Bringing Stories to Life

Actress, singer, director and teacher Shanthini Venugopal has been in the theatre industry for more than 20 years. Her involvement with children began like all success stories, it just happened. An acquaintance, Italian Cinzia Ciaramicoli, was at the time working on a project with Soroptimist Women’s Association. The project Colours of the Sky – To Put a Smile of Children’s Faces, was held in aid of the oncology ward in University Hospital. The pair then decided to put on puppet shows for the young cancer patients, incorporating items found around the hospital. Together they raised approximately RM350, 000 from public and private performances and their shows were recognized by Soroptimist International as the best way to raise funds for children with cancer. 

Shanthini with her son, CJ Hariharan

It was only later when they approached the Actors’ Studio, then located in Dataran Merdeka, to put on a show to raise funds for the Malaysian Association of Guardians for the Intellectually Challenged (MAGIC) that they formed The Jumping Jellybeans (JJB), which focuses on productions for children.

By the end of the show, members of the audience – teachers from the German and French international schools - wanted them to bring the stage to their schools. From there, they moved on to conducting workshops for children and adults, as well as training programmes for teachers. Over the years, JJB has performed in Malaysia, England, Denmark and Australia and has participated in international children’s theatre festivals in Iran, Singapore, India and Germany.

Shanthini lays no claim to genius or foresight but instead attributes the inception and success of JJB to being at the right place, at the right time and knowing how to simply go with the flow, “The path you are led to will always take you to a good place, as long you embark on it with the passion and the intention of doing something that you feel you can contribute,” she says, “If everything is not right, right now is not the time for it but that does not mean you should give up.”

Shanthini has come a long way since the beginnings of JJB. Her son, CJ Hariharan Menon , who was a toddler when the company was founded, is now 16 years old and it was from endless nights of storytelling and laughter coupled edging and encourage forom her close friend, Fran Harrison, which led to her most recent venture where she embarked on the project of launching a children’s storybook that is the first of its kind. The idea for the book “Why Jellybeans are Colourful” originated from a live JJB production, “The Party”.

The focal element that sets this whimsical tale of how nature shares her colour with jellybeans so they don’t face extinction is brought to life by a team of young illustrators ages 8 and up! A feat that goes unprecedented both locally and internationally.

“When my son was little I used to make up bedtime stories for him every night. Some were quite horrible but others were good and when I did feel I had a good story, I wanted him and his friends to draw it out.”

It was from this vantage point that she decided to utilize her story to encourage children to express creativity via drawing and art in general. The children were given the freedom to choose whatever medium they felt comfortable using to illustrate different parts of the story. The results were amazing!

Trust was a key factor in unleashing the creative geniuses from within the children, “ I told them, when you read the passage I’ve given you, whatever comes to your mind will be fine. If I’ve asked you, it means I trust you; whatever you give me, I will use.”

From vivacious colours to vibrant concepts, the expressions of creativity from the group of young illustrators are the epitome of unadulterated, uninhibited thought processes. While some stuck to basics by using colour pencils and oil pastels, there were other who thought out of the box.

Shanthini stresses that children always need encouragement and proper guidance in whatever they do, emphasizing that children are sensitive by nature and their spirits can be crippled with the slightest hint of rejection or disapproval. “One piece of advice for children who are discovering their creative side: When you create something show it to people you can trust and love you,” she adds, “You have to love the person whose work you’re looking at because only then will you be able to guide them in the right way.”

The official launch of “Why Jellybeans are Colourful” which will be held this Saturday, November 24 at Pusat Kreatif Kanak-Kanak Tuanku Bainun, also coincides with the soft launch of the centre.  The centre, located in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, was built to draw out and cultivate innate creativity, inculcate human values, appreciation for the arts and love for nature in children.

Programmes offered at the centre will tap into a wide range of visual and tactile arts, focus on language, dramatic and musical arts as well as experiment with the art of cooking and baking; all in a safe and fun environment.

The 22 young illustrators from all over the world are will be attending the launch of “Why Jellybeans are Colourful”, from which, 4 have agreed to participate in the story telling of how jellybeans got their colour.  “I think this will be something great they can share with the children who attend the launch. It will be so encouraging for them to see kids doing a story from a book where their art was used for illustrations.”

This article was published in the Unreserved on November 22, 2013. View the original article here.