Published: 14th June 2020
YouAndMe is using theatre to make science, math lessons easy for children. Here's how
Rashmi Patil speaks to Dr Rajashree, co-founder of theatre group YouAndMe, to understand how children and adults can use the skills they learn in acting class to solve real-life problems
Experimenting is what matters in theatre and that's what YouAndMe, a theatre group based out of Bengaluru, has been doing. Founded by Dr Rajashree and Sharath Parvathvani in 2017, this group has been doing a lot of theatre-related activities for adults as well as children. They adapt plays to concepts in textbooks which makes learning easy for children. But what led them to start YouAndMe is an interesting story.
Rajashree has been into theatre for more than a decade and always had a passion for acting. She says, "I took to acting and dancing when I was in class IX and later on, worked in the television industry for about ten years. But I always wanted to have my own theatre group that would not only be involved in acting but also in its application to solve real-life entrepreneurial problems or understand concepts taught in schools and colleges. In 2013, I met Sharath during one of the plays that we performed together. We discussed our perception about theatre and how we needed to help it grow. I realised that Sharath had the same opinion of using theatre to solve real-life problems."
Dr Rajashree, Co-founder of YouAndMe theatre group
Though Sharath was your typical corporate honcho, he always wanted to write and act. So, he pursued a course in Screenwriting at The New York Film Academy (NYFA). "We did not register our group formally because we wanted to bring together people of similar ideology and form a theatre group. While this was happening, Sharath adapted The Bet, a short story by Anton Chekhov, into a play which we enacted at the Young Directors Festival in 2015. The play was received well and we performed it for over a year in different places. We understood that we had the capacity to write unique content. That's when we formalised our theatre group to offer this activity to children and adults."
For the children
YouAndMe associated themselves with several schools across Bengaluru and they started teaching theatre. What surprised them was how children started remembering their lessons taught in class. "We started getting better responses from parents that their children were now finding even regular normal classes to be fun. So, we built a product that could be used to teach Math, Science and Social Science. For example, children themselves came up with a play related to the periodic table and elections. Called 'Who is the leader of the periodic table', they role-played several elements of the periodic table conducting an election. In the process, they learnt the qualities of each element as well as how elections are conducted in India." Pretty cool, right?
Now, during the lockdown, Rajashree and her team conduct storytelling and live performances for children through an online platform called Gurukula Live. Rajashree explains, "We teach soft skills and life values to children, a lot of which comes through our Indian stories. Sometimes, we perform it live. We also include puppetry to tell stories. There are a lot of other activities that are taught on this live platform including navarasas, voice modulation, communication skills etc. Originally, we wanted to conduct these classes for only four weeks but the demand was so much that we now conduct classes from Monday to Friday for an hour."
YouAndMe organises programmes for corporate professionals and start-ups
Don't forget the adults
YouAndMe also has its own studio in Bengaluru. Speaking about their rather unique studio, Rajashree says, "It is a black box theatre and I have not seen this anywhere else in Bengaluru. What makes it unique is that it can be customised in any way that the team wants. There is no set stage and audience space. The team can decide how the layout has to be for every play."
Aside from this, they have developed other programmes to help adults build emotional wellness. Rajashree wants to experiment with a few more things using theatre and explore a few more options in the online mode. "This programme can help adults reduce stress and anxiety and work in an efficient way. Before the lockdown, we gave participants a typical theatre experience by involving everyone personally. But we have gone online with these sessions now. The purpose of this programme is to help people build emotional wellness and business skills. We help them inculcate team-building skills, conflict resolution and pitching skills," she concludes.