Our fifth day in India we moved on to a smaller city, Kanchipuram where we would be taking our storytelling exploration into the realm of more dramatic styles of storytelling: Kattaikkuttu. This terminology created through the work of performer Rajagopal and Hannah deBruin is derived from a street theater storytelling called Therookuttu, traditionally used to dramatize excerpts from such epics as the Ramayana and Mahabharat.
The Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, or Kattaikkuttu Youth Theatre School, provides a group of thirty rural, underprivileged children the possibility to combine traditional, in-depth training in the Kattaikkuttu theatre with basic education. The school encourages its students to explore their own artistic and intellectual abilities and to turn them into professional skills. This is the first time that girls participate in professional Kattaikkuttu training. The Kattaikuttu Gurukulam or “Youth Theatre School” was started in 2002 by Rajagopal, trained Kattaikuttu performer himself, and his wife — Dutch Indologist, Hannah M.de Bruin — believing that children born into the koothu tradition must be encouraged to stay on, with the promise of being able to make a living. The Sangam found many children of performers wrenched out of their households and trade by poverty, forced into child labour, and decided to bring them back into the fold and throw in formal education also.
The boarding school offers rural, underprivileged children in-depth training in Kattaikuttu, introduction to other theatre forms (martial arts, puppetry, story writing, contemporary dance), in addition to instruction in regular subjects as prescribed by the State Government. However, it allows for extrapolations and even encourages the students to be critical, creative and think out of the box.
The American storytellers were able to spend a day-and-a-half with the master artists and students as they not only shared their artistry, but hospitality with their wonderful lunch, engaging “hands on” workshops, and allowing us to share our storytelling with their youth.