writers, one play
By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne
'Stages' has been invited to perform at 'Culture
Shock', the official cultural festival of the Commonwealth Games
of 2002 to be held in Manchester in the United Kingdom. This is
to be hosted by the Contact Theatre in Manchester. 'Contacting the
World' as the theatre part of the event is called will bring twelve
youth theatre groups from five continents together in a massive
celebration of original work.
Six of these groups are from the UK and they will each be 'twinned'
with one international partner. 'Stages' has been paired with the
Welsh Theatre group 'Sherman'.
The 'twins' collaborate to develop a new piece of performance text
based on common themes. After weeks of corresponding the common
theme they decided on was 'Memories and Identities'.
The organizers of the event arrange for board and lodging whilst
the group is in Manchester but the participants have to find their
working together to write one play. Next to impossible, would you
That was the challenge that 'Stages', a theatre group committed
to developing the talents and interests of young people in various
aspects of drama and theatre undertook.
Blanks', the end result of their efforts is a play that will be
performed at `Culture Shock' to be held from July 13-21 in Manchester.
the dramatists Nadie Kammallaweera, Sandamali Wijeratne, Amal de
Chickera, Thushara Hettihamu and Namal Jayasinghe did not have it
easy. Their backgrounds were different, their beliefs different,
even their writing styles were different. "I would write in
abstract," laughs Thushara (Hetti), "whilst another would
write in a manner where the actions spoke loudest! There was always
a rift in the ideas! But that only strengthened the play."
So how did
they manage? "When we were first given the task we all packed
up and went to Kandy for a weekend, to come up with a plot. We learnt
a lot about each other during that time," says Amal, "the
key word being collaborate."
the 'fresher' of the group airing her views at any time was never
a problem. Sharing ideas, dreaming up scenarios were all welcomed.
Praise was aplenty and the occasional criticism was heartily accepted.
feel that Sinhala theatre is not given the recognition it richly
deserves, half the play was written in Sinhala. The final draft,
though, is completely in English. "It helps to bring out the
best of both worlds," says Nadie, a seasoned writer in her
own right. Incidentally Nadie was awarded the Best Translation Award
at the State Drama Festival for 'Asinamali'.
Namal also made his way into the world of stage through Sinhala
dramatists such as Somalatha Subasinghe and Solomon Fonseka. For
him working as a group was easy since the five soon grew to be the
best of friends.
came together at the invitation of Ruwanthie de Chickera who directs
the play. Thushara had been a part of 'Stages' since the production
of 'The Last Elephant' whilst Nadie had been one of Ruwanthie's
batchmates at University. Sandamali, who left school last year has
many a play to her name and had got to know Ruwanthie through school
productions. Namal and Amal too are writers in the making.
were laid in January this year and the theme of 'Identities and
Memories' was decided upon. After that it was up to the chosen five
to come up with the plot and build the play.
up with nearly 14 possible plots," they chorus laughing. But
the final decision was a plot centred on 'Sumathi' (played by Ravin
Fernando) and is based on a journey through his memories to find
his true identity.
That was the
first step. They each then wrote their own version of the first
scene. This helped locate a common binding thread. After that there
was no turning back. A personal history was built for each of the
characters. It was then a case of pairing up and writing the next
few scenes after 'brainstorming' collectively.
five dramatists mean five directors? They laugh," Definitely!
We all had preconceived ideas about the actors, the sets, the costumes
and even the lighting, but once we were done with the play it was
handed over to Ruwanthie, who was not part of the writing - and
that was that!"
As it is a
pre-requisite of the festival that the participants produce their
play at home before taking it to Manchester, 'Fillin the Blanks'
will go on the boards at the British Council on June 30 and also
from July 4-7. One of the earlier productions of 'Stages' - `Two
Times Two is Two' will be staged on July 1, 2 and 3, also at the
this play has changed my beliefs," says Nadie."We are
all so different, but the play brings forth a common message, which
each of us presents in a different way. It's finally and unbelievably
a culmination of ideas presented in a seemingly singular manner!"
So while their
ideas and opinions differ, their collaborative effort is worth looking
Navaranjini sings again
The church was alive with music. Melodious voices floated through
the air. Stepping into the Methodist Church in Kollupitiya, time
and age seemed transformed.
the world of the Cantata Singers.
The Cantata Singers. Pix: by M.A. Pushpakumara and Ranjith
Singers were formed way back in 1967 by a group of nine young music
lovers. It has through the past few decades remained one of the
premier choral music groups in the country.
stands for a 'small piece of choral work' explains Satyendra Chellappah,
the conductor of the group that now boasts 24 members. Initially
the Cantata Singers would perform thrice a year for various occasions
while also singing for a couple of broadcast shows. There were also
the very first to perform at the Lionel Wendt theatre.
has changed during the past few decades," says Mr. Chellappah,
"Those were the days when I would simply toss around a few
sheets of music and the song would be done within minutes. But today
it's different. The traditional church choir has changed."
Singers rely mostly on music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods
anthems, motets and Negro spirituals. "Our main aim is to capture
the mood of the music effectively, the key changes, the magic that
the composer would have liked to project for they all give such
meaning to a piece."
Singers will perform together with Navaranjini Olegasegarem at the
Kollupitiya Methodist Church on June 25 at 7:00 p.m. Navaranjini
was a part of the Cantata Singers in the 1970s until she migrated
to Australia. It is after a lapse of 15 years that she is back in
soprano, Navaranjini's beginnings were at the Methodist Church.
"I've come back to relive those days," she says smiling.
"My first solo was at that church way back in the seventies.
I worked with the seasoned musicians of the time and it was fascinating."
started her career as an operatic singer after the birth of her
first child. On migrating to Australia, she sang in such prestigious
venues as the Sydney Opera House. She has sung 14 lead operatic
roles in Australia during the past few years.
also extend way beyond the stage. She is a well-known teacher of
music and one of the only two Asians examining for the Australian
Music Examinations Board, a great honour indeed.
be an Australian citizen now but the minute the flight touched down
at the airport, I was hit with this sense of deja vu , I was home,"
she says. "My voice is my instrument, I can use it any way
I choose. I felt that I should give my 'comfort zone' a little piece
of it." She feels that unlike a traditional instrument the
voice can carry so much more weight. That it has the ability to
profess much more.
on the 25th will be a presentation of the Cantata Singers former
work with solo performances by Navaranjini. Premila Perinpanayagam
will accompany both the Cantata Singers and Navaranjini.