In January 2018 Class Act from the Traverse Theatre travelled to India to work with Rage Theatre and 60 young people in Mumbai, writes Creative Producer Sunniva Ramsay.
For over twenty-five years Class Act has been connecting young people with professional playwrights to develop and write their own scripts for the stage. Following a process of creative workshops, the finished plays are performed by a professional company. The key objectives are to expand literacy skills, encourage active contribution in group situations and develop confidence.
One of the reasons why Class Act has been so effective is because it is malleable in being able to respond to the young people taking part. As such, the programme is eternally evolving.
With this in mind, we were incredibly excited to take the project to Mumbai and hear the voices and ideas of young people from across the city, and to see how they made Class Act their own.
Rage had identified 11 schools to work with, bringing together 60 young people from different areas of the city. From the introductory workshop, it was clear that the creativity and energy of the participants would generate wonderful stories and conversations.
“I am most excited for this workshop for working with some very wonderful people, as well as the actors and the directors – these role models who I’ve grown up watching … I am really excited that I am going to be learning first hand from them.”
Two award-winning Scottish playwrights - Stef Smith and Nicola McCartney - delivered workshops alongside four leading Indian writers: Irawati Karnik, Akash Mohimen, Shaili Sathyu and Karishma Attari. Each group had a dedicated Indian Playwright mentor who shadowed the Scottish Playwright tutor, learning more about the delivery of the Class Act model, while also supporting the Scottish artists in understanding more about the cultural backgrounds of the young people.
The young people were put into groups based on what they were interested in writing about thematically, meaning that they were working with others from different schools and areas. Themes were far ranging, taking in aspiration, corruption, war, religion, love, friendship, human rights and fairy stories. The rooms were filled with fun, laughter, debates, conversations and vibrant stories told in both English and Hindi.
Half way through, we asked the young people to consider how their work would translate from page to stage. We then held script development workshops with professional directors and actors. These sessions always prove a turning point for Class Act participants, as the first time they hear professional actors read the works aloud. This was also the first time Indian actors were involved in the process and they were delighted by the imaginations of the young people and relished the creative challenge of working on the scripts. With heads buzzing with ideas, it was then back to the workshop room to put pen to paper and finalise drafts.
The heart of Class Act will always be the process of creative workshops, yet the excitement and energy that surrounds the final performance nights cannot be denied. These took place at the Prithvi Theatre, with 10 new plays on each night. We were delighted that both performances sold out, and the auditorium was filled with supportive friends and family.
Working with the young people of Mumbai and the Indian artists was a truly inspirational experience. All of us at the Traverse are especially grateful to the British Council, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government for supporting this enriching cultural exchange. Between the Traverse and Rage, we are keeping conversations going and thinking about what future collaboration might look like.
I am often asked by project partners why Class Act has been so successful, and for so long. At its heart, the project is about sharing: sharing ideas, sharing stories and sharing experiences. Theatre exists in one live moment in time. But when we sit together as an audience in the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai or in Traverse 1 in Edinburgh, we share, together. This experience transcends a moment and Class Act encapsulates that energy.
Class Act Mumbai lasted for 14 days, but the experience of sharing their stories will stay with these young people and our artists for years to come. In the spirit of Class Act, the final words should go to one of our brilliant Class Act Mumbai young writers, encapsulating what the project is all about:
“Class Act is not just a simple act for me to become a playwright but is also a combination that I will learn many values from. Like teamwork, I’ll meet new people. I think I can take these values further into my life.”