WHO AM I?
I am Ms. Diana Tholoor, Founder, Chrysallis Performance Arts Centre for the Challenged. I have also been awarded the Sadguru National Award for my work with the Community. I have a history of 37 years as a Corporate Trainer and I am also one of the pioneers of theatre for people with Physical and Mental Challenges.
My experience of 37 years in training spans Human Behaviour and Interactions, Communication, Personality, Stress Relief, Counselling and a host of other subjects with the biggest brands in India across industries.
I have worked with thousands of children with and without challenges integrating them on stage through inspirational scripts. I work through movement, dance, drama for children with physical, mental and social challenges. Over 150 stage productions, social films, radio shows and art programmes. Our flagship programme is Christmas with Chrysallis – a Christmas gifting and party programme for as many as 1,00,000 children.
FEW THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OUR ORGANIZATION …
Chrysallis was started in 1999. It was meant to be an outreach programme teaching dance and drama to children from Special Schools in Bangalore.
Our flagship programme, ‘Christmas with Chrysallis’ brings together more than a lakh children across India’s metro cities. Family and friends send gender neutral gifts for children to Chrysallis. Volunteers, then wrap and redistribute the gifts among the children.
I have worked on a nationwide project called "Know Your Special Friend" that reached 20 cities across the country to bring together children with and without challenges in Art Workshops which produced their understanding of what it meant to integrate.
HOW ARE WE HELPING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN?
Every aspect of theatre helps to build confidence, discipline, great communication skills, expressiveness. Theatre helps them to be sensitized in the areas of the challenges they experience. They become more responsive, more interactive, even more considerate of each other. They learn to make eye contact, and, even enjoy a good laugh when one of them says or does something funny. The most wonderful thing about the children is, once they have learnt something - they will remember and recall it for life!
LET’S TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR'S EVENT....
Last year, we did Lion King with the children of Bubbles Centre for Autism. It was a great experience to create a main stage production just as one would with neuro-typical children. There was no compromise on learning the script, setting goals for each character, scene or lights, sound, smoke, being in the dark, making entrances and exits, or blocking their positions on stage. The wonderful attribute of a child with autism is that once they learn something they can reproduce it for the rest of their life. Their triggers could sound cues, light cues, marks on the stage, I remember the hyena scene which had scary music, the stage was very dark with a lot of smoke and red lighting. The children had never been exposed to this and could have reacted by screaming or crying. It was amazing to see them come on stage and complete the scene, I exactly as we did in rehearsals.
LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS YEAR'S EVENT....
This year’s event The Enchanted Lamp, based on the story of Aladdin was performed by children from the Bubbles Centre for autism March 2017.
The production was made up of nearly 40 children with autism. All main characters were from this group. The total cast was around performers integrating the children and teachers from Bubbles.
This year the play was much longer in script (close to 85 pages), longer in duration with more kids being trained to take lines. There were more complex cues, a greater number of entrances and exits. Last year, there was a solo singer - this year we had three singers. Two of the main actors, had to climb an 8-ft. ladder in one of the scenes.
The interaction between the main characters were longer with longer sentences and long paragraphs!
Some of the highlights were
a) In a couple of scenes, the children were prompting each other on stage
b) The boy who played the Genie had to sit inside the lamp - a closed and confined space for almost one-third of the play in the dark - and, he did so without murmuring and did a grand job in his scene
c) The kids remembered their blocking on stage
d) The bright lights, the loud music and sounds, the smoke did not deter them or throw them off
e) The main actors performed on stage independent of any support
f) It took months to rehearse the script with them, however, the improvement in their articulation is commendable.
g) Backstage and on stage, there were no behavior issues with the children
h) They learned to handle their props effectively - like the big cart, the swords, etc.
i) The most interesting aspect is that we could talk to them and explain to them how things should be, how they should handle their roles
j) Every day there were hours of rehearsals, and not even once, did the children complain
k) Directors usually look for actors who are 'a director's dream' - the chidlren were just that - a 'director's dream'. I would work with them on any complex play and get a good result out of it
l) The teachers played a phenomenal role in their training. It was a joy to watch the collaboration and co-ordination.
m) All props and sets were made in-house
WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES DURING THIS YEAR'S PRODUCTION?
This is our 4th Stage production - each production being a sensitizing process for the children. The thought-process for me is to set more complex goals each year and then work out a method to enable the children into accomplishing those goals. The teachers at Bubbles are capable and efficient at achieving goals, they never give up and never say 'no'. Each year we get a small number of new children coming in and I go through the curriculum of preparing them for stage and this is staggered across a period. It was a lot easier this time as the children were already prepared for what is to come - be it at the rehearsal or on stage.
WHAT IS MY FAVOURITE MEMORY RELATED TO MY WORK?
It’s been 17 years since I started work with Special Needs children. I, not only, do theatre, but, also dance and movement therapy. mentally and physically challenged, and, the Speech and Hearing impaired. Every moment working with them is memorable. One moment I remember clearly, is doing a play with a School for the Speech and Hearing Impaired (SKID). While training the Narrators, at least 2 of them started articulating the words. Imagine my joy! This is but one moment - over the last one and a half decades there have been many children who accomplished the impossible!
WHAT DO I HAVE TO TELL THE SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTS ...
Be strong, take heart, be courageous! With interventions and support, your child will begin the journey towards well-being, towards change, towards greater abilities. Your child is capable of great things, look around, find someone, some organization, some community, some group who will fill you with new hope towards a wonderful future for your child.
ANY FUTURE PLANS I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH THE READERS...
Yes! More theatre with larger groups, a project that integrates children with and without challenges in theatre, expanding my territory to work with other countries on the relevance, importance and outcomes of using theatre to set and accomplish goals.
Please read and watch the following more information.
An old slide presentation on Chrysallis
Integrating children with and without challenges
Kutumba - home for physically challenged girls and underprivieged children
Sheila Kotwal School for the Deaf
Lots of Love
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.