The Mirror Making Factory
What’s normal?
By Marisa de Silva
The 'Mirror Making Factory' (MMF), a play that depicts the manufacture of mass- produced humans to conform to social norms and live a so-called 'normal' life, is the first of its kind to be performed in Sri Lanka. Directed by Ruwanthi de Chickera as a fund-raiser towards the building of the Centre for Mental Health and Psycho Social Care, Gorakana (an extension of Sahanaya), the play is organized by the friends of Sahanaya for the development and betterment of Mental Health in Sri Lanka.

The MMF is a joint venture by the clients and staff of Sahanaya and professional and lay actors and actresses. The main focus of this drama is to ensure that this group of talented folk be recognized for their abilities and talents, rather than for their varied backgrounds. 'Through this play we hope to tap hidden talents of all those participating, not only through acting but, script writing and creating sets etc. as well," says Ruwanthi.

'The best way to eradicate stigma is to normalize it, therefore I'm confident that this will be a great and professional production because there's plenty of talent in this group. We're not going to preach about mental health or illness because these people don't need society's sympathy, all they need is to be accepted and seen in their own right," she says.

After various discussions between the Director and the staff and persons in charge of the set, I was able to see some of the rehearsals. It starts off with a 'warm up' session for the 35-40 strong cast, to learn, to have physical contact with each other, shed inhibition and take direction.

The basic structure of the exercise is to walk around in a circle, stop when asked to and then follow instructions, given out by Ruwanthi.

It was hilarious when you saw some of them contorted in all sorts of positions, holding onto one persons ear, another's foot and yet another's back, using their foot sometimes as their hands were already occupied.

The rehearsal then shifts into full gear, when Ruwanthi, her brothers and some of the Sahanaya crew unitedly, take over the reins and begin the performance. Much is conveyed through the use of movement and sound effects. For instance the mirror-making machine constitutes of about 20 components, each making their little contribution towards portraying the inner mechanism of the machine.

As it's a bilingual play, achieving the correct balance of the two languages is quite a challenge says Ruwanthi. Though the plot may seem simple enough, there is quite a deep seated meaning, brought out superbly through the subtle use of satire and humour.

The drama workshops began last August and although initially the participants were a bit backward and self-conscious, they gradually came out of their shells. Over the months there has been a lot of input by the clients and a few of them even showed a keen interest in helping to write the script.

Therefore, we decided to form a writers group, to essentially work on writing the script says Amal de Chickera, one of the actors in the play.

'Together our group, through discussions and group chats, explored various themes and finally set about writing an apt play, that would highlight all these issues, even subtly. The play challenges normalcy as opposed to abnormalcy' adds Amal.

The 'I's and Eyes' concept, brought up at the workshops, is essentially to do with our perception of ourselves and others’ perception of us. This seemingly simple concept is what brought about the whole mirror image concept as the basis of the play says Amal thoughtfully.

Most of the cast comprise first timers
On speaking to Prof. Nalaka Mendis, Vice President, Sahanaya, I was told why in fact a fund-raiser was a necessity at this time. The Centre for Mental Health and Psycho Social Care located in Gorakana, will also be the first of it's kind to be built in Sri Lanka.

This center will specialize in developing and generating a whole new group of non-medical professionals like psychologist, occupational therapists etc., since most people suffering from mental illness are not faced with medical problems but rather, social, psychological or family problems.

Therefore, it would be more suitable to improve this sector of the medical profession and utilize them to their fullest potential. Part time visits by psychiatrists too, will be compulsory.

Care givers (parents and families of mentally ill persons) too will receive proper training to be competent enough to adapt and handle their ill family member. Sometimes a mentally ill person could spend most of his time at home, therefore it's essential for his family to understand him and know how to relate to him, says Prof. Mendis.

The play is set to go on board the Lionel Wendt stage on March 22 and 23. All interested in sponsoring or making donations towards this worthy cause, please contact the Secretary at

Fusion: Karma Khamaj, Celtic Raag
By Marisa de Silva
Sri Lankan born Australian musician cum producer, Ron Ragel, is back, to promote 'The Odyssey', a CD of world music performed by some of Australia's best musicians. It has been hailed as a "Celebration of the Global Spirit of Australia" in various reviews 'Down Under'.

