India: Fighting Child Labour With Street Plays

India: Fighting Child Labour With Street Plays


It is night in a remote village in India… but a bright circle of light illuminates the dusty street. For a few hours, the pain of poverty is replaced by the magic
of performance. But it’s not only entertainment, the actors in the “street play” have a serious
message for the audience. (Mahesh)
In 1996, I got hooked on street plays and decided
to pursue it professionally. I put together a team of ten people and began organizing street plays myself. Mahesh is a professional actor who has won
many awards for his work on the stage. But the idea of raising awareness of the hazards of
child labour by using street plays inspired him. (Mahesh)
Usually, in a theatre performance, it’s only the actors who perform. But what is unique about the street plays is that the audience not only watches us perform, but people also get involved andbegin to “act”
along with us. It’s exhilarating and very exciting. The stories for the plays we are now performing have been given to us by the National Child
Labour Project Society and the ILO. The scripts are complete, with dialogue and even summaries of the stories. I direct the plays myself and we rehearse for a few days before
going out on tour, traveling from village to village performing
the plays. The first step is always the same: the actors march through the village, pounding drums and inviting everyone to come. It doesn’t take long before the march turns
into a parade… and the word spreads quickly that something
special is about to happen. The next step is preparing the “stage” for the
night’s performance. The actors sweep the street, clearing large stones and debris away from
the performance space. As night begins to fall, a curious crowd gathers. Everything is ready for the street play to begin. The story is about people and children from villages
just like this one, who were victimized and exploited in
hazardous work. The message is simple: keep your children in school, and take community action to prevent
child labour. With support from the International Labourorganization (ILO)
and an Italian funded project, more than 250 performers around India are now
involved in putting on the street plays. Hundreds of plays are performed each year using a training manual designed especially
for the performers. So far more than 200,000 people have seen
and heard the message of the street plays. (Sanjiv)
The themes are something that is taken
from their life. And they can see it is real stories that
are being depicted. It is not something that is in
Bollywood films, etcetera. It is something very near to their heart. And they immediately understand that. After it is all over, Mahesh always asks for feedback
from the audience. We thank you for having come and performed
in our village. We have indeed learned valuable lessons
from your plays. We are very happy that you came here
with the show. We pledge to support your cause from now on.
Thank you! (Mahesh)
We are really happy with the way people reacted
to our show tonight. They thanked us for having chosen their village
for our performance. And they assured us that if we continued
to spread the word like this, child labour can soon be eradicated.

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