Last weekend I was lucky to have a wonderful date accompany me to see the original world musical "Sita Ram" at the Harris Theatre in Chicago - my seven-year-old son.
As I noted in a previous post, "Sita Ram" was billed as a modern interpretation of the ancient epic "Ramayana," which teaches morality and ideal behavior through allegories, performed by nearly 200 singers, dancers, actors and acrobats. My son likes to listen to music and he's been to plenty of children's theatre, but he tends to choose to watch documentaries over anything with mythical creatures. So, I was a little nervous about how it would all go over. But, any worrying on my part was for nothing.
My son loved "Sita Ram." From the time lights went down in the theatre and the curtain went up on the stage, he sat at the edge of his seat with a look of awe plastered on his face. For most of the show he didn't move a muscle - unless it was to clap along with the rest of the audience.
My son was particularly enthralled by the child performers - some of who are just one year older than him. I think it made him feel comfortable to see other children up on stage and all around us in the aisles. It also was a source of inspiration, showing him that children really can do anything they feel passionate about - especially if they're lucky to have access to great local resources like the Chicago Children's Choir.
When the curtain came down for intermission, my son asked if the show was over with a touch of sadness in his voice. He was relieved when I told him it was just intermission. But, since this was the first multiple-act show he's ever seen, he wasn't familiar with the term "intermission." Being a huge sports fan, my son quickly inferred that intermission must be like half-time at football games. And, indeed he is right. I bet some of the performers even drank Gatorade to refuel after the "first half."
Taking in the Special Messages from that Evening
I knew walking into the theatre that night that my son would be exposed to important messages like the power of love, world harmony, and global diversity, and I was hoping it would spark new, interesting discussions for us. And, that it did. On our way home from the theatre that evening, we talked about why the ten-headed demon king (Ravana) took Sita, why all of the world's creatures came together to help defeat Ravana, and what happened to Ravana after Sita and Rama were reunited. We also spent time talking about his favorite characters, scenes and songs from "Sita Ram."
The performance we saw followed the tragic events in Newton, Conn. While I hadn't spoken about it with my son yet given his young age (and my own inability to totally process what had happened), it had moved me to the core and was constantly on my mind. That night, right before "Sita Ram" started, the production acknowledged the tragedy and gave a nod to the powerful message behind the ancient story of Ramayana, whose messages still hold true. I appreciated how they respectfully and appropriately treated the topic, making it relevant to everyone there - even my son.
It also happened to be just a few days after the passing of legendary Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar. While we took our seats for the first time that evening, our attention was on the lone sitar awash in a spotlight on the stage. Of course, my son asked what it was so it led to a discussion of the instrument and also of the late Ravi Shankar. I don't know if the placement of the sitar was intentional or not, but I still appreciated it for the dialogue it spurred between me and my son.
Creating a Passion for Sita Ram and the Story of Ramayana
During intermission (or "half time"), my son couldn't wait to enjoy more of "Sita Ram." While we patiently sat waiting for the curtain to go up again, he badgered me with questions about when the movie was coming out and if we could download it from iTunes yet. He also asked if there was a book out yet and if it would be a chapter book or not. For him, the sign of a truly popular story is for it to be available as a book, a movie and maybe even have dolls or accessories available for purchase like Harry Potter. For me, his line of inquiry showed that he thought "Sita Ram" ranked right up there with Harry Potter - and I took that for a good sign.
Since we saw the production, we've listened to the "Sita Ram" soundtrack constantly at home and in our car - at his request. He's also starting to spontaneously sing some of the songs on his own, which drives his little brother crazy, but makes me very happy indeed. He's also wanted to find "Sita Ram" coloring sheets online that we can print out for him and his brother. There are a lot out of coloring sheets available given how prevalent the story of Ramayana is within the East Asian culture. We've enjoyed looking at the various ones that are currently available, and also printing out our own using the "Sita Ram" logo on the production's Facebook page.
Thanks to a friend who has read different versions of the Ramayana story to her own children, I received two recommendations of books for us to check out and read together. The books include "Ramayana: Divine Loophole" by Sanjay Patel and "The Adventures of Rama" by Milo C. Beach.
Building on our Wonderful Experience at "Sita Ram"
My son and I both had a wonderful experience at "Sita Ram." We loved the story, the music, the production, and the performers. I especially have enjoyed all of the new interests and enthusiam it has awakened in my son. In addition to reading more stories on Ramayana, I'm on the hunt for new plays, performances or concerts to expose both of my sons to here in Chicago - and beyond.
Next on our list are the Kalapriya performances taking place at the Field Museum in Chicago on Saturday, December 29 at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. (free with basic museum admission). The performances are inspired by the court dances of India performed by kings and queens, and will be a great thing to see before or after a visit to the museum's current exhibit, Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts.
And, then, the sky's the limit - at least as far as I'm concerned.
Were you able to catch one of the three performances of Sita Ram? If so, what did you think? Are there any other upcoming productions you recommend for us to see? Please include your suggestions in the comments below.
Here's to world citizens!