ITLP in India 2012






In January 2012, Marianna Houston and David Schultz journeyed to Varanasi, India to conduct a month-long theatre residency at the Nirman School. Working with a group of 25 students as well as Nirman teachers, the program culminated in the performance of an original play, “Journey of a Dream,” written and performed by the 25 twelve- tofourteen-year-old impoverished youth in the workshop.                             

The Nirman school’s focus in “learning through the arts” has a tradition of exploring alternative teaching techniques and incorporating the arts into its curriculum.                                                                                  


As Marianna explained, “our goal is to foster their creativity and imaginations, to provide opportunities for the students to value their personal stories and to provide multiple opportunities for independent thinking.”

Jaya from the eighth grade put it in plain words, “we wrote all the dialogues and we did everything by ourself… By writing we open our mind and think.” Fellow student Azeem agreed, “My favorite part was writing the poems and scenes… we can write or perform anything that we want to do.” Their classmate Shweta added, “I have learned that we all have a talent inside we just have to let it come out.”

The result was a beautiful original drama, Journey of a Dream, which the students performed at the end of the workshop at the Batawar and Nagwa Nirman parent open houses for the school community, parents, friends and city officials.

Read more about the play and performance here.

Barghav Rani, who led a workshop with ITLP, described the experience as follows: “Although most students had some previous training or experience of theatre, this was the first time they were engaged in the creation and development of a piece of theatre that they could call their own. ITLP provided them with the necessary tools for the accomplishment of the same, and it was fascinating to see the kind of interactions and exchanges that the students developed with these tools.”

See photos of the workshop and play in the photo gallery.

Teacher training

Marianna and David also conducted a week-long teacher training workshop with twenty Nirman teachers. The goal of the teacher professional development workshop was to stimulate greater creativity in the classroom and more innovative approaches to the class presentations that occur twice a year.

The Nirman teachers received ITLP certificates of completion for the teacher workshop which celebrated their class presentations, experiential exploration of Bloom’s taxonomy for the elements of knowledge and their learning and its relevancy to their teaching and Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences and brainstorming sessions on how to customize challenging lessons for students with unconventional learning styles.

Barghav, one of the participating teachers, said, “this workshop played a crucial role in discouraging linear, rote-based pedagogy in favor of more discursive, student-centered and knowledge-based teaching.”

Nita Kumar, the head of Nirman school, thanked ITLP for the opportunity for both students and teachers to have several days of classes and workshops and added: “Within our broader scheme of things for improving school education in India, integrating the arts into curriculum, and integrating marginalized children into mainstream learning, your contribution was unique and highly appreciated.”

Read more about ITLP’s teacher training programs .

In October, 2012, for two and half weeks, ITLP conducted an in-depth theatre workshop at the Dasagram Satishchandra Sarbartha Sadhak Sikshasadan School in Dasagram, West Bengal, India.

The 20 students, ten boys and ten girls, in the theatre group were in the range of 15 to 16 years old. They chose the name Khub Bhalo (Bengali for excellent) Players for themselves and through writing prompts and improivisations wrote in English a play called A Cry for A New India.  The play tells the story of a boy and a girl on a quest to seek a different and improved India.  In the course of their quest they question their grandparents and villagers, listen to the ancient wisdom of the royal Bengal tigers, and meet Rabindranath Tagore, the revered Bengali Noble Prize winner of Literature.  They wrestle with the contrast of the old world with the new. They come up with innovative and progressive ideas and make promises and proposals on how to improve their world, while preserving the rich culture of the past.  The students began to question the only life they know in Dasagram and to examine and question what would make a more effective and productive life and world in India –and how these students can be part of that initiative and be productive global citizens. And all in English—which was a great challenge and accomplishment for them. As one Dasagram student said in his ITLP evaluation, “Thank you ITLPyou helped me think outside my think.

ITLP Teaching Artists:

Marianna Houston- Executive Director ITLP, actress, arts educator, playwright

Annie Houston—Actress, theatre professor, ITLP teaching artist 2006

Jeanette Horn – actress, arts educator, ITLP teaching artist 2006, ‘07, ‘08, ‘10

ITLP residency blog:

At the heart of rural, pre-industrial Dasagram village, five hours drive west of Kolkata, is the Dasagram school.  Defined, as is the local custom, by high clay walls, its various school buildings are surrounded by tall indian tulip, acacia and banana trees, by long red clay roads filled with villagers walking or bicycling, and an occasional car, and by bright green rice paddies.   It was there, after the monsoon weather in October 2012 on the second floor of a building still under construction, that 22 hesitant and uncertain Indian 15 and 16 year old girls and boys, gathered with Jeanette Horn, Marianna Houston, and myself to learn how to recognize and stretch their creative wings and how to write in English, so different from their Bengali, about their lives and their dreams.  In a small room with an overhead fan to stave off the intense heat, we would meet in a circle and warm up our bodies and voices. We played theater games that demanded the students make individual choices of what to do and how to connect. We insisted that boys and girls, who were so used to separation of the genders, interact with one another.  We encouraged students to learn about taking a quest and about having the courage to make a difficult stand for what they believed in.  We discussed global politics as well as local ones.  We demanded that they write, that they question, that they trust their instincts, and that they believe in themselves.  As one student put it, "I learnt many think which is out of my think,"  and another said, "I learned anything is not impossible and anyone can do anything."  We laughed, we cajoled, and we bonded in that intensity of heat and experience.  "I remember you until my death," one of them wrote me.

In between teaching the older students,  the three of us visited a nearby girl's school and an orphanage, gave a workshop to Dasagram School Teachers, and toured the classrooms of lower grades at Dasagram.  On our last day we were entertained by those lower grades with their own theater and dance presentation.

The students were thrilled to perform on the school stage in front of their 800 or so peers and teachers the afternoon before the important Bengali Durga Festival took place.  They were exuberant, invested, and focused in their performance.  One of their teachers referred to the "sensual creativity" and "new thinking" he had observed.  Perhaps most memorable was the beautiful song one young girl sang with total commitment.  It brought us such joy to witness her transformation from a giggling, shy, uncertain young girl in class to a confident young woman who recognized her gift on stage.  Empowering these students to believe in themselves and to think creatively had been our goal.  It was powerful to see that goal unfold in so many of them.  As one of them wrote in the evaluation, "I can know about who am I."   What more could you ask to give a student than that!

To learn more about other ITLP programs choose from the dropdown menu above.


The play: Journey of a Dream

The Nirman students wrote an original story, involving one girl and one boy, Bhargavi and Prithveerag, who both come from Benares on the River Ganges and want to be dancers. Their journey starts when they both find a flyer about a big dance audition for a Bollywood sequence and leave home to pursue their dreams.

Along the way they each encounter challenges, obstacles and victories, and ultimately they learn important lessons about life, family, India and themselves. The obstacles involve situations and individuals who challenge them on what role a boy and a girl “should” play in Indian society today –what is expected of them by their families and by traditional Indian culture. They also each encounter a “mentor,” who gives them inspiration and a special talisman.

Everything was decided and created by original writing, improvisation and consensus from brainstorming, and all students were involved in the presentation:

Starting with traditional tabla music, two narrators set the scene for the audience in the school’s outdoor courtyard. Our hero and heroine introduced themselves with original poems. The play unfolded according to the students’ choices. The final scene expanded into an interlude with the whole group of children dancing a choreographed dance.