CHENNAI: Until recently, for the entire time she was in school, 19-year-old Renuka, with speech and hearing disabilities, never imagined she’d be a part of anything that was close to being artistic. “I wasn’t given any opportunities in school nor did I have the confidence to pursue anything related to art. But, things changed after I joined college,” says via sign language that’s interpreted by Sathyapriya, the special students’ coordinator.
Cut to present day, Renuka, a student of MGR Janaki College of Arts and Science for Women, along with 14 other students with hearing impairment from the college, is all set to perform as part of Aruna and the Raging Sun, a large-scale show presented by internationally acclaimed performance company Graeae (UK), La Fura dels Baus, Prakriti Foundation, along with other partners in Chennai. This performance will be one of the largest shows led by persons with disabilities (PwD) and will also comprise 20-metre puppets, fireworks and aerial acts that will be performed 40-metres above ground level.
Seated amid a group of enthusiastic students from MGR Janaki College, who will be part of the production, is Patrick Collier, producer of Graeae (which has been staging shows with PwDs since 1980). “One of the most exciting things about this project is meeting all these talented amateur artistes. The idea is to provide a platform for all the untapped talent that is being overlooked just because they are ‘disabled’,” explains Patrick.
The show is about Aruna, a legendary Indian mythological hero with disability, who helps humanity battle climate change. It aims to convey the message of having an inclusive society. “Having a disability isn’t an obstacle...in fact our creative inspiration comes from there. In a room filled with talented people with disabilities, as performers, we are naturally drawn to the talent. Only the method of communication varies and in this case, we use rhythm,” he says talking about the mode of training given to the deaf students, who will be part of the dance sequences in the show.
Enthused by the training methods, Nirupama, a student, signs, “I was so excited when I was selected for the show. My parents are happy too! We usually train with rhythm, understand the counts and practice every day. That’s how we synchronise. We even share videos on our WhatsApp group and practice. This show has given me the confidence that I can do anything!”
In a highly technical production, which will also include huge-scale video projections, how challenging will it be to work with fresh talent? “We like to work with the talent available in the local people itself. After all, the spectacle is about telling a local story!” he exclaims.
Groups like Artspire, Stray factory, several disability charities, arts organisations and companies are also joining hands for the production. “The performers will be from different walks of life; each group has a very specific role to play. During rehearsals until Friday, we will split into smaller groups and focus on different bits of the production and training,” says Patrick about the show which is part of British Council’s UK-India Year of Culture.
Aruna and the Raging Sun will be staged on Feb 24, from 6.30 pm onwards at Lady Willingdon College, Marina Beach Road. For details, call: 66848506, 9003287689