A Child learns through drama - Chandrasena Dassanayake
A treasure trove of wisdom and
notable drama guru, playwright, actor and director Chandrasena
Dassanayake gave his thoughts and hopes in the local theatre field.
Hailing from the gem of all Sri Lankan towns known as Ratnapura,
Chandrasena said, “Drama was something I was interested in from my
university days and back then when we were in hostels, we’d used drama
and theatre as a form of entertainment.”
Attending boarding school at a young age, he went to the Karawita
Central College and studied right up to SSC (Secondary School
Certificate) which is equivalent to the OL. “I then went to the Seevali
Central College to do my HSC (Higher School Certificate) and then passed
my UE (University Entrance) exam” he said. Thereafter, he went to the
University of Peradeniya to read for his General Arts degree where he
met his future wife, Daisy who was a year junior to him.
Coming from a family of 3 sisters and 4 brothers, Chandrasena’s
father was a hotel proprietor. “Even though my family (my brothers,
sisters and parents) hasn’t seen any of my productions, they were my
most loyal supporters” said Chandrasena. He is father to three sons who
are all abroad in Bangladesh, Australia and the U.S.A. and they are his
critics. “Even though none of them followed my dramatic trait, I would
let my children comment on my drama and they would be honest about it
and in turn, appreciate it better,” he said.
During his schooldays, he was an ardent follower of the drama circles
making his first appearance in ‘Vijaya-Kuveni’ in 1948 and thereafter he
acted in ‘Mahalu Gayakaya’ in 1957. Other notable productions he was
popular in were ‘Ratarang’ in 1959, ‘Elova Gihin Meloya Ava’, ‘Riders of
the Sea’ in 1960, Anatole Frances’ ‘Dumb Wife’ (directed by Basil Mendis)
which was adapted into Sinhala by Namel Weeramuni called ‘Golu Birinda’.
As a make-up artist and costume designer, he helped in ‘Nariugula’,
‘Sakkay Disti’, ‘Kendan Gedarata Ada’ and Prof. Sarathchandra’s ‘Maname’,
‘Ekata Mata Hina Hina and ‘Wellavehum’.
Chandrasena made his first play in 1964 which was called ‘Hemada
Niyan’ and it won first place at the all-island drama festival.
In 1966, he went to produce ‘Aandi Tikai Ambalamai’ which is a drama
that ridicules the United Nations. He compares the UN with an
Different countries were given names (according to dramatist) to
highlight their inherent characteristics. “It was rather controversial
and it was censored at places but was a popular drama as we did 1200
shows all across the country,” he said. It went on to win first place at
the all-island drama festival in 1966.
In 1966, he went on to produce ‘Pothaka Satahan’ which was a Sinhala
version of Anne Frank’s Diaries by highlighting in a play of about one
hour. “It was a contrast of two worlds with my drama because in Aandi
Tikai Ambalamai’ I was talking about the UN and in Anne Frank, the
consequences and sufferings of war. “I even did a play about monkeys and
apes because they imitate people and it was a nice idea to put it in a
play” he said. He then produced ‘Sakkara Distiya’, ‘Vaanarayo’ for the
ANCL Lassana Drama Festival in 1967.
“The reason why I love drama and its become my lifestyle is that it
is a lively and wonderful type of entertainment. Whether it is the cast,
the stage or just the script, the ability to recreate an experience and
make people think about a play is a significant impact on society” said
In the course of his illustrious career, Chandrasena held positions
in the Ceylon Traffic Board, Vidya Lanka and was even the Director
General of the Sri Lanka Film Corporation. Chandrasena also held the
renowned position of Sri Lankan President for the International Assitege
Association for Youth and Children. “I was the President of the
Children’s Drama Panel (under the Arts Council) where we changed the
school drama festival into the children’s drama festival to make it more
popular, we tied up with the Munich Children’s Theatre Company to bring
some German plays and even held drama workshops islandwide,” he said.
In 1973, he joined together to join the Germans to bring two plays
encompassing West Germany and East Germany. “I joined with a West German
counterpart called Dr. Norbert J. Mayor who did a play with me called
‘Stokkerlock Und Millipilli’.
“In 1975, I adapted a popular East German children’s drama to Sinhala
called ‘Tikiri Manike’ where a director called Hans Dieter Smidt and a
stage designer, Otta Keyler helped me produce the drama which was held
in association with the Goethe Institute”. He further commented, “Even
though we didn’t speak the same language, it was phonetics that made me
understand them.” His finale of theatre fame culminated in 1971 when he
directed ‘Rankanda’ inspired by George Bernand Shaw’s ‘Pygmallion’.
Highlighting the importance of children’s drama, Chandrasena recently
launched a book called Lama Natyakaranaya to help drama teachers in
teaching children about theatre and amateurs who need to learn more
about the subject.
“In order to make the child a good citizen of our country, we use
knowledge-based, community theatre which would show them how to behave
properly and lead a good life” he said. He explained that even UNICEF
has started a project to introduce homeless children into drama so that
they would learn how to be useful to society. “At the moment, there are
about 45,000 children who are willing to learn drama in Kurunegala but
are helpless due to the lack of teachers” he said.
Chandrasena said that drama is a vital tool to understand child
psychology, a medium understanding for the child and a form of
entertainment. “The area of children’s drama is yet to be fully
elaborated and there is a dearth of drama teachers to teach proper
dramatic aspects to children.
It is the most important tool to teach a child because they will
carry our generation forward so we should groom them properly” concluded