Weaving magic and the audience into their tale

Director of The Garage, Krishnakumar Balasubramanian, speaks to City Express about the challenges of writing an interactive play for The Little Festival
Weaving magic and the audience into their tale

CHENNAI: The wolf is Little Red Riding Hood’s best friend, and they need to defeat the evil king together. This forms part of the narrative of The Garage, a Little Theatre production. The play is part of the seventh edition of Little Festival for young audiences (but it brings out the young in adults too).

On Thursday, the auditorium was bursting at the seams with chattering school children and not-so-strict teachers. And Little Theatre founder Aysha Rau isn’t kidding when she tells us the children get excited about the plays. Right from ‘good morning’ to ‘ready to get eaten by a wolf?’, the kids are one giant cheering, clapping and teeth-flashing mass.

Young Chellamani (played by Maya, who gives a spanking performance) comes crying to her granddad (Krishnakumar Balasubramanian, a big draw with the kids) saying she needs to cook up a story for a school assignment. And thaatha and the mechanics (Akshay, Vikas, Adith and Praveen) in his shop, ‘Best Garage’ dance with her and cook up the tale of Red Riding Hood with superb fighting skills.

But the brief about the play in the pamphlet handed out to the audience makes no mention of either spunky little women or their toothy best friends. Ask director Krishnakumar (KK) about it and he says, “It was mostly improvisation. We had about six plots in mind, and we planned to take it forward depending on the fairytale the audience liked most. We got Red Riding Hood... It’s the first time we’re trying something like this,” he smiles.

And it turns out to be such a ‘red’ letter day. While the wolf doesn’t eat Chellamani, he tries to eat someone from the audience — and the kids compete to get eaten. “Me, me me!” go up the hands. One even offers a packet of Lays chips, while another gives the wolf a bottle of Miranda to wash down his meal with.

There’s also the bit about a ‘monkey mantra’ that needs to be ‘chanted’ to defeat the evil king. The mantra is like an imaginary creature that can be pulled out of your mouth and passed on — in fact, it does get thrown around the audience. If the mantra comes to you, you need to keep ‘chanting’ and passing it on. This way, it passes to school kids, their teachers, and even certain members of the press (even this journalist)!  Techniques like these were a sure-fire ways to engage the audience, KK pointed out. “We now live in a world where there’s a lot of technology and gaming. Though it’s very immersive, it’s not very inclusive,” he explains. “In a play for young audiences, we need to ensure dialogues are simple. We have to experiment with movement and be interactive — we’re competing with things like 3-D here.”

Speaking to the kids, we find out that the dance bits are very popular. Shakthivel and Aryan, Class 7 students from Lalaji Memorial Omega International School, say they loved the choreography and the fight scenes. “There was some sentiment in the end too,” says Shaktivel. Mahathi from Class 9 in PSBB says she loves the characterisation and interactive elements.

Says KK, “The theme is ‘celebrating imagination’. We need to bring magic alive on stage.” And boy, was it a magical journey!

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