Poignant pieces of art
Poetry comes from the Greek concept of "making" or "creating." It is considered an art form where language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities, in addition to its perceived meaning. Essentially the expressing of one's thoughts and experiences, poetry is a myriad of emotions. Of the many aspects of the arts, you could even say poetry is almost the most personal. It could be, especially in a country such as ours, a reminiscence of our glorious, and not-so glorious past.
But what if poetry were to be performed? Poignant, reflective pieces of art, performed in an experimental production… In a Shadow, scheduled to be held from, November 23 and 24, at 7.30pm, at St. Andrew's Scots Kirk, Colombo 3, promises to be just that.
"The performance does not have a fixed theme. It deals with the human need to acquire, possess and also the consumerism attitude of people. The sense of loss and helplessness is its general feel," is how its director, Jake Oorloff describes the performance. An experiment in every sense of it, the performance will show case the work of three poets, comprising a selection of poetry ranging from that of playwright Sam Shepard (Tongues, Savage/Love) and Sri Lankan poets Vivimarie Vanderpooten (nothing prepares you) and Afdhel Aziz (China Bay Blues, short-listed for the Gratiaen Prize).
According to him, the performance is reflective of the despair, fear, resignation and depression of the contemporary individual. "But the pieces are not heavy. They are easy, which is what I found most striking about them and as a director that gave me the allowance to really do what ever with it." Though having acted together many times, this will be the first time he will be teaming up with Ruhanie Perera, the co-producer of the performance, to put together a show. The versatile cast consists of Anushka Pereira, Arrvinda Salwatura, Asoka De Zoysa, Dilsiri Welikala, Izhara Huzair Zubair, Rukshani Weerasooriya, Sashi Mendis De Costa, Marisa De Silva, Ruhanie and Jake.
Adding to its experimental nature, In a Shadow will be performed at a church. "The poems have no religious connotations, but I felt that this would be the ideal setting for the performance, going with its theme. Around 15 poems will be performed, with the performance running for about one hour and fifteen minutes.
Sound and movement will play a part in the production, enhancing the already meaningful pieces. "The movement element will distinguish one poem from another, with most of the poems touching on a generally similar theme," said Jake. Ruhanie went onto add that the movement takes you from one poem to another, and is choreographed in this way.
As for the sound element, a cellist and percussionist will be part of the performance to bring in more effect, than for music. The cellist will be doing a meditation on the cello, rather than produce accompanying music. While the set will be minimalist, the lighting for the evening will contribute to the movement element. "Basically, everything about the performance will be an experiment – the set, the alternate space… The production is also largely the cast members themselves figuring out their individual performances," said Jake.
Catching up with some of the cast members, I was given a glimpse of how they see this venture into somewhat unfamiliar theatrical territory…
"Though I have acted prior to this, performing poetry will be a novel experience for me. I will be performing Disappearance, by Vivimarie. There is something about her poetry that you can relate to. There is no direct reference to any incident in the past, but the entire sense of helplessness and loss in the poem, perhaps allows you to relate to the situation of the country in the past, and you could internalise it," says Izhara.
She feels that the setting adds to the sense of novelty of the performance. "It feels different, since the setting is much more intimate than a usual venue, and the lighting too will be quite an experiment. Also, one important thing about performing poetry is the fact that you can't really mess with the words, since its some one else's poems! The poems were given to us, to read and interpret, and then gradually the movement was added."
For Sashi, having been training kids to perform, this will be both a new and old experience. "The performance is a venture into something new, and it will be basically the dramatisation of poetry. I will be performing a poem by Vivimarie, titled Equal World, which will be slightly different to the rest of the poems, being a bit light-hearted. The poem reflects a woman with a strong opinion."
The director, according to her, has taken on a something novel, and so it is a refreshing experience for the cast, and surely will be so for the audience as well. "Much thought and effort has been put into the direction, and I truly hope that people will come and experience this performance, with an open mind, as its an experiment to a large part, and that is what artistic expression must be after all."
It will be a first time for Rukshani too, who sees herself more as someone on the other side of the coin. "Though I've been involved in theatre while in school, I was never a part of a big production. Writing poetry is more my thing. In this performance, I play the voice of a child in a crisis situation, which is poem dealing with riots, by Afdhel Aziz. Since there are three people performing the poem, we sort of feed off each other's roles." She explained that the poem itself does not discuss the issue of communal riots, but it is brought out by the characters. "Performing poetry is kind of a hybrid experience between poetry and acting, and you get a chance to get inside the words, almost."
Asoka will be performing 1983, along with Rukshani and Marisa. "I have been involved in theatre, but more with direction, so this will be my first performance as such! Performing poetry is more of a concentrated effort than relating a story. There is very little time to get into the mood, and it doesn't really follow any theatre rules per se."
The poem performed by them is more of a monologue, and a sharing of an experience. "You have to remember your lines, most importantly. You are performing a poem, and not a script where you can improvise in case you forget your words, so you have very little liberty to play around with anything. And since there are three of us, I need to be in line with the other two actors, so all in all, this will be a very interesting and challenging experience! The subject matter too, is interesting, especially because here, you have to relate to something that might be an unfamiliar experience for you, since some of us have been quite sheltered from certain incidents happening around us."
Dilsiri performs The Hunt, a poem by Sam Shepard, along with Marisa. "This poem is about two individuals who have not yet met. The two characters do not talk to each other, but rather, to themselves, and so makes it quite an interesting poem. The experience of performance poetry is quite new to me, and its different, but not essentially difficult to handle. Unlike playing a character in a play, here I can actually relate to the poem, and this guy could actually be me."
Performing an excerpt from Tongues by Sam Shepard, Ruhanie explains that on a very surface level, the poem deals with a person grappling with losing her voice. "She gets frantic when she realises she is losing her voice, and the entire mental process that follows." But the poem could relate to any given situation in our lives, where we have to deal with the loss of something. "So on a deeper level, the poem is about dealing with a sense of loss. We have all experienced this, when you tell yourself that everything is going to be ok. But every time you feel the need to say it, what we don't realise is that something about us has changed. It's almost like the sense of losing and finding, all in the same moment." Hunger by Sam Shepard, will be performed by Jake, and deals with human craving, or need. "It starts with the simple notion of hunger, but then gradually goes into something quite crazy. A new experience to him as well, according to him a few, independent artists have tried it out. "Performance poetry itself is difficult to define, and I see it basically as a medium for alternative performance."
One last addition to the experimental nature of the production…be ready for a pleasant surprise, with regards to seating. Let's just say that a limited amount of chairs will be available!
Entrance for the performance is by programme, which is available at the German Cultural Institute and will also be available at the gate, on the nights of the performance. The associate sponsor for In a Shadow is Sri Lankan Airlines, while the electronic media sponsors are TNL and TNL Lite. Print media sponsors are The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Times.