UAE’s largest children’s theatre festival: How acting helps youth deal with difficult emotions

We speak to parents, children and drama teachers to find out how drama can be cathartic for children and strengthen their emotional quotient


Somya Mehta

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Published: Thu 9 Jun 2022, 5:30 PM

Last updated: Fri 10 Jun 2022, 3:12 PM

While the technological boom has made life easier on many fronts, digital gadgets have also found their way into the lives of young children. Lunchtimes, which used to once be a time for kids to pick between physical games like wall-touch and lock-and-key — all of which now have app/web versions — are now transformed into kids being glued to their television or laptop screens to watch the latest episode of Diana and Roma (a YouTube channel with 17.6M subscribers). Surely, if millions of kids are subscribing to these channels, millions around the world are also consuming the content.

The tactic of making your kids sit in front of the TV screen and distracting them to feed them, may seem easier than chasing them around the playground, but its long-term repercussions can be much harder to cure.

The increased dependence on tech gadgets is also believed to impact children’s interpersonal skills, increasing their reluctance to appear in social situations and causing hindrance to their emotional growth.

In times like these, when parents should err on the side of caution, one is delighted to learn that there are also forces at play — on the other side of the fence — working towards retaining the social growth of children in our society.

A month-long theatre festival, prepared by children for children, has come to town, to encourage the youth to put aside their tech and put on their acting hats. The Hive’s Theatre Festival 2022, which is the largest children’s festival in the Middle East region, will see 400 children performing across 25 plays, over the month of June, for live audience.

Why acting?

Ankur and Reema Vora, parents of two daughters, Trisha aged 15, and Reana aged 10, made the decision of sending them to The Hive Performing Arts School two years ago, to hone their confidence and speaking skills. “They have been through a transforming journey with The Hive. As any parent, we have always wanted our girls to be confident speakers and learn some form of art. That’s when The Hive happened. There was no looking back since,” says Reema. “Their confidence and communication skills have grown multiple folds.”

Sowjanya Swaminathan, who works in the E-commerce industry as a content editor decided to enrol her daughter Rithanya in the drama classes to hone her social skills. “Lockdown for over one and a half years and two adults glued to laptops took a toll on my daughter’s interest to mingle with people and have a conversation that could go beyond a syllable,” says Sowjanya.

The benefits of acting have been many, mentions Sowjanya. “From getting ready for every class to memorising the entire script and observing her co-actors, the journey of six months has been spectacular for us as a family. Rithanya is able to read expressions and articulate her thoughts very well. To a certain extent, I do see that she is able to put herself into another person’s shoes and acknowledge different perspectives.”

Self-expression & mental health

Can acting as a form of self-expression also help children look after their mental health in their impressionable years? According to the parents, performing arts gives an avenue to children to express their emotions more organically. “Children can use the platform sometimes to vent their frustration and to express their emotions in various ways. It can be a soul-satisfying experience,” says Reema.

Learning some form of art can also be therapeutic, helping children navigate their suppressed emotions. “It helps you lift your mood and changes the environment around you,” mentions Sowjanya. “It doesn’t let you feel depressed and you always have something to fall back on. Acting and stage performance can also give kids the confidence to express their ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. This instills the courage to voice your true feelings, leaving no room for bottled-up emotions.”

Child’s play

Vrishank Sai Anand, 11, is seventh grader and has been with The Hive since kindergarten years. “As a toddler, I was very expressive and loved listening to stories and reading books. My mum felt I would enjoy drama as it would help me imagine and bring life to the characters that I read,” he says.

“It has boosted my confidence to be on stage in front of a large audience. My acting skills have helped me perform better as a musician and as a debater. I have no inhibitions to convey my thoughts with clarity,” adds Vrishank. When asked if acting helps him better express his emotions, he jokes, “Yes, to an extent that it is difficult for people to understand if I’m acting or being serious.”

The favourite part for the young actor, though, is the audience’s reactions. Having already been on stage the previous weekend for one of the plays in the theatre festival, he mentions, the audience responded with “continuous laughter, thundering applause and standing ovation. It only motivates us to do better and better.”

Another student at The Hive, who’s partaking in the festival, is Gopikha Sivakumar. “I have always loved performing in front of an audience and watching plays,” says the 13-year-old.

“Acting and performing arts not only helps you become a better artist but also a better individual. Through the course of these drama classes, you learn to empathise with the character you are playing and change your perspective of a situation which helps a lot in real life,” says Gopikha.

Director’s take

Joanna D’souza, a theatre artist, singer – songwriter and performing arts professional, and also a play director for the festival, describes the experience of putting this showcase together as “M.A.D. It’s been Magnificent, Addictive and a Dream come true.” She adds, “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. The quality of a product is only as great as the ingredients and the recipe behind the success of this festival is the people. Every day of rehearsal has been a life lesson.”

While the experience of working with 400 children for a drama production may appear overwhelming to many, the drama teachers at The Hive believe “If you’re so passionate about what you do, it hardly ever feels like work.” To which, Alba Rose, Drama Catalyst at The Hive, adds, “It’s a dream come true really, the sheer numbers are unimaginable, a seven-member team, pulling off a month-long festival with 400 actors and 25 plays,” says Alba, mother of 6-year-old Rafe.

“The children have been a source of sunshine and vitality to this project. I haven’t gone one day without tearing up because I am so overwhelmed by the heart and perseverance they carry! Not to mention the sheer talent. And they do it all with humility, love and kindness,” adds Joanna.

Being childlike — the way to go

When asked what adults can learn from children, “Be shameless,” responds Joanna. “And I say that in the best possible way! Children lack inhibitions that society inevitably thrusts upon us. If we could just be brave enough to make a funny face and hug tightly because the script demands it, life would be so much better.”

And also... working shamelessly hard. The play director recalls her favourite memory from one of the play rehearsals. “I remember one of my students Aarav was having a particular rough day and after the rehearsals, he hugs me tight and says ‘I know I wasn’t the best I could be, but I am going to work harder and I am going to do my best’. He delivered on that promise a 1000 per cent,” says Joanna.

Kids are just the best kind of humans to work with, says Alba. “No two classes are ever the same. We’re always laughing, there’s always a story to take back home. They also don’t differentiate in lead cast and other roles. Everyone is a hero and a heroine. Adults could definitely learn from that,” she adds.

Finally, can non-actors act?

Acting in its simplest form is an art of self-awareness, mentions Joanna. “It connects you with your inherent potential and gives you an opportunity to step into the shoes of a stranger, so you gain perspective. It is a catharsis. A release of repressed emotions. I will say that drama is one of the best forms of therapy. There’s so much one can take from it,” she explains.

“I strongly believe that everyone, no matter their profession, should take up an acting workshop. Not to be actors but to take a closer, deeper look into one’s own life. The kids that come to the Hive hardly ever come to be actors. They come to us to become confident individuals, better communicators and overcome their inhibitions,” explains Alba. “They leave becoming well-rounded humans, with empathy and a better understanding of the world they live in.” Perhaps, a lesson both adults and kids alike could benefit from!

Shows every weekend of June at Zabeel Ladies Club, Dubai. Entry is free of cost and tickets will be available on QTickets

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