Abhinaya at an Android Workshop:
Practicing Workplace Communication with Theater Arts

Who do you think of when you hear the word abhinaya? The picture by Morpheus shows a popular actress, Sridevi. We think of talented actors and actresses who engage audiences with enthralling performances. This blog post is not about such actors and actresses. It is not about performances. It is about abhinaya as a tool for expression for everyone. Abhinaya as a tool for expression for parents. Abhinaya as a tool for communication for neurodivergent children. Abhinaya as a tool for developing workplace communication skills.

In this blog post, we will explore the use of Theater Arts for Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) as an approach for preparing neurodivergent learners for the workplace.

Enjoying an Android Workshop
By Ananth Raghunandan

As Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, developer of the TAHD approach says, life is theater. We all play different roles throughout the day. Work is also theater. At work, different people have different roles. Each employee must do their role well like actors in a play. On June 28, 2023, I attended the inclusive Android for neurodiverse individuals workshop organized by Google in Bengaluru. My role was to participate in the workshop. In this role, I expressed myself in different ways and communicated with different people.

As a theater student, I want to describe my experience at the Android workshop in terms of abhinaya. In Indian natya, there are four forms of abhinaya or expression. These include attire and props, body language, speech, and emotional expression. Attire and props are called aharya, body language is called angika, speech is called vacika, and emotional expression is called satvika. Being able to use these four modes of expression made me more comfortable and helped me enjoy my workshop experience.

Aharya (Attire and Props)
Manu sir gave me a t-shirt with HashHackCode printed on it. All the students wore such t-shirts. The students had to wear t-shirts so they could identify themselves as HashHackCode students. The mentors had their own dress code. As you can see, the pictures convey that the students are affiliated with HashHackCode.

We were also given Google bags. Google IO-connect bags for the event. I also got a water bottle and a hat.

Angika(Body Language)
When we are in professional events, we must be aware of body language. For example, we must sit up straight and look alert in the workshop. Bharatanatyam and theater arts help me practice body language in a systematic way daily so I am better prepared for events such as the Android workshop.

Vacika (Speech)
We did not talk much at the workshop, but we had many opportunities to talk before and after the workshop. Since I started the theater arts program, I have been working on voice modulation. In professional settings, we must use our voice appropriately when talking to people.

Satvika (Emotional Expression)
Facial expressions are also an important part of communication. Being pleasant, calm, and even smiling is important in a workplace setting. Towards the end, I was getting impatient, but I smiled for pictures. My training to smile during dance has taught me to smile even when I am tired.

About HashHackCode (HHC)
As explained on the website, HashHackCode is creating an alternative inclusive ecosystem that recognizes and builds the potential of people with different abilities to learn coding, digital expression and computational thinking.
Mr. Manu Sekar is the Founder and CEO of HashHackCode.

About me
I have been a student of HashHackCode since 2020. I am also a student ambassador for Theater Arts for Holistic Development/ Ramana Sunritya Alaya. I have learned Bharatanatyam for over ten years, and performed in plays for RASA.

Recently, I started a Youtube channel to practice abhinaya. I started with a story of the month project. Now, I have started creating other videos too.

Changing the Mindset: From Speech to Abhinaya
By Dr. Dasaratha Rama

Parents often worry about speech and language development. By changing our mindset to abhinaya rather than speech, we recognize that humans communicate in many ways. Speech is only one of many ways to communicate. Further, parents worry about speech means that they often overlook the struggles in other areas. They miss the struggles in nonverbal communication and emotional expression. These foundations of communication are developed long before speech! Abhinaya in Indian natya is a systematic framework of expression using varied modes of expression. Thus, abhinaya is a useful way of thinking about learning and development of children.

In a recent post on neurotypical behaviors, Bloggersaathi Heena Sahi states
“NTs go with the rule sitting on the chair
Well a ND would feel more regulated and calm on floor as they have and face challenges of poor body awareness , coordination and struggle with muscle tone too. So sitting on chair would actually dysregulate them. “

By learning Bharatanatyam for over 10 years and continuing his Bharatanatyam journey by learning theater arts, Ananth was easily able to sit and focus for one hour in the workshop. Given that we went to the hotel where the HHC group was staying, interacted with people at the hotel, and then traveled by bus to the workshop venue, Ananth would have found it difficult to sit for long and focus. His Bharatanatyam teacher, Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, emphasizes smiling while dancing. This practice of smiling seems to have developed Ananth’s capacity to regulate himself in noisy situations. In addition, as Ananth has started learning about Ramana Maharshi, he has also become intrigued by the concept of silence. He will often speak in a low voice and experiment with silence when we travel. These explorations also seem to be having an impact on his ability to regulate in noisy settings.

#Jump Back Up July

There is growing awareness of the negative impacts of masking and behaving in certain ways because it is expected by neurotypical individuals. The practice of abhinaya offers a different way of thinking about this issue. Ananth was not masking to fit in with a neurotypical group. He was a with a group of neurodivergent individuals, their parents, and peers. However, as he practices the different forms of abhinaya in a systematic way, his ability to regulate himself in such noisy settings grows.

Finally, Shipi Mayank Awasthi invited us to explore #Joyful June, an Action for Happiness initiative in June 2023. The July theme is #Jump Back Up July. I am glad that this post is being published on July 1, 2023. We will explore resilience as a theme this month in the LIFESMART community! It is important to develop the capacity to bounce back from setbacks. Ananth was not feeling well the previous week. He had not been sleeping well because of travel and because of a cough. On Sunday, we decided not to attend a workshop because he was exhausted because of lack of sleep. So I was happy to see him being totally engaged on Wednesday!

This week, Ananth and I decided to write together. We can then integrate his perspective and my perspective on our experiences in one article rather than splitting across his posts and my posts. Since we are also planning and creating videos together, we feel that this approach will work better. Thank you Shilpi for encouraging both of us to blog. We are excited about this new direction and hope SpecialSaathi readers find the articles of more value when presented this way.

Co Authored By Dr.Dasaratha Rama and Ananth Raghunandan

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