Into the world of music, puppets and stories… with Granny Ru
Directed by Rebecca Spurgeon, shows of ‘Anytime Stories with Granny Ru’ are happening at Jagriti Theatre and Ranga Shankara this weekend
By Reema Gowalla
For Rebecca Spurgeon, making theatre for children is a lot about reliving her own formative years. Driven by nostalgia, experience and imagination, she believes in creating a positive environment for children that is mindful of their innocence, and yet encourages them to be inventive and robust. Apart from being at the helm of affairs at Jagriti Theatre as its Artistic Director, she dedicates time and effort to explore the art of storytelling for young minds. Anytime Stories with Granny Ru is her special directorial project that took shape during the pandemic. It dovetails music, objects and puppets to bring alive the colourful characters in Henny Penny, Jack & the Beanstalk and The Old Woman & the Pig.
Giving us a quick backstory of how the piece was conceived, the director says, “Like the rest of the world, the lockdowns meant a time when regular theatre activities took a beating. But, at the same time, it also gave us the opportunity to dig deeper and explore things that were hitherto unknown. On one hand, we were recording audio stories for children, while there were also online workshops and collaborations across time zones. In a way, the digital shake-up was necessary to expand the scope of the art world. It gave us the time, space and creative freedom to build impetus. Directing this play has been an invigorating experience for me. To get to rehearsals and create a world of colour and theatrical possibility is always such a joy. Every element in this show represents the power of theatre and the scope of imagination.”
Featuring theatre personality Arundhati Raja as Granny Ru, the 50-minute performance is “a must-watch for anyone who loves to disappear into the exciting world of children’s stories”. Music for the play is composed by Ananth Menon, while the credit for all the thoughtful props and puppets goes to scenographer Rency Philip. After premiering in December 2021, Anytime Stories with Granny Ru had its second run in April 2022. The storytelling event is back on stage at Jagriti Theatre on September 3 (at 3.30pm) and at Ranga Shankara on September 4 (at 3.30pm and 7.30pm).
A lot of effort has been made to transform the stage into a place of magic and imagination. “Children today are sharp. Thanks to technology and its multiple access points, youngsters are already aware and clued-up. Thus, it becomes creatively challenging for us to make theatre for them that is emotive, suspenseful, dreamlike and fun. Striking the right balance between absurdity, illusion and realness can be tough. The final outcome that you see is a measured and thoughtfully presented piece of art, so much so that the objects used in the play and its soundscape have even inspired parents to take a trip down memory lane,” elaborates Rebecca.
While crafting the central melody for the piece, Ananth particularly kept two elements in mind — the ‘happy’ and ‘funny’ sounds. The vocal techniques, according to Rebecca, are an important aspect of the performance. They instantly make it a relatable and animated experience for the kids. Even the puppets used in the play are unique in their own way. Inspired by the repetitive nature of the narratives, Rency wanted to “gamify the set for the only actor on stage”. She borrowed ideas from board games while constructing the sets and props.
For Arundhati, who in recent months has directed two new plays — Bali: The Sacrifice and Hold the Mushrooms — is doing a solo performance after over 16 years. Anytime Stories with Granny Ru, she says, has taught her new skills and acting techniques. Earlier, she had to interact with her own digital image, while in this play she interacts with inanimate objects. Well, it’s never too late to learn, she feels.
“End of the day, we are all trying to sustain a culture where children can relate with theatre through curious characters and interesting objects. In a city known more for its pubs and IT hubs, there are only a handful of places that allow children to be children. In such a scenario, theatre can provide that vantage point for young minds to look beyond the usual,” Rebecca sums up.