Theatres are for the performers and the audience. It is for them the stage is set. Not for white-clad politicians and their right-hands and left-hands. It is the audience that decides whether a play is good enough for an encore. And once a call comes from the gallery, a dramatist is honour-bound to keep performing, for it is the audience that breaks or makes them. Sadly though, here in the capital which hardly goes without one cultural event or the other, the drama-hungry crowds and the passionate performers are fighting an eternal battle with space due to the limited number of theatres and their pathetic conditions.
The main theatres in Colombo, the Elphinstone, Tower Hall and John de Silva Theatre are managed by the government. While the Tower Hall and Elphinstone come under the ‘Tower Hall Foundation’ the John de Silva Theatre comes under the Cultural Affairs Ministry.
The doors of the Elphinstone were closed to the drama fraternity last July due to repairs that are yet to be completed. As a first step, all the seats were removed. Almost a year has passed and the Elphinstone is conveniently forgotten. The fate of the money allocated for renovations, is entirely another matter.
Tower Hall, on the other hand, cannot accommodate crowds due its air conditioning system that went out of order while a play was progressing. The John de Silva Theatre is no better. Since 2010, its lighting system had been giving trouble and over the past year or so it has been out of order. The government that promised to restore it has so far not made it clear as to when the upgrading will be completed. Lighting is not the only woe when it comes to the much-acclaimed venue, which is no better than an open air theatre. Whenever it rains, the sound of the water hitting the roof compels the actors to stop their plays half way through. Further, plays cannot be held at 3.30 pm because the sun light from outside seeps into the hall.
It is no secret that the recently opened Nelum Pokuna, which charges Rs. 800,000 per show per day, is far beyond the economic reach of dramatists. Built with the aim of promoting ‘local talent’ one wonders what kind of talent it really promotes given the fact that no independent theatre group or director has so far performed at the much hyped-about venue.
This leaves the Wendt, the only reachable option. Due to the state of the other theatres, there is an unending queue for show-dates at the Wendt - putting a strain on the management and staff and resulting in wear and tear of the stage.
At a time, when the audience gathers around theatre groups and good dramas have become a trend, it is sad that the high-heads, who pose with actors and directors at the award ceremonies and swear by their lives to promote local talent, play the statue at the predicament.
The wish, ‘break a leg’ does not seem valid anymore. It has to be modified as ‘break a house’, for to stage a drama, one should either be able to afford impossible theatre fares or needs to be an owner of one.