SUPER CALI FRAGILISTIC EXPIALIDOCIOUS!
Motherhood is a gift that is relished by some women. Even though it seems quite effortless to those who have chosen this rite of passage, we know very well that it is not easy. The stresses, strains, and anxieties they feel when bringing up a child, go hand in hand with the pride, joy and laughter that is ever present even after that child becomes an adult. The sacrifice made by young mothers who invest so much of themselves in bringing up children often show dividends only after many years have passed. The success made by those children are rightly reflected as a reward for many mothers who invest the best years of their lives to this duty which often wipes away their own ambitions, careers, and dreams. A sense of selflessness remains the key to getting it right.
It is true to say that once the fledglings are ready to leave their nests, some mothers suddenly find time to spare and begin to reinvent themselves. Some search for suitable careers and start anew, whilst others are happy to remain as housewives. A supportive spouse always steers their partner to achieve the goals which they had already set their eyes on. A single parent has no other choice and finds that setting a good example of being self-sufficient, works best. Most often than not, most women forge ahead with careers that have an affiliation to their past. In other words, they go back to what they loved doing as teenagers and make that the foundation to what is to be the newest chapter of their lives.
My story is about five women who have made remarkable careers for themselves after having brought up wonderful children. And they have done this by using their first love; a love for theatre, speech, and drama as a springboard to stand up proudly on their own and become women of substance.
Cuckoo in little shop of Horrors
Theatre thrived in Sri Lanka during the 70’s. Plays performed in English were particularly popular among the audience in Colombo. Taking this into account the Rotary Club and Colombo YMCA launched the All-Island Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition with the intention of promoting and recognising the value of English as a necessary requirement in our curriculum. The success of this competition was such that many of the actors we saw on the stage then and are seen even now are those who have been participants.
This competition fostered a love for the theatre that remained with anyone who took part in it. So much so that many who are successful in other varied professions actively seek opportunities to tread the boards even past the age of retirement. This competition also provides fertile ground for those who look out for potential talent and has since launched many remarkable careers of actors and directors.
Being a teenager did not prevent Natalie Greet from carving out her place as one of the most promising actresses of our generation. She won the best actress award at the Shakespeare Drama competition in 1977, 1978 and 1979. Born with a searing talent which was obvious from the time that she set foot on the stage, she won the first of these awards when she played Shylock at the age of 14. She subsequently won this award in the two years that followed, playing Cleopatra and Petruchio. Her parents, Chris and Anne Greet were already highly established actors who were also members of the Colombo Amateur Dramatic Club (CADC) and the International Theatre Group (ITG).
They encouraged her in every way possible and coached her intensely whenever she took on a role. Her stepfather Manik Sandrasagara, cast her in the role of Liesl in The Sound of Music which he directed. In this lavish production the lead role of Captain Von Trapp was played by Gamini Fonseka, which resulted in the BMICH being packed out for twelve consecutive nights. It was responsible for bringing English theatre to mass audiences in Sri Lanka. Following this, Vijaya Kumaranatunge cast Natalie as Mary in his film “Kristhu Charitaya” (based on the life of Christ). She moved to Australia after completing this film. She has three children and works in the field of financial services. At present, Natalie is a Senior Manager for Suncorp in Brisbane, Australia.
Maria D’Almeida hails from a dynasty of actors in Sri Lanka. Her uncle Lucian De Zoysa was an actor and a playwright. Her cousin was Richard De Zoysa. She is married to actor, activist, and entrepreneur, Peter de Almeida. Maria (as she is known) was propelled on to the stage mostly because of her strong bond with her beloved cousin Richard who was like a brother to her. This relationship resulted in Colombo witnessing some thoroughly memorable performances on the stage from this otherwise sedate and quiet person. Her performance as the confused old woman in Ronald Anderson’s one act play “I’m Herbert” was simply unforgettable. Richard de Zoysa played opposite her as the confused old man. Soon after this, she played the part of Kattrin, the dumb daughter in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage,” superbly. In Jean-Paul Satre’s “Men Without Shadows” she added lustre to a very strong cast in a superb version of this disturbing play. It all began when she played the role of Kashyappa’s elder daughters in Lucien De Zoysa’s play “The Fortress in the Sky.” During the years that followed she played several parts in plays such as The Matchmaker, Camelot, Evita, Separate Tables, Charlie’s Aunt and Libation Bearers. She dropped out of the theatre circuit when she had her two daughters. Once the children began their schooling, she opened her own successful children’s nursery. Maria continues to teach English and Art to young children even today. Her elder daughter teaches English at the British Council and the younger one won the prestigious Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2021.
