Outlet for creative energy

By Tahnee Hopman, Pic by J. Weerasekara

Nineteen years ago, a little toddler acted on her first stage- her living room, in front of her first audience - her siblings who she described as impossible.

Sulochana Dissanayake (22) now recalls that first exposure into the world of drama as an experience that stayed with her through school and university. "It was my father who first got me interested in acting," she reminisces. "We would do these little improvised skits, where I would be an injured deer who would be rescued by my father and so on. That's where the magic all started!"

From her youngest days in school at St. Bridget's Covent, Sulochana pursued drama avidly, sometimes having to endure a few less comfortable aspects of a performance – one which was to wear nylon chest hair in her role as Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. "I was usually among the tallest in a cast, and I was always cast in a male role!" she smiles.

Sulochana is thankful for her experiences of drama in school, as well as her experience of working with the late Ruwani Seimon. "We were given a free rein with some aspects of our performance, like the choreography– and that opportunity really boosted are confidence," she said.

Confidence was definitely something that Sulochana took with her to the Bates College of Liberal Arts in Maine. Straight out of school, with many successful productions under her belt, she remembers her eager anticipation of higher studies at Bates – "At the time, I thought this whole thing would be a piece of cake! I remember thinking, 'its acting! How hard can it be? I can definitely do this!' but I had underestimated the theatre department at Bates. It is small, but it is very active, and initial auditions were very intense. I had to do a small acapella performance, and I just didn't prepare for it the way I should have; and that first audition was an absolute disaster!"

Despite a relatively shaky start though, Sulochana has come extremely far in her university career, acting in and directing a series of successful plays, one of which was performed on the main stage which is usually reserved only for members of the faculty. Hard as it was at first – coming in as "a big fish fro a small pond, to work with a whole batch of people who were all big fish from small ponds" she used the challenges as stepping stones to huge success.

In an effort to further professional theatre training in Sri Lanka, Sulochana now wishes to gauge the current interests of student and young adult drama enthusiasts, in a two day intensive drama workshop on January 1–4 at the Royal College Union Auditorium from 9.30am to 6pm.

A firm believer in the fact that theatre in Sri Lanka could be diversified to reach greater heights than just Broadway musicals and dramas by well known playwrights, Sulochana's dream is to promote more encouragement of the work of local playwrights. "Given our rich traditional theatre and appreciation of western classics such as Shakespeare, I believe that dramatizing out own lives could create groundbreaking original works. We are in the midst of a twenty five year old ethnic conflict that has adversely impacted our social, cultural and economical climates and created experiences worthy of sharing with one another and the outside world. The power of story telling could do wonders to validate and heal such experiences and progress national self-realization. I strongly feel that contemporary that is the much needed outlet for our creative energies, and if properly used could become the voice of our nation."

The workshop will consist of scene work, character analysis, improvised scenes, voice work, playwriting exercises, feedback, discussion and much more. Confident that the workshop will equip aspiring dramatists added insight into their field of interest, Sulochana anticipates the workshop to be a two way learning process, where the participants will also share their views and interests on the scope for professional contemporary theatre in Sri Lanka.

While previous school based drama would be helpful to a participant, it is not required. Participation is competitive and requires the submission of an application form which will be available at the Royal College Union Auditorium. Anyone interested could also apply by email – to sdissana@bates.edu. Inquiries could also be directed to this address. An entrance fee of Rs. 1000 will be charged and can be paid at the entrance.

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