Performers Without Borders (PWB) is a charity run NGO which believes in the power of performing arts and uses it as a tool to conduct workshops with children in various countries. Their recent tour of India brought them to the Amherst Police Station where the Nabadisha project—which provides after school education for underprivileged children—is run. This centre is also where Peaceworks—an initiative of The Seagull Foundation for the Arts conducts its storytelling project- Share Stories Open Minds.
The PWB team came to the police station dressed in colourful clothes, which made all the children run towards them in the first go. What surprised me the most was the fact that they were so comfortable in conversing with the children using at times even Hindi to talk to them. They were welcomed by the children who performed a small skit based on the traditional Indian folktale of The Rabbit and The Tortoise. Avi, the project coordinator then went on to discuss some of the techniques that they use during their acts covering juggling, mime, clowning and a few others. This was translated by the centre volunteer Swarna Di into Bengali for children.
The children were divided into four to five groups lead by two of the PWB volunteers. What followed then was mesmerizing to watch and at times had the onlookers in splits. They tried enacting various situations purely by actions and without any dialogue. From being happy-go-lucky birds flying about to a hound of dogs being chased by another hound of dogs; were some of the scenes that we were lucky to witness. They were even given big, red round noses to feel like they were playing the part. The children participated with sheer excitement and joy. This session taught us that language is never a barrier. Actions themselves speak so much that at times one does not even need any language to communicate. Thereafter, they went on to two more sessions, one where they sculpted statues—where most of them sculpted their partners for the perfect selfie with them, and the other, unleashing the power of imagination by imagining a simple object to be used in different ways.
Then began the performance of the PWB that the children and the audience were eagerly waiting for. From juggling to riding a unicycle and even trying a leg at skipping with it enthralled the audience. What appealed to them the most was that the acts were in tune to a short story that they prepared regarding a wonder mixer. At one point, they even called the children on stage to help them with their acts. The performance glued the children to their seats for almost an hour.
‘The children enjoyed themselves and do not usually get to see such amazing acts. That is why they are liking it a lot and enjoying their performances,’ said Anima Dutta, a teacher from the centre. Pooja, a student of the centre said that she loved the performances a lot and a particular mime of a monkey attracted her the most. Jayasree di, another teacher from the centre stated that according to her juggling was the best.
Further, the programme being conducted inside the police station saw the presence of some interested police officers too who joined the audience. Bapi Ghosh, a sergeant from the police Station said, ‘Programme khub bhalo hocche. Erom aro hole bhalo hoye bachader jonne karon bachara anando korche.’ (The programme is very good. There should be more programs like this for the children because they are enjoying a lot. )
The students from the opposite college (left their classes) and came to watch the special programme conducted in the precincts of the police station. Mehed Islam, a student of the nearby college said, ‘Ami college e jachilam, eita dekhte dekhte ekhane chole eshechi. Amader Bengali culture theke ektu different. Eitai khub attractive.’ (I was going to the college. I saw their performance and came here to see it instead. Their acts are different from our everyday Bengali culture. This is what is attractive about them). The highlight of the performance was when they started dancing to the tunes of ‘Koi Dance Pe Chance Maar Le’ from the film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi with the children.
After their performance got over, I got a chance to talk to some of them. Dan said, ‘I very much enjoyed performing here. The crowd is really engaged, there was a good atmosphere and the kids seem to really enjoy it.’ According to Avi, ‘The kids were really engaged in the workshops that we offered. They loved clowning. They loved to play. Speaking about the space, the stage was amazing, the whole community came and we really enjoyed performing for everyone.’ For Jonny, ‘Performing here was great. The crowd was definitely really nice. It felt really nice to have a lively audience.’
We hope that they would come back again next year and perform for the children and the elders both. Their performances have been truly commendable and so is their objective of spreading love and happiness through performing arts. Keep Enjoying love and spreading Happiness all over! If you would like to know more about the Share Stories Open Minds Project or join us as a volunteer do check out the details here.