When we hear actors of the calibre of Iranganie and Winston Serasinghe, Graham Hatch, Michelle Leembrugan and Shelagh Goonewardene discuss a performance they have just witnessed and agree by saying “Now that was an intelligent actress, didn’t she just steal the show?” you realise that a star has been recognised. Kamanee Hapugalle’s performance as Nerisa in Richard de Zoysa’s modern and abridged version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice made a lasting impression on all those who saw her. This was a production that was tailored for tours taking Shakespeare to places out of Colombo especially at a time when social injustices within our society resulted in many productions of politically charged plays. Kamanee won the Best Actress award at the Shakespeare Drama competition in 1982. Whilst being a member of the English Drama Society at Colombo University she played the part of Sasha in Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” to great acclaim. Steve De La Zilwa who directed this production recalls it as one of his favourites. Following this, Kamanee played several parts in plays by Arthur Miller, Bertolt Brecht, Harold Pinter Jean Anouilh and Nedra Vittachi. At present, Kamanee works as a Governance Advisor to international Development partners operating in Sri Lanka. Prior to this, she was the Country Director for CARE International Sri Lanka and a Policy Planning and Strategy expert for USAID. She finds that her brief stint as an actress which involved the in-depth study of complex characters (especially in Shakespearean plays) along with her academic work in English literature gives her the ability to understand and empathise with people who face a multiplicity of challenges. All these previous experiences hold her in good stead for the work she does at an astute professional. Kamanee is married and has two children.
Carmen and Steve in WSS
Jerome De Silva’s first production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS was a launchpad for some very well know actors and dancers of our time. It was during this production that we noticed the rich mezzo soprano voice and the acting skills of a young Cuckoo Jayawardhana-Mushin. Since bursting on to stage singing “Macavity the mystery cat” she had a very successful run participating in several musicals. Her first experienced of the stage was when she took part in Wendy Whatmore’s production of “My Fair Lady”, Following this, she played several roles in many other shows which include, The Little Shop of Horrors, Evita, Camelot, Poppy, Godspell and The Vagina Monologues. Among the several parts that Cuckoo has performed, the one that stands out most prominently is the role of Anita in West Side Story which combined her talents as a singer and an actress of great depth and conviction. Cuckoo now heads her own company which is called The Centre for Communication and Leadership Training which specialises in Speech and Theatre Studies. Through this work she provides coaching to professionals who require guidance and development for the specific purpose of taking on speaking engagements. She is a proud mother of three sons who are making their own mark in the world of business and finance.
Much like a comet that shines brightly and then suddenly disappears was the brief but important career of Carmen Perera. Here was yet another girl who was blessed with a rich and vibrant voice along with an ability to act and dance. Carmen enrolled as a student at the Alethea International School when her family moved back to Sri Lanka. She won Best Actress at the Shakespeare Drama competition in 1983. During this time, she began to be noticed by many of our local theatre directors who wanted to put her talents to good use. She was first seen in the second production of “CATS.” Steve De La Zilwa cast her in the lead role of Maria in West Side Story in which she was brilliant. She followed this up with a sensational performance as Sandy in Grease. Carmen moved back to the UK where she works in a highly demanding job at a Local Authority in North London. As a single mother she brought up her two sons while supporting herself. Her eldest was offered a place at Oxford University at the tender age of fourteen.
When I reflect of the days gone by, I think of the wonderful times I’ve had with these lovely people. I have been onstage with many of them in several of the plays mentioned above and did enjoy every minute of it. I first knew them as close friends who were great actresses. Then I saw them as young mothers. I admire them now for the career paths they have chosen through which they give back so much of themselves and contribute to the betterment of society. My wish is that they’ll return to the stage and dazzle us again with some amazing performances. This they can do by drawing their strength from the many experiences of their rich and vibrant lives.
Ladies - your audience awaits!