CHENNAI: If you could take a time machine back to the Summer of ‘91, you would see Aysha Rau (in pic) on Harrington Road going door to door. It’s mid morning. She’s a 35-year-old mother of two. And she has a crazy idea to sell...a theatre company for tiny tots. Keep in mind this was a time when English stage plays were so uptown that a ticket could cost more than your Suzuki fuel for a month.
Schools and colleges were gradually getting into it, but at an amateur level. And then you have a lady knocking on your door, asking for an annual membership fee of Rs 2,000 for a five-year-old...to learn acting? Talk about guts! But she did it. “I spoke to 600 people before I got 99 memberships that year,” recalls the founder of The Little Theatre, as the company turns 25 this year.
At a time when sketch pens were the coolest thing around and theatre for children was unheard of, this ex advertising exec shares, “I saw a concept, a way to bring creativity to kids through the year, not just a few workshops to pass the time.” And it all started with her own kids at home making finger puppets and potato paintings. “We never slept in the afternoon,” she admits with a laugh.
The best part was that it was never just about acting. From trips to ice cream factories to carol singing on bullock carts, the now 59-year-old Aysha reminisces, “My ingredients for a day were always learn, eat and play.” In 25 years of The Little Theatre (TLT), she’s baked thousands of cupcakes and most recently taken up medical clowning to work with actors, written scripts and even jumped in last minute on stage to play a sea urchin when one of the kids dropped out in the Little Mermaid.
While parents best know this platform for kids by their pantomimes every year, the truth at the heart of this journey is — the real story is not one adult can tell you. So instead, we reached out to a bunch of little ones, most of whom were part of TLT’s first ever workshop. Evidently, they are not so little anymore. And although few of them get up on stage these days, they reveal that singing songs and learning lines is the last thing that comes to mind when they go back in time.
From beating the shy bug to meeting a future husband while playing a princess on stage — some of these stories could make for a super script! Here’s why that red velvet curtain will never come down on these memories.
Growing Up with The Little Theatre
Rohini Rau, Doctor
Without TLT, I probably wouldn’t be married to my best friend today. The irony is he (Krishnakumar Balasubramanian) and I were classmates in school, but it wasn’t until he got interested in theatre and decided to come help out backstage for a play that he caught my attention. I was playing the princess in ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and he had just returned from Australia with a six pack! (PS: Since then Krishnakumar, or KK as he is fondly called, has directed several plays. These days, he also plays son-in-law to Aysha Rau, and visits his wife’s hospital as a medical clown as part of TLT’s outreach programme).
Aditya Patel, Race Car Driver
I was a really quiet kid. I didn’t talk a lot. Which is probably why my mother who had done a few plays earlier decided that a summer workshop here would help me open up a bit. And it definitely worked because these days whether I’m on the track or taking people through an Audi drive experience, I am told I really know how to work a crowd!
Prajanya Anand, Fashion designer & stylist
I remember playing a fish in Little Mermaid when I was about five or six. We all got to make our own headgear back then, depending on what colour fish we wanted to be. Mine was orange and blue, I still remember... Very early on, all of this really fueled my creativity because it wasn’t just about acting. Aysha aunty took us to planetariums, museums, we had pottery lessons and then we all looked forward to a big plate of her homemade biryani after!
Namitha Bakshani, Business Woman
I was about eight when I had my first acting lesson along with my kid brother and sister. Actually, there’s a picture of my little brother in his bunny costume that still hangs above our fireplace at home. I would say that TLT has really helped me be a better leader, running my family’s garment export business. It takes a lot of different personalities to talk to everyone from a factory worker to buyers from different parts of the world. In a way, I guess I am running my own show.