The album has been released by his own independent record company "Global Grooves" (GG) which has been recognized today as a pioneer in the world music scene in Australia. One third of the entries in the top five categories for Best World Music album in the ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) Awards, in the past two years, have been represented by his record label. In fact the ARIA award winner for the best world music album 2002, "Monsieur Camembert - Live on Stage" (a gypsy album) too was represented by his own company.

Having studied music since he was six, Ron did most of his schooling at St. Peter's College Colombo and left for Australia when he was a young man of 18. In the late 70's he performed in a band named 'Dark Tan'. After disbanding, he travelled to India to study Indian music that has helped influence the type of music he makes now.

His main objective is to organise live concerts featuring 10-12 of Australia's best musicians. " I wish to do the same thing with Sri Lankan bands, together with bands from Australia. It's amazing how one can draw from so many different cultures in Australia, that they may not be too surprised,'' he says.

On his last visit here (1998/1999), he launched 'Total Life Artistry', a book on music and life styles. It essentially dealt with Yoga and its influence on music. It explored issues such as how to develop a peaceful and meditative mind, to achieve the right balance in your life, leading to a more peaceful world.

"The power of certain forms of music which have a unifying force can transform the world. The music I promote is actually a fusion of both the east and the west. The Odyssey mostly includes music from India, with its ancient, haunting ragas, integrated with the tribal pulse of global indigenous rhythms," Ron enthuses.

Songs like Karma Khamaj, Celtic Raag, Bhairavi Breeze and Ganesha Mantra etc. are off their latest album and share the influences of both Indian and various Aussie dialects. Currently, GG music is nationally distributed around Australia by one of the world's largest distributing companies, New World Music. In his next album, Ron hopes to capture the energy of Sri Lanka, where he was born and brought up. "What I'm looking for is the very essence of this land and its people, which can be captured and expressed through music and song.''

For all music lovers throughout the island who want to catch a hint of the World Music frontier, 'The Odyssey' is a must.

The rhythmic tones and the blend of both Indian and Australian influences prove to be a unique mix of music, which could reinforce the fact that the world is indeed becoming a smaller place.

Passionate search for paradise lost
By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne
Passion. That seems to be the only word that can adequately explain Sudath Abeysekera. His art is the work of a passionate individual whose main resolution is to change the way the world thinks.

"I was born in 1971, the year the Military cracked down on a Marxist youth uprising and 20 000 young men and women died," he says when I ask him about the underlying theme in his work. "It is an understatement to say that the young people of Sri Lanka are facing a crisis. The psychological impact of decades of false promises and shattered dreams has been devastating. My struggle as a young artist is a journey in search of that lost hope. How can contemporary Sri Lankan youth recover their idealism, energy and confidence?"

Born in Gammaddegoda, Galle, Sudath resolved to be an artist at a young age. But art at the time seemed to have little scope except for picture stories, the proliferating chithara katha. On completing the A/Levels Sudath entered Kelaniya to study Fine Arts. "It's only when I began my studies at the University that my viewpoint changed. Art took on a completely different perceptive. I realised that I could talk to the people using art as my medium." He first participated in "Young Contemporaries" an exhibition of the work of a number of young artists organized and presented by the George Keyt Foundation. His work has been exhibited at almost all of the Foundation's exhibitions since then.

The highlights were "Nawa Kalakaruwo" and "Moods and Modes - 50 Years of Sri Lankan Paintings." During his undergraduate studies, Sudath's imagination was captivated by the masterpiece of sculpture, David, which to him seemed to be the embodiment of youthful beauty, vitality and idealism. "My first solo exhibition, "Contemporary Youth", was all about David . I wanted to use David as an icon that would inspire my generation to new aspirations. But I soon realized there existed a gulf between the ideal and reality; even myself." Therefore as the centerpiece of that exhibition he placed himself, bound up at the base of one of his David depcitions struggling to free himself.

