They took their message from Geneva to London and found to their surprise that it resonated with audiences there.
Forum Theatre is an excellent way to raise awareness and have people actively thinking up solutions to problems. ‘SHAKTHI’ (power) uses this form of theatre as a tool to reform troubled communities across the island.
The theatre group, the initiative of the British Council Sri Lanka was started in 2008 when the BC selected amateur actors from Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Puttalam and Kurunegala. The cast of 25 having worked together for two years have learnt a lot from each other, in terms of understanding other ethnicities, languages and that they aren’t so different from each other.
“When they started out none of them knew the concept of forum theatre,” says trainer Sanjeevani Munasinghe, “they also hadn’t ever interacted with people of other ethnicities and races before.”
The crew comprises young people from Sinhala and Tamil communities who write their own scripts based on either their experiences or those of the people in the particular community for whom they perform their plays.
The issues previously tackled by SHAKTHI included alcoholism, parents leaving for work in the Middle East and rape. Having caught on to how effective forum theatre can be, the Walikanda Police requested several performances so that crime and misconduct in the area could be curbed. Unlike traditional drama, forum theatre is a short play which ends typically in tragedy, and is performed before an audience that can relate to the problem.
The play is then performed once again but this time the audience is allowed to stop the performance at any given time and intervene by changing events so that a solution can be found and the play ends on a happier note.
SHAKTHI’s most recent production is about domestic violence and alcoholism. The bilingual play, in Sinhala and Tamil, was performed in Geneva before an audience of young people from other war torn countries. SHAKTHI also performed the play in London, before arriving in Sri Lanka last month.
The team performed it at the British Council in Colombo on Monday (September 26), the script based on a real life experience of a girl who is subjected to abuse at a very early age. In order to help her out of the situation her family unwisely marries her off while she’s much too young, and the girl continues to be abused.
Rasika Nilmini (23) from Polonnaruwa, says that even though she has a background in theatre, she never imagined she’d perform in theatre of this nature.
Sharing Rasika’s views, Krishan Dasa Gobinath (22) from Batticaloa, says “I thought forum theatre was just drama when I first joined SHAKTHI, so I didn’t have any basic knowledge about it at the time. But once I received the training I realised forum theatre has a lot more meaning. So much of life can be depicted through forum theatre.”
Adds Krishan, “Wile we developed the script based on problems faced here in Sri Lanka, after we performed the same play before an international audience we realised that these issues are major issues in other countries as well.”