Children’s theatre in Sri Lanka still has a long way to go

10 September 2013 05:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By  Jayashika Padmasiri

Ground breaking filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock once said that “drama is life with the dull parts left out.”  Defining ‘drama’ is certainly not an easy task though it is an interesting topic. However, at the on-going 2013 State Children’s Drama Festival, many children came on stage and acted, sang, danced, played, and performed their
roles to become a part of those artistic creations on stage at the John de Silva theatre in Colombo. The event itself was another drama: parents and teachers getting together and training and dressing up children, coming to see their performances and taking photographs and videoing the event.

 What is special about this year’s State Children’s Drama Festival is that 57 plays were staged which consisted of 28 Sinhalese plays, 13 Tamil Plays and 12 English plays representing the tri-lingual nature of emerging Sri Lankan Theatre.  The children were very enthusiastic. Children in the audience were impatiently waiting for the dramas to begin, while children back-stage, were impatiently waiting for their turn in the spotlight.

 Minister of Culture and Arts T.B. Ekanayaka in his message said this drama festival would be a platform to promote the aesthetic skills of children. “This festival provides the impetus to the new generation to achieve peaceful co-existence, co-operation, perfect knowledge on drama and performing arts and getting used to a unified way of thinking devoid of social   disparities. Appreciating the abilities of our children who are sensitive to art is what we should constantly aim for. Drama and performing arts is a subject in the school curriculum and it is an element which conforms to our cultural policy.”

At this Children’s State Drama Festival, Lyceum International School, Wattala, Musaeus College, Colombo, St. John’s Bosco in Jaffna and a group called Spade Players in Kandy performed. Two of these performances were built on the fables “Cap Seller” and the story of the “Grasshopper and the Ants” while two were original stories. What was special about the play done by the group Spade Players titled “Building Blocks” was that its cast consisted of adults instead of children. The director of Building Blocks Aruna Priyantha Pathirana speaking to Daily Mirror said that “Building Blocks” was a drama which is performed by adults for children.    

“The story in “Building Blocks” is woven around a gift a young girl receives for her seventh birthday from her father. She wants a bicycle, but instead her father gives her a box of building blocks. The story is how this young girl realises she can make anything she wants using her imagination - even a bicycle for which she doesn’t need a magic wand as long as she has her imagination,” he said.  

Pathirana expressed his dismay at the authorities only limiting the focus on theatre to the confines of the festival. “Most theatre directors are only aiming at the state drama festival and they create their dramas for that. It would be ideal if the authorities pave a way for the plays that wins first, second and third places to be shown for at least 30 rounds and make it possible for those plays to reach school children. This would help to develop theatre amongst the younger generation because there are students who are studying theatre today in Sri Lanka, who have not had the fortune of seeing a play performed ,” Pathirana said. He said it is sad that only a limited number of people would get the chance to see these performances staged, as most of these plays would only be ‘history’ soon after this competition ends.
The enjoyment that children receive through dramas will have to be postponed to next year.

However, the state of children’s plays in Sri Lanka has improved in leaps and bounds.

The Chairman of the State Panel of Drama Sriyantha Mendis, in his message regarding the festival said, “We have been able to make the year 2011 a milestone in the dramatic arts scene of Sri Lanka. We have opened up Children’s Drama to everyone. Tamil as well as Sinhala children delightfully display their talents on a single stage and children came forward to perform dramas in English as well. This festival which had until this year been known as a Sinhala Children’s Drama Festival has become the Children’s Drama Festival of Sri Lanka. It was not only a revolution on stage but also a loving address of comradeship.”

A drama is a team effort that teaches children to work together with others, to build their personalities, instills self confidence and improves their abilities to perform. There has been a lot of improvement in children’s theatre in Sri Lanka, but still there is a long way to go. (The State Children’s Drama Festival will continue until September 15 at the John de Silva theatre in Colombo from 5 pm to 8 pm)

Pix by Waruna Wanniarachchi

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