"Made Pipuna Nelum Mala Lassanai" (The lotus though it blossoms in the mud; is pure.) was the theme for his next exhibition. "There was a secret to the Lotus's purity. The marshes seemed to me the graves of countless murdered youth. Violent secrets cannot be hidden. The lotus therefore signals the truth - another icon of hope."His next inspiration was derived from butterflies. Butterflies are weak, ineffective creatures. Even an entire cluster of butterflies cannot have the effect of a single bee. "We must be free, but we must not be superficial."Sudath feels that it is somewhat difficult to understand these concepts. But their uniqueness won him a Travel Scholarship to Britain from the Arts Division of the Royal Overseas League. He was one of the five artists chosen amongst the 300 applicants from the Caribbean, Australia, Ghana, Sri Lanka and the UK. An exhibition of Sudath’s paintings titled -"David, Lotus and Butterflies" will be held at the Gallery Café from February 4 to 25.

Tilake’s 73rd exhibition
For some, talent is something that is discovered after much searching. For others, talent is instilled from birth and keeps reoccurring during their entire life.

More or less bursts of creativity, you could say. These, most probably, are the moments when such talented people decide not just to celebrate their creativity, but also to share it with others.

Tilake Abeysinghe is one such individual. Having held over 70 art exhibitions in the past, his 73rd titled "Tilake 73," was held last week at The Artrium, The Lanka Oberoi.

Declared open on January 23, the paintings were on display until January 27.

Kala Korner by Dee Cee
They all came to pay homage to the 'guru'
The left wing of the Art Gallery was a hive of activity last Sunday - the final day of the three day exhibition held to mark the 82nd birthday of Chitrasena. Calm and relaxed, Chitrasena was seated at the entrance, with Vajira by his side, meeting friends and well wishers. Visitors were being served with birthday cake. On a side, they were planning a surprise. The past pupils - about 20 of them - wanted to pay a tribute to the 'guru' with a hurriedly arranged show.

Though not in the best of health, drummer Punchi Gura had turned up to pay his respects to the master whom he had served for 40 years. It happened to be his birthday too. A drum was quickly given to him and he was ready to lead the troupe.

Chitrasena was conducted in a procession to the other end of the hall and it was nice to see him taking an occasional step or two though his body wouldn't allow him to do what he did a few years back. And then the show began. Vajira led the way supported by the not so young band of pupils, mostly females. They were once familiar faces at the Kollupitiya school in the sixties and seventies. Giving way to daughter Upekha, Vajira retired to watch and feel happy that they had not forgotten what they taught them many years ago.

The show was as good as a well rehearsed one. Many poems in the Kohomba Kankariya were sung followed by the dances in traditional style with each one being given a place to lead the group. Among the few males were two seniors who still practise the art - one is now a director of aesthetic education in Kurunegala and the other a teacher at Polgahawela. Ranga, young and robust, was a treat to watch. And then the much-in-demand Channa joined the group to do his bit.

What an entertaining morning it turned out to be! And a fitting tribute to the illustrious Guru who had devoted his entire life to put Sri Lanka on the map taking our dances across the world. There was ample evidence of that effort with many photographs and souvenirs in different languages displayed at the exhibition

A learning experience
To the large crowds who turned up at the exhibition, it was a valuable learning experience to judge for themselves the immense contribution by Chitrasena and his dance school over many decades. They could see it and feel it through the vast collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, brochures, illustrations, costumes and other paraphernalia.

Among the collection, I spotted a programme note issued sixty years ago - in 1943 - for a show held in Kalutara on July 7 that year. It mentioned the names of Chitrasena and Munirani. Munirani, Chitrasena told me, was his sister, who of course did not pursue a dancing career as he did. Also performing at the show were well known dancers Premakumar, Ganganath and Somabandu, the last person better known as the designer of costumes and sets for Chitrasena's ballets.

It was amazing to see so many items being so well preserved. I asked Vajira the secret. "It's all put in a huge wooden box. It's not easy to get them out. In fact when we want to pull them out, one has to virtually dip into it and get them."

Let's us hope that some day they will all be displayed as permanant exhibits at the Chitrasena School to be built at Narahenpita next to Apollo hospital. And hopefully, it will not be in the distant future.

And to the Master, we say 'Chirang Jayathu'!

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