The dark theatre intimated the kids and no child let go of their parents. I remember a performance of "Sleuth" at RS where they had "Tom n Jerry" on TV while people walked in and took their seats, just to set the tone for the "cat and mouse games" to follow.
"The Great Lalula" is acknowledged as a precursor to the Dada-ism movement in Germany. It is supposed to reflect the imaginary world of a child, where he can communicate and cook and drive and dress, all in his own way, in his own language (hence, the Gibberish). The thorn in this beautiful concept was playing it subtle. The priority should have been to connect with the children, even if it meant letting down your guard and engage in some goofy humor!
You think I should've gone to a circus, instead? Maybe.
Let the last word belong to the synopsis of this play on the RS webpage:
Imagine bringing your 20-month young into a theatre only to find a party is being organized – a party for children! And then a lady comes on stage and begins to entertain your children with song and dance, all in a language that only children understand! A mesmerizing world where words skip and dance, move, laugh, jabber, murmur, rustle, rhyme and sing.
Yes! That is what I went in expecting. A carnival of music, dancing, juggling. I wanted my kid to come back with stories and memories of that hour inside RangaShankara. I wanted him to enjoy the exhilaration of a live performance (not just TV), to feel at home in the theatre...
Just 10 minutes later, he had no excitement, no stories, nothing to repeat. That's my rant.
Trust me, we really loved this initiative by Arundhati Nag, to have a festival only for children. We have been big fans of Prithvi Theatre while growing up and while RS is yet to grow beyond its very local vision, we want this haven available to Cubby-- even as an iPod toting teenager. We will continue to be part of Aha! next year and every year it happens. With only a prayer that next year, they find some real performances, instead of being happy because a "troupe came all the way from Germany!"...