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THE creativity and imaginations of children are being nurtured by a cast of stage enthusiasts who are taking their work out to the wider community, writes Stan Szecowka.
The School of Speech and Dramatic Arts (SSDA) was established in 2011 when two young Bahrainis, both at crossroads in their careers, inherited Bahrain’s first theatre arts courses accredited by the London Academy of Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) from their former A-level drama teacher.
Since then, the SSDA has expanded and diversified in both its teaching and staff in association with St Christopher’s School of Bahrain.
An adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo will be the group’s third performance in the community, said Ruqaya Aamer, who added: “It’s really important to nurture the creativity and imaginations of our children. Theatre offers them just that.
“Watching a performance gets them to imagine a different world, to think of different perspectives, alternative narratives and perhaps most importantly teaches them to empathise and put themselves in the shoes of other beings and animals and people – something we really need more of in these times.
“Theatre activates the imagination and gives children the creativity necessary for handling the world and overcoming challenges and obstacles. The theatre also exposes us to tales of other cultures, historical events and traditions. It will therefore, introduce young people to multiple points of view.
“Finally, it not only boosts literacy but encourages curiosity. Bringing the page to stage can really offer revelations for avid readers and also encourage children to read.”
Ruqaya studied English and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London. During her time at university, she was involved in multiple productions, including musicals and community-based drama projects in the English capital. She started her teaching career as an English and Drama teacher at St Christopher’s, went on to teach at the British School of Bahrain and has been part of the drama committee for the Economic Development Board-sponsored talent programme, dedicated to discovering young talent in the field of drama and theatre in Bahrain, and offering local opportunities to train and develop talent.
“I volunteered to read for my daughter’s nursery class and I was amazed at how engaged they were with the stories - I hadn’t worked with kids of this age in the past,” said Ruqaya. “I realised after the reading that it would be wonderful to let them experience theatre at such a young age and bring to life the stories they love and know well.
“I got together with Sowsan Hassan and we began the adaptation process. It was received so well by the children - their compassion and empathy was so incredible that we became eager to bring another story to life.
“Here’s where we got together with my dear friend and co-founder of the school, Kanwal Hameed, to see if she’d be on board to try something a little different. She suggested shadow puppets - a truly fabulous idea - and Sowsan then introduced the idea of hat puppets - another wonderful idea that is really exciting - and a few intensive rehearsals later The Gruffalo emerged!”
The Gruffalo is a popular story and loved by many children. It has a brilliant structure; a small mouse triumphs in the face of many predators by using his imagination.
“He teaches us that the fears we have are ... well ... not as scary as they seem and that we can certainly overcome anything if we, ‘think on our feet’,” explained Ruqaya.
“Shadow puppets were a great way to create a seemingly scary and threatening atmosphere which scares the mouse and makes him believe he cannot handle the predators. When they come to life in the form of an actor wearing a hat puppet ... the children and mouse realise that the shadows were not as scary as they seem.
“We hope that it empowers lots of children to be brave and use their imaginations and creativity to overcome difficulties and conflicts.”
Kanwal is the narrative voice from behind the shadow theatre as well as the puppet handler. Ruqaya plays the mouse and Sowsan plays the fox, the owl, the snake (all in hat puppet form) and the Gruffalo (as a hand puppet).
The trio’s first performance, a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, was performed in March 2014. In December the cast performed an adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man for children at schools and community meeting places. Future plans include a performance evening of scenes from a series of American plays which will be staged on March 20 as part of a teaching programme to assist aspiring directors on the art of the craft.
* After a successful show at the Twinkle-Twinkle Centre, The Gruffalo will be staged tomorrow at 4pm at Words BookstoreCafe. It is suitable for children aged three to seven and tickets cost BD5. The performance will last 30 minutes. In March it will be performed at RIA, sponsored by MTC. Call Ruqaya on 36764020 for more details.