With the Stages Theatre Group’s  Children in Lockdown festival set to go virtual from November 26-28, Namali Premawardhana talks to some of the mentors and budding artists involved in this project to shed light on issues faced by young people during the pandemic “Looking back I realized that I had friends who had gone through [...]


Together on a shared journey


With the Stages Theatre Group’s  Children in Lockdown festival set to go virtual from November 26-28, Namali Premawardhana talks to some of the mentors and budding artists involved in this project to shed light on issues faced by young people during the pandemic

“Looking back I realized that I had friends who had gone through depression and were being bullied,” says 18-year-old poet Shavindri Pieris. “This is stuff that people don’t talk about… But [as a poet] I wanted to bring this to the table.”

Shavindri is among 20 artists commissioned by the Stages Theatre Group for the Children in Lockdown festival going live, digitally, from November 26-28. The programme will feature writing, art and performance as well as talks and presentations aimed at shedding light on the issues faced by young people during the pandemic – issues that have not received the attention they deserve.

Among the artists featured in the festival are a number of first-time artists and child artists who have received the invaluable opportunity of being mentored by an established artist from their field.

 “I wish that I knew what my friends were going through, when they were suffering,” explains Shavindri, who is part of the mentoring programme. “I wish I knew the signs as they were going through it.”

The young poet is using the Children in Lockdown grant to connect with, talk to and tell the stories of young people who experienced mental trauma during lockdown. Her goal is to create awareness so that people around those who are suffering may find ways to support them. “Hopefully my poems will help people feel less alone,” she says.

Shaping people,
not just artwork

For her mentor, Evan Ekanayake, working with Shavindri is something of an opportunity to forward integrate her work.

 “I’m talking to someone who’s passionate about advocating for what I’ve been doing on the therapeutic side all my life,” says the Community Psychologist. “Therapy goes hand in hand with prevention, which begins with awareness.”

The task as mentor is slightly different this time around for Evan. While, like any mentor, she functions as a bouncing board and guide, she also recognizes a responsibility to protect her charge. “These topics that she is exploring can be really overwhelming,” she explains. “So I try to ensure that her experience is rich, and also that she is emotionally relatively safe.”

For 20-year-old artist Enceletta Solomon and her mentor Shaanea Mendis D’Silva too, the relationship has gone well beyond the artwork. Shaanea has, in fact, helped Enceletta change her career path.

 “I would have been doing medicine or something like that (if not for Shaanea),” Enceletta says.

During the course of their conversations Enceletta shared her concerns about the future with Shaanea. She felt trapped between pursuing either a stable career she didn’t like or a volatile career that she loved. Shaanea quickly put her in touch with other creative professionals who led Enceletta to a course of study that was a balance between the two “opposites”. Enceletta is now enrolled in an architecture programme at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University.

 “I was so excited,” Shaanea says, of when Enceletta decided to accept a place in the programme. “It felt like I was able to make an impact.”

A whole new world

As far as Enceletta’s artwork for the commissioning programme was concerned, Shaanea prompted the younger artist to question every single detail of the concept she had presented in her application.

 “This is the first time I’m doing something like this,” Enceletta says of her installation, “so (Shaanea) also gave me lots of guidance on how to actually execute the concept from start to finish. She gave me information on what options and possibilities were open to me.”

Shaanea also introduced Enceletta to the idea and process of art journaling which is helping improve not just this artwork, but Enceletta’s whole creative process. “Usually you think of an idea at a random moment and it’s there in your head but then it vanishes. But now I write it down, so I can keep track of what I’ve been thinking,” Enceletta explains. And what started off as “normal” journaling is slowly transforming her as an artist, she says.

Enceletta is not the only first-timer that the Stages Group has taken on. Inoka Palliyaguru, who has previously worked as a freelance journalist, was commissioned to write her first film script.

 “I’ve watched about 200 movies in the last five months – it’s like a new world opened up to me,” says Inoka of being mentored by screenwriter Boopathy Nalin Wickramage. “And my writing has developed tremendously.”

Inoka’s “simple story of a little girl” comes with “a serious insight”, Boopathy says. His task is to help the first-time screenwriter “show forth the complexity of the situation without pronouncing judgement on it.”

The experience has been so encouraging for Inoka that the mother of two has also started working on a separate feature film – something she would not have imagined doing before.

Between inspiration
and influence

Fourteen-year-old novelist Urvi Perera has also found her journey with author/publisher Ameena Hussein filled with the unexpected. “I thought the mentor thing was going to be boring,” she says, explaining with candour “I don’t like it when someone gives me advice.” But Ameena’s encouragement “triggered” a fresh enthusiasm within her.

Ameena too recognizes that the process “may have been a little disconcerting at the beginning.” But she continued to prompt Urvi to think about the particular time and place that the story is situated in, and to encourage her to describe it.

Urvi is more than happy with how the book is now turning out. “Before, it was just what a normal teenager like me would write,” she says. “But now I realize that there has been some improvement in my writing – it seems kind of advanced!”

Young author Ramithu Sellahewa, 14, too believes his writing has improved since working with author Prashani Rambukwella. “We talked a lot and she got me to put a lot more colour into my books,” he says.

Prashani also suggested to Ramithu that instead of compiling a collection of short stories as he proposed in his application to the commissioning programme, he could focus on building one story into a novel. But while the idea appealed to Ramithu as a distant possibility, he decided to continue with the collection.

 “I want to share as many experiences as possible,” Ramithu explains, “without focusing on just one or two themes.”

As mentor, Prashani welcomes Ramithu’s position. “It’s always the writer’s prerogative,” she says. “It shows maturity. You know your work and you know what you’re doing.”

The Children in Lockdown arts festival organized by the Stages Theatre Group with
support from Kindernothilfe will be presented online from November 26 to 28. Registration at https://www.stages.lk/


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