Space to perform

Smriti Daniel speaks to the founders of Floating Space – a unique theatre group in town – on their future endeavours
By Smriti Daniel, Pix by Anushka Pereira

I was about to begin this article by introducing Floating Space as Colombo's newest theatre group – but almost immediately I decided that this would give you, the reader, quite the wrong impression. You might for instance, pigeonhole Floating Space as a company that supports traditional theatre only, whereas this new group intends to open the stage up, incorporating all manner of performance art – such as music, mime or dance – into their productions. The second would be that Floating Space is a "group." Closer to the truth is that it's a duo – Jake Oorloff and Ruhanie Perera.

Jake Oorloff Ruhanie Perera

They are both well known in the local theatre scene and have worked together many times before. "I think individually, we've always wanted something like this for ourselves, but it only took shape and form once we started working together," says Ruhanie. Their personal experience as actors, directors and producers has been key to helping them outline their vision of what they want Floating Space to become. They say that they are "inspired by the unconventional, and shared experiences in performance spaces." As a company, their focus will be on experimental, fringe theatre, exploring in depth the "possibilities of theatre in terms of form, style, space, approach and purpose." They hope to see actors make the switch to being performers – "where they do anything they have to do to tell their story," says Jake.

"When we say 'space' you come into that space in whatever capacity you come in – perhaps as a performer, a director, or a musician,' says Ruhanie explaining that they hope to team up with other artists who share their ideas. They intend to be open to suggestion – from students and directors alike. Work-shopping might prove another rich source of inspiration – Ruhanie talks about setting up spaces in which actors could be brought together with directors or playwrights.

Such collaborations with other artists – both those based in Sri Lanka and abroad, is central to their vision and an essential component in keeping things 'fresh.' "We want to try different kinds of experiments that push the boundaries of what we perceive theatre to be," says Ruhanie. Both she and Jake seem to believe that the most effective way of realising this would be through sustained and challenging interaction not only with other performers but with the audience as well.

Jake likes to talk about "merging the line between players on a stage and an audience," and even the very thought of a passive audience is anathema. "Even if people were to get up and leave, I think that's a reaction and that's a good one. They may disagree or agree, but they feel strongly enough about it to act," he says. For Floating Space, part of nurturing a taste for the unusual in audiences means that they will engage "in partnership with a range of organisations and individuals to advocate the use of theatre outside its more traditional purpose." They hope eventually to promote the study of theatre through workshops, training, research and publications.

"I know there have been some fringe theatre productions in Colombo, but I don't think there's been enough of it," says Jake. He also adds that Floating Space wants to be as accessible to local audiences as possible. Their last two productions, staged before Floating Space was official may be considered some indication of what you can expect from the duo.

In a Shadow – staged last November in St. Andrew's Scots Kirk – was billed as performance poetry and included a live score written especially for the show. Jake directed and Ruhanie co-produced the show that featured the work of three poets, namely playwright Sam Shepard (Tongues, Savage/Love) and Sri Lankan poets Vivimarie Vanderpooten (nothing prepares you) and Afdhel Aziz (China Bay Blues, short-listed for the Gratiaen Prize.) "In every way that was an experiment for us and it was the first thing we really worked on together," says Jake. Looking back to In A Shadow, Ruhanie adds, "just by changing the venue, we changed something about perceptions of theatre"; and it's a policy they intend to adopt in the future as well.

A more recent production A Bedtime Story, told the tale of Kasun, a child prostitute, as seen through the eyes of four individuals: his father, his mother, his teacher and his classmate. Written and directed by Jake himself, the play was favourably reviewed. Ruhanie, who played Kasun's mother, says that A Bedtime Story is a good example of how they have always picked pieces that they can "feel strongly about, that elicit some kind of response by challenging the audience."

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