The BELL Theatre Festival organized by the Stages Theatre Groupwas recently staged at the Sudarshi Main Hall, Colombo 7. Children from Bogawanthalawa, Kahapola, Galle and Colombo participated in this theatre festival directed by veteran playwright and theatre director Ruwanthie de Chickera.
It started with a performance by children from Galle. Initially there a group of children performed to a heart melting song. This play mainly focused on the current education system in the country while highlighting the plight of Sri Lanka’s schoolchildren. From the bed to the classroom it is a war that these children are faced with. These actors showed the audience how these children are forced by their parents to wake up in the morning at a time when the sun is rising. This home in the play symbolises an ordinary Sri Lankan home. The most significant incident is that the playwright is able to highlight the difficulties and fears faced by the girls while they use some source of transport to get to the school. This girl was harassed by a man while making the journey and the rest of the passengers in the bus turned a blind eye on the incident. Also there was another incident which caught the attention of the audience. It was how these schoolgirls fall in love with the guys while travelling to school. This play is able to underscore the innocence of childhood and this is because they have understood all about empathy and care. The playground was the place where they get a chance to speak with each other. One boy, who always gets punished by the mathematics teacher, finally turns to the audience and says that the only subject he likes is art. The first play flows and at the end it gives the audience many messages. Each incident inthe play is connected with the lives of these schoolchildren. There was a message even embedded within the music used in the play.
Dinethmi Imaya is eight years old. She is from Ginthota. She said that she is really happy and she loves to act and dance. She said, “This is my first time performing in Colombo.”
Ruwanthie de Chickera who is a theatre director, has been in the field of theatre for more than 25 years. She has chosen theatre because she strongly believes that she can make a meaningful contribution to the society through this medium. She is one of the leading artistes in this festival. Speaking to Daily Mirror she explained how she conducted workshops in the outstation and what made her to initiate this kind of workshop with the children from rural areas. She emphasised that there are students at her theatre class who have fought with their parents when seeking permission to engage in theatre. She was also sad about the attitude people in this country have towards arts. At the same time she sees that there is a huge potential in youth she feels can make a change and a transform through arts and theatre.
“The festival is just a byproduct of what we are doing. We are a 25-year-old theatre company. We have always produced our own original work. But after Covid we started seriously working with young people. We sense that they need much encouragement and support. There are young people who are growing up without much hope in the country. We begin to change that. We have been working with children and we give them space to create and tell their own stories. We have our artistes training their children in their own community. We do weekly sessions like workshops and trainings. And every year they create a play. This is the third year we are doing it. So we decided to bring all the plays together and perform in one place. Normally what we do is we go to the relevant areas (outstation) and watch the plays. But we wanted a bigger audience for their performances. I wanted them to watch the plays of others as well. Mainly I train the artistes and they go to places and train the children. Whenever I can, I go there and do workshops for them,” said Ruwanthie in an interview with the Daily Mirror.
Sumu Mallawarachchi is the other organizer of this festival. He is the regional coordinator. He usually visits the relevant places at least once a week and spends time with the children. He said that at the beginning parents were quite hesitant to send their children. Some parents didn’t want their children to miss their mathematics class and engage in theatre activities. These parents see this as a waste of time. Mallawarachchi explained how these dramas and theatre activities helped some students to build their confidence and some who didn’t like to speak with other people started speaking with confidence after one or two months.
“Initially it was difficult to earn the trust of parents because we were from Colombo. They see Colombo people as being strange and they think that these people are unreachable. But with the passing of time our work created the much needed changes in children. Some children who didn’t speak at home started speaking with their parents. Children who were anti-social became social. Theatre activities proved to build confidence in these children. Later parents realised the work we are doing and they trusted us. They didn’t want their kids to miss our workshops. Some parents came to me and thanked me for making a positive impact in the lives of these children,” added Mallawaarachchi.