Theatre workshops and performances

Projection of women in mass media has been predominantly derogatory to women's positive image. Viewers at large, both women and men, are bombarded with inappropriate and irrational messages about women's status and women's question. This is dangerous in view of the rising crime against women and the tendency to treat them as commodities. Theatre is an effective medium in the hands of organisations like BMF to reach out to people and to make them aware of women's issues as well as variousother social issues. Street theatre particularly has the potential to facilitate viewers' participation and question their mind-set and attitudes.

Theatre has been an integral part of the activities of BMF Thane since its inception. After more than one hundred performances of the famous play,'MulgiZaliHo!' (Oh! A girl is born!') BMF theatre group has been passionately producing plays on topics of social relevance and performing to reach out tovarious sections of the society.

The BMF performers are not professional theatre artists but are individuals committed to the cause of emancipation of women. They may be students, youth, housewives, domestic workers, teachers, social workers, women employees and even children. They receive rigorous training in theatre workshops and developthemselves into full-fledged street theatre group.

Theatre workshops conducted by BMF are participatory in nature and are based on the philosophy of 'Theatre of Relevance' initiated by the well-known theatre personality, Shri Majul Bharadwaj.
Each workshop is conducted with the following objectives:
To develop a theatre group with the potential to become a catalyst in bringing about change in the mind-set in the society.
To sensitise and inform the participants on the causes, implications and practices with regard to the particular issue under consideration.
To develop an understanding in the participants about the basic concepts of theatre and the process of creation of theatre.
To develop street play on the given issue, perform, explore and learn from the performances.

Activities involve physical exercises to enhance flexibility of body, strength and stamina, develop control over the body, to beaware of one's body and to be less conscious of it, to learn deep breathing and relax, to enrich voice etc. To remove inhibitions and fear amongst the participants and prepare them to perform in noisy public places exercises like barking exercise are very useful. Brain storming sessions give rise to understanding all the aspects of the issue under consideration and relating oneself to the issue. Once the basic concept is grasped the group gears itself to project the desired message by preparing the script and rehearsing it painstakingly. After thought provoking sessions and resulting mental exhaustion the participants are guided through relaxation exercises so that the group reenergises itself and works on the script as well as its performance. Performing in public and taking feedback from observers help the group to improve the performance further. This process is evaluated periodically by the group to develop among participants the ability and habit to reflect on one's own experiences, to derive lessons from the experiences of self and others, to identify difficulties and needs of the individual participants and the group and to develop as a group. The free sharing of experiences has great impact on the participants. Some of the reactions are touching. For example, a young participant confided that she had never spoken much to anybody before, never laughed either at home or outside. She felt as if some unknown burden has been off her shoulders. Participants gain confidence through the process of theatre workshop.

BMF Thane has conducted workshops and performed street plays on issues of domestic violence against women, child labour, superstition and blind faith, right to food, declining child sex ratio as a result of preference for a son, communal harmony, maternal health, rights of domestic workers, adolescents and so on.

BMF has been able to conduct effective campaigns to save daughters, to create public opinion against child labour practice, to sensitise people against violence against women; all thanks to the apt use of relevant street plays. The BMF perceives that our society has considerable appetite for such healthy and relevant theatre. The street play performances have invariably received very encouraging and gratifying responses from viewers.

Some of the eloquent responses to thecampaign conducted by BMF to observe SAARC girl child day at Mumbai and suburban railway stations are as follows:
Kalavati: "Awareness on this issue is extremely necessary. This message needs to reach every home. I like the campaign particularly because of the participation of young boys in the play."
Gautam: "I am married, but I don't have a child as yet. I learnt from your play that today that mother is not responsible for the sex of the child. My misunderstanding has now gone. I will not discriminate my child, whether a girl or a boy. I thank the performers."
Dr.Upendra: "It is our foremost duty to protect daughters whom our society is annihilating in the womb today. I thank the organisation for the programme. I would like to contribute to the cause."
Anita: "I am a beggar woman. I have two sons, but none looks after me. My only daughter died at the age of four. I had forgotten all about her. But your play remindedme of her. Had she been alive, I would not be begging today. All my blessings to the group."
Rajesh: "I am a TV artist. I must admit that TV programmes are faltoo(good for nothing). Instead this play should reach every home."
Sabbir Hussain: "The performers had a full understanding of the issue. It is indeed very relevant for our people. Thank you."
Chhaya: "I sell bananas near the station. I got fully engrossed in the play. It will for sure open the eyes of the people."
Gorakhnath: "I appreciated your play. May I request you to make my wife understand this?"
Parag: "The message given by BMF is praiseworthy. If this play reaches every lane and street, the male dominated mind-set of our society will change to quite an extent. Thank you."
Mahesh: "I had never seen any such programme before. Sonography tests for sex determination must be stopped."

BMF accepts honorarium for performances thus raising resources essential for the campaigns.
The play "Chal Anyaya Samori" has been performed more than 500 times and is appreciated by all sections of the society.

A special award was presented to BMF Thane by "Population First" in recognition of the effort to address gender issues through theatre at their Western Region Awards 2009-10.