Playback theatre effect: Enacting a change in lives of kids in govt homes

Updated 9:58 AM, 27 April, 2019
More than 2000 children in government homes have been impacted by the theatre classes conducted by the Department of Social Defence

A 10-year-old Anandhi* would not stop talking or getting into fights with her classmates and friends at a government home in Tamil Nadu. Her teachers grappled with her behaviour and would reprimand her for her misdemeanours, but all their efforts were in vain. However, they found a solution to make her fall in line, playback theatre. The theatre form is referred to as the oldest form of theatre and is staged in groups where everyone tells a story from their lives and enact them on the spot.

The Department of Social Defence began conducting playback theatre sessions in the government homes and observation homes for children in the age group of 8 and 18 years, since late 2017.  Across the 48 homes in the state, sessions have been conducted  to usher in a positive change in their lives. More than 2000 children have been impacted through the programme.

Talking to The Federal, Cyril Alexander, director, Sterling School of Playback Theatre, who has been conducting these sessions in the homes, says that the staff of these homes were trained in the form first before roping in the children. He said, “We look at it as a tool that offer psycho social support for children who have had a tumultuous childhood due to instability at homes, or exposure to crimes at a very young age.”

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How it works

The concept explores three psychological stages- unconscious, sub-conscious and the conscious. A counsellor who has worked with the children in these homes, explained on the condition of anonymity: “There are different layers of emotions and they lie deep inside. The form of theatre gives them an outlet for the feelings—lending a cathartic effect to the individual who has bottled up feelings. Finally, it brings out their deepest fears and the causes of it and after they talk about it or express it, they are more at ease with people around them, as they have shared their deepest feelings with them.”

The change

While it takes at least six months for the theatre sessions to have an impact, a continuous practise can help them see a transformation in the longer run, say the counsellors. From violent to aggressive and inhibited children, the theatre stands to make an impact, albeit on a different pace.

In the case of Anandhi, who had expressed the reasons behind her behaviour, the teachers understood that constantly scolding her was not a way out. She had developed a deep sense of insecurity as she hailed from a dysfunctional family and she was being teased about it.

Selvakumar S, resource person who has trained inmates in homes in Trichy, shares the story of two reticent and shy girls who shed their inhibitions to participate and win in a silambam (traditional martial art form) competition, after several sessions of the theatre

He says, “The girls would sit separately from groups due to inexplicable reasons. But they found a way to integrate and even came forward to participate in talent hunt programmes.”

The bonding is enhanced when they realise that each of them is fighting a different battle in their personal lives. “They feel for each other and bond well,” he adds.

Has potential for tremendous impact

Sugata Roy, Communication Specialist, UNICEF, says that a pilot project in Krishnagiri district a couple of years ago had brought down child marriages. “It involved the mobilisation of children and they express their woes in front of their community.  There is tremendous impact, as a proxy indicator we found through the National Family Health Survey that the rate of child marriages had come down.”

Alexander adds that the sessions have moved on to the second phase and that they have given a proposal for replicating the model in private homes as well. “There are 98 dialogue factories or sessions covering 30 children in each of these factories at the moment in the government homes,” he added. The experts say that the staff in the homes hold the key to their success. Selvakumar pointed out, “They have to continue with the initiative without looking at it as an additional responsibility.”

However, in observation homes, the impact is a little difficult to gauge, says the counsellor. “They have to be moved out within four months and it is a very short span to have an impact on them. Some of them undergo a de-addiction programme before going through the theatre sessions,” added the counsellor.

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