Mirror Magazine

Her spell-binding tale
By Ayesha Inoon
She seems to be everywhere at once... laughing, talking, encouraging, criticising, and on the whole, inspiring the cast to try harder, and do better. This is Juanita Beling, the energetic young directress of the Sri Lankan adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, Godspell. Her crew is a blend of experienced as well as amateur actors belonging to the Reach Theatrix drama group, which is also headed by her, and whose first production was War Letters earlier this year. On being asked how she handles such a diverse and young group of people, she laughs and says, “Can’t you see? I’m going crazy!”
Juanita, who has been on stage ever since she was two years old, says that she first became seriously interested in theatre when she took part in the All Island Interact Drama Competition in 1992, at the age of 14, which made an enormous impact on her. Despite being the first time that her school, Methodist College had taken part in this competition, they came away with all the awards, Original Script (Burning the Candle at Both Ends by Ruwanthie De Chickera), Best Production, and Best Actress, Juanita herself.

This sparked the inbred ambition in her to take her on an exciting voyage in the field of drama, which has led her to play many roles in significant productions. These include, Feroze Kamardeen’s Julius Caesar, the Workshop Players’ West Side Story and Lion King and Ruwanthie De Chickera’s Mirror Making Factory.

One play which made a deep impression on her was, Dharmasiri Bandaranaike’s Trojan women, which was a Sinhalese drama in which she played Helen of Troy alongside actresses, Anoja and Yasodha. She says that this role proved to be extremely challenging, and by taking her beyond the boundaries of English Theatre, opened her mind and broadened her horizons.

Juanita’s career has not been limited to acting alone, as she has directed many productions, such as An Evening of Mystery for Methodist College, War Letters for Reach Theatrix, and several Shakespeare and Interact Drama competitions.

Juanita, whose Grandfather designed the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery, comes from a family that has always been involved in the Arts. Her father, she says, is from whom she and her sister Adele, get their musical genes (her first public concert was singing a duet with Adele at the Wendt), and while Adele is the prominent nightingale of the flock, Juanita has been drawn further towards her mother’s gift in acting. Of her husband, Hans, she says, he has been her main source of encouragement, motivating her to take on new roles that she feels apprehensive about.

Between teaching Speech and Drama at Lyceum International, and all the other ventures she has on hand, Juanita’s days are full and happy. Being well qualified for her tasks, she has completed her practical in the Fellowship Diploma Trinity College, London, for Speech and Drama, and won several awards for singing and acting in both inter-house as well as inter-school competitions.

A particularly enriching experience in her life was the time she spent in London, on a scholarship awarded by the British Federation of Festivals. It was to Mountview Theatre School in London, in 1998, and she says she has benefited a great deal from working in a professional theatre school with people from varied backgrounds. She tried to learn and absorb as much as she could during her stay there, gaining knowledge from the expertise of the teachers. She says she feels fortunate to be able to bring back the essence of what she learned there back to Sri Lanka, so that she could play a part in improving the standard of the local theatre.

Of her present endeavor, Godspell, a vibrant musical drama, she says that she saw it in a catalogue “ages ago”, and was attracted to the improvisation technique used in the script, which meant that it could be adapted and interpreted in many ways, which made it perfect for her youthful drama group. It’s exciting, she adds, to work with youngsters who’ve never been on stage and bring out latent abilities.

Juanita, whose inspiration in life is her faith, has a vision, a vision imparted to the Reach Theatrix drama group, of bringing more socially relevant dramas with powerful messages, ones that can be enjoyed by the entire family, to the local scene. She would like to see this type of drama being enjoyed all over Sri Lanka, with Colombo as the launching pad, and plans to take War Letters to Galle in the near future.

With her effervescent personality permeating the plays she directs, and her strong ideals and ambitions, it is certain that she will make a profound impact on the local theatre scene.


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