Interview with AK Theatre, Singapore

Arts organisations play a very important role in the development of any language. They provide immersive, multi-sensorial experiences that enrich the mind as well as the soul. There is a vast body of research that supports the early exposure of children to the arts and one of the benefits is certainly the literary value they gain. We speak today with Anandha Kannan, Director of AK Theatre. Part of AK Theatre’s founding vision is to keep the Tamil Language and culture alive amongst Indian children and to expand their imaginations through theatre art and its visual depictions. So Eli Puli found it irresistible and just had to reach out to find out more about their journey and the challenges they’ve had to face to make this vision come true! Read on!

How has AK Theatre been promoting Tamil through your programming?

AK Theatre has been catering to students from different age groups – pre-school, primary, secondary, junior college and tertiary to create, showcase and experience art productions. Through the interactive art works that AK Theatre has been presenting, we have been able to spread the joy of speaking, using and hearing the language for the student-audience.

How have you found Tamil audienceship through the years?

The audienceship for Tamil programming has been improving and getting better, both quality and quantity wise. In the beginning, it was difficult to get the word out to people, especially students about our staging programs, due to a constraint in budget for marketing our works. Over the years, we have been able to connect and get the attention of many young parents, teachers, art educators and artists. We are humbled that the word of mouth about the quality of our production has gone around and the audienceship has increased. We firmly believe that the sincere input of efforts in presentation will increase the audienceship to an even greater level.

What are some challenges in engaging Tamil audiences?

The challenges in reaching out to the Tamil audience will be the costing in marketing and the language-based performing art-based event. The popular media such as the TV and the radio have their way of pulling the crowd in because people watch them regularly and it has an ease of access. A literary event or an artistic event is usually catered for a smaller group, say, 100 or 200. So, the economics of reaching out to such small groups differs and those efforts can be quite a challenge.

What are the differences in engaging adults versus child audiences?

Over the years of our experience, we realize that the students are child-like by virtue of their age, but there is a child lurking in every adult audience as well. And what we cater to is the child within each adult. We put in efforts to bring out and relate to the child within every adult and get them involved in our production. In fact, there is no difference in catering to different audience. It is just the way we tune them in to see our production. We also admire how we have to unlearn to bring out the child within the audience, where we are brutally honest with how we feel about the production and how we get involved with the production if it connects with you.

How can the arts help promote the interest in language and mother tongue for children?

The performing arts can promote language, science, virtues and many more if used correctly. It is our vision to empower every single audience who come for our production, our workshop, training sessions or our learning tours. We are committed to inspire them to use the language, to own the language and to perpetuate the arts. We believe that every single audience walking into our space will be an ambassador not just for the performing arts, but for the language and the objective that we are advocating in our works.

What is your most favourite Tamil work to date?

We have three series which is going on for a few years now – the Singai series which talks about Singapore folk tales; Pre-school series called Jing Jak series, of puppets; and the Aimperum Kaapiyangal or the Pentalogy series based on the Tamil Epics and other festivals – MAGO festival, AKT festival and Koothu festival. All these products are special in its own rights.

Our fulfilment happens when a child comes in for pre-school production and follows us as an audience, actor or a technician in our next production and grows with us to develop and to create more work. This has happened in reality, and I think that is the favourite play within the play which I cherish.

I recollect an incident where a hyperactive boy had come for our production, and saw the Poi Kaal Kuthirai. After reaching home, he insisted on making a Poi Kaal Kuthirai out of the empty carton boxes which were stacked up for being thrown away. The mother sent me a picture of the boy with his carton box horse and that has become our symbol, an iconic picture, as it empowered a hyperactive child to focus on making something which was triggered by the traditional art form called Poi Kaal Kuthirai from our Jing Jak series.

There are many more such instances where we feel that we are accomplishing something that we have set out to do. We need to keep going further and then we can sleep happily at night.

Are there upcoming Tamil works of yours that audiences can look forward to?

The most favourite upcoming work will be our Diploma, the Diploma in Indian Musical Theatre called Anandha Koothu where a child comes and learns how to sing, dance and act. Eventually, at the end of the program they will be able to tell their own stories within the art forms they have selected.

This Diploma is completed over 8 years and I am looking forward to the productions and works of these students of our Anandha Koothu, as I believe that they will not only be displaying or performing their story but also bringing along many others of their age, enticing them to speak the language through the performing arts.

And when that happens, my team will retire from the back stage works and come to the audience to see our young people perform. That is the work that I am looking forward to and I am sure many others will enjoy it along with me.

Check out AK Theatre on the following channels:

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