Published: 19th October 2021
This theatre practitioner needs your help to build a community centre in Uttarakhand. Here's what you can do
Former journalist Vandana Asha started an organisation that uses theatre as a tool to help communities talk about problems entrenched in their day-to-day life
Agar is a village in Rajasthan and, like in any other place across India, a population of the men there are battling with the problem of alcoholism. As a result, the women are left in despair too. It is at this village that Vandana Asha staged a small play on alcoholism where women essayed all the roles — that of the oppressed, the oppressor and the ally. And when the oppressed lost in the play, people were encouraged to come forward and speak about or even enact what they would do differently. What Vandana was doing was using the forum theatre technique in which the power to change the performance lies in the hands of the spectators. This technique falls under the broad umbrella of Theatre of the Oppressed, whose point is to use theatre as a tool to bring out all kinds of oppression that prevails in the community by involving the community itself.
Now, why we gave you this crash course on Theatre of the Oppressed is because Vandana is not only a practitioner of this beautiful artform, but has also worked with many intervention projects that have involved this artform. "But I wanted to involve myself in a long-term project," says Vandana who has learnt all that she knows from the very best in the business. We're talking about the likes of Radha Ramaswamy (Founder, Centre for Community Dialogue and Change, Bengaluru and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner), Sanyukta Saha (Founder, Aagaaz Theatre Trust, Delhi and Applied Theatre Practitioner) and Jaya Iyer (Applied Theatre Practitioner). That's when she visited Champawat in Uttarakhand in March 2020. "After just a week-long pilot workshop with the kids, I knew I just had to come back," says the 26-year-old. It was around October last year that she started Rang Karwan and registered it as a Section 8 Company under the Companies Act, 2013. The purpose was to use theatre and art-based activities to engage with communities.
Vandana and kids during an activity
There is a small centre in one of the government schools in Champawat where Rang Karwan conducts storytelling and theatre-based initiatives called Kahaniyaar, but while open-air spaces warmly welcome participants, they are unable to keep the weather and its elements out. So now, they have initiated a fundraiser on milaap.org for a space of their own in Kanal Gaon, Champawat. "There will be books, toys, board games, movie sessions and, of course, theatre," says the youngster who has raised over Rs 73,495 out of her target of Rs 1,06,300. This space will also help facilitate a dialogue about what plagues them the most. "Theatre of the Oppressed could serve as a great tool in this regard, but it's a slow process. Before that comes public speaking, forum theatre and more. We would like to give them this tool and ask them what issues they would like to explore through it and help them arrive at solutions as well," she explains.
More than anything else, Vandana has successfully started Communicative English classes for the children of the village in August this year using process drama and experiential learning. She would very much like to carry this forward without being constantly threatened by rain or snow. Meanwhile, they are also conducting socio-emotional learning sessions through applied theatre for students of Classes VI to IX. "We actually asked the community what they would like to learn. It was the women who said they needed to learn English and vocational skills. So, that's where we began," says Vandana who has worked in Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and other states as well. Vandana often invites friends who are artists from other states to conduct workshops for these children. Recently, folks from Odisha and Punjab came down to teach the kids mural paintings.
Vandana at their current set-up
With the help of the funds they are collecting, Rang Karwan intends to purchase tables, mattresses, stationery and a bathroom, apart from the centre itself. “With the help of process drama, we have started training the children in second language-learning as well, talking about feelings like gratitude, anger and so on. We would very much like to use other forms of theatre and drama as well and this space will help us with it,” says Vandana.
Check out the fundraiser here bit.ly/2Z8Aa5x