The Interschool Drama Comp which was held recently saw five of Colombo’s leading schools take to the stage in what seemed to be a battle of scripts-slapstick comedy, tragedy, Victorian farce, the irony of life, and fateful comedy alternatively battled for center stage, as Bishops College, Ananda College, Visakha Vidyalaya, Ladies College and Musaeus College each brought their best game forward.
This week we speak to those who worked behind the scenes who put in the effort and gave the necessary directorial direction in order to maintain the competitive edge of each of the productions, and supported their cast in the pre-drama comp madness and all that came with it.
Ishtartha Wellaboda and Rajitha Hettiarachchi, both 22, found training their young protégées at the Ananda College Drama Circle a refreshing challenge. Ishtartha conceptualized the idea for their original script ‘He’s Been Writing’ on the way home in the bus. The JK Rowling-like moment inspired him to sketch out the story of a young man forced into a mental asylum by his girlfriend’s scheming father, who eventually decides to remain at the asylum with the other inmates believing that it is a much kinder place than the world outside. Rajitha suggested they make it a little tougher on the audience, and so their story was born – the young man and the madhouse becoming figments in a young girl’s imagination -a story within a story.
The majority of their cast played mentally unstable characters and Rajitha laughingly quips that, “it helps when you have a bunch of kids who’re slightly nuts already,” to play the roles of these individuals. Mind you, he’s very proud of them. “We could have used older actors, as they would have played it with more understanding, but we chose these younger actors because we wanted to give them a taste of tragedy as well as comedy. They’ve come full circle as actors,” Rajitha says adding that the script was written with the actors themselves in mind.
Lithmal Jaywardhane, who won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Peter, the young man who is forced into the madhouse, admits that his was an easier role to get into. “I’ve played female roles before-so as a biological male; this was definitely an easier role to get into. And I’ve always wanted to play a tortured character, so this was a great opportunity!”
Ladies College also submitted an original script of sorts. ‘The Cop and the Anthem’ was adapted for the stage from O. Henry’s short story of the same name. The play follows the Christmas of a homeless man ‘Soapy’, who tries to get himself arrested in exchange for a warm bed in prison to weather the cold winter nights. Initially used for the school’s inter-house drama competition and adapted for the stage by Sarani Jayawardhana, they went with the same for this competition.
Tasmin Anthoniesz, who directed the play along with Nihara Perera and Trinushka Perera explained the reason for selecting that particular script saing “We felt like it was a story the younger crowd could identify with. Trying to take the easy way out, but eventually realising there is no easy way out. You’ve got to work hard like everybody else.”
The cast practised for two weeks, while Trinushka, an old girl of the school, helped with the technical side of things, and assisted Tasmin. They also appreciate the support given to them by Ruvin De Silva and Javin for giving them the much needed professional advice. Visakha Vidyalaya picked Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as their play of choice.
The four directors, Samurdha, Gimhanee, Sheshadree and Ayudhya, all former pupils of the school, chose the play owing to the cast. Having met the actors they would be working with before, they had three weeks to get the young thespians living out the airs and nuances of the Victorian era. Definitely not an easy task, but one the entire cast pulled off remarkably well, eventually winning the competition. For Samurdha, a first-time director along with the others, it was an experience she’d happily relive.
Binu Jassim, a breath of fresh air on stage as the irresistible Cecily, had just five days to prepare for the role (she eventually won the award for the Best Portrayal). “I initially didn’t get the role of Cecily. I wanted it, but I didn’t get it!” she laughs, “I was playing the role of a preacher-but then due to circumstances the role suddenly became mine and it worked out very well. Cecily is a bubbly character who lives mostly in a fantasy. It was really fun to play her. And I’ve always played male characters and so it was a refreshing change!”
Musaeus College chose to stage an adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s Stuck on You. Gehan Blok, who directed the first-timers felt it was a plot that would leave its mark on the audience. Gehan said of the play and their cast, “our main objective was to put up an amazing show-and I feel like we definitely achieved it. Adapting the short story as a script was a challenge, as it was made more for cinema than for theatre, but we managed to include all the vital scenes and get the story together.”
He laughs about one periodical error in their play that the judges were quick to point out to him. “We based it mainly around Ascot, and then the main character Jeremy used a mobile phone later on, and they pointed out that there were no mobile phones around at the time of Ascot!”
Devuni Gunawardena who played Jeremy, the poor guy who is conned by his rich fiancée into stealing an expensive diamond ring for her, had three weeks to get into her role. “Jeremy was a very vulnerable character, so it wasn’t easy to play him. I never thought we’d get to where we finally were.”
Well she certainly did impress the judges-Devuni won the award for the Most Memorable Performance later on.
Clare De Silva who directed the Bishops College play ’Dear Departed’ had trouble finding a play that would suit the requirements of her young protégées in such a short space of time. But she managed! ‘Dear Departed‘ was chosen for its easy humour and adaptability, and the cast spent about a month rehearsing for the event.
“I must mention the help we got from our past pupils and other teachers,” she says. “They’ve been invaluable over the period, just coming together to support us. We must also thank the boys from Royal for organizing this event-they’ve worked very hard at it!”
Project co-chairpersons Anuka Aluwihare and Viren Ratwatte, along with their committee, worked towards the competition for about a month. “We sent out participation letters around December-even though it was a first come-first served basis of selection we eventually had to have a draw due to the competition and chose our five schools. We wanted to raise the standard this year, so maybe next year we could have a semi-final and then have a grand final event as well,” said Viren of their efforts.