‘Rag - The Musical’ plans a meaningful return | Sunday Observer

‘Rag - The Musical’ plans a meaningful return

16 July, 2017

 Centre Stage Productions, led by its founder, the talented theatre practitioner who has distinguished himself as actor, playwright and director - Jehan Aloysius, unfolded a media launch to publicise their next ambitious venture to the stage. The return of ‘Rag - The Musical’. This work of original theatre by Aloysius became a much celebrated achievement when it first mounted the boards in October 2012. And now, theatregoers will be in for a treat once again by courtesy of Centre Stage Productions as a somewhat more enhanced version of ‘Rag - The Musical’ is set to come alive in November on the boards of the Lionel Wendt theatre, on 2nd, 4th and 5th with a fourth show date for the 6th remaining tentative, subject to future confirmation.

The lively affair that was the media launch happened on July 8, on the 11th floor of Landmark Building in Colombo 3. The event’s proceedings gave insight about the play and the larger background of its ‘genesis’ as well as a perspective on the pressing social issue of ragging in universities and how it is very much part of the larger problem of bullying and harassment in today’s society, which is not strictly a university youth issue per se.

The event commenced with a note of welcome by the emcee Hidaayath Hazeer, a member of Centre Stage Productions. Jehan Aloysius addressed the gathering next. He emphasised the policies and practice of producing new writing and original work for theatre through Centre Stage Productions, thanked those who supported. Aloysius spoke about the anti-ragging project named ‘The Power of One’. A movement envisioning making a social impact for positive change by creating awareness among schoolchildren about the horrors of ragging. Educative insight about the history of ragging and its roots in the university system was provided along with a list of incidents where campus ragging resulted in deaths of victimized students. ‘The Power of One’ movement aims to create awareness among youngsters still in their impressionable age, about the legal factors related to ragging and bullying, and thus ‘Rag - The Musical’ is a work of art that complements the core objectives of ‘The Power of One’.

The music orchestrator for ‘Rag - The Musical’ Dr. Avanti Perera spoke next. As a longstanding collaborator with Aloysius on this work of musical theatre, she spoke of its beginnings from the point when the collaboration between her and the playwright began back in their undergrad days in the Colombo campus as students in the Arts Faculty reading for a degree in English. She also shared her own experience of being subjected to verbal abuse during university and how the collective need for resisting ragging came up among like minded students, back then.

Cast member of ‘Rag’ Christina Francke who plays the character ‘Saku’ spoke of the larger context of harassment in public which, especially, victimizes women. Among the aspects of harassment and verbal abuse she touched on was ‘fat shaming’. Francke was open about how emotionally hurtful it could be, adding that ragging can easily encompass uncouth verbal remarks targeting a person’s physical appearance for not being an ideal image of beauty.

The most insightful personal experience of a victim of campus ragging came forth next. Celebrated screen actress Yashoda Wimaladharma spoke of the torment she was unrelentingly subjected to during her undergrad days in the Kelaniya University. Hers was an account of sheer mental torture cast upon her by sadistic seniors.

The fact that she was a budding artiste at the time served to intensify the victimization. She said, the harassment resulted in her coming down with depression. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, a near teary eyed Wimaladharma revealed how her own state of mental health affected her father who was a Professor of Hindi at the University at the time, to the extent of suffering a nervous breakdown, himself. She claimed, her beloved father’s untimely demise had been the result of the mental trauma he himself had suffered as a result of powerlessly watching his daughter’s torment.

Ragging is not an act that has only just one victim, she pointed out. The effects can very well be destructive to the loved ones of the immediate victim.

Wimaladharma cited a number of cases where undergrads from several universities, over the years, had committed suicide due to excessive ragging, adding that many more have been permanently scarred with psychological trauma. She stated that she has been a campaigner against ragging for the past 20 years and viewed the efforts of Centre Stage Productions to the cause as commendable.

The program also included readings by Centre Stage Productions members Sakeena Razick, Sushmita Wijayaratna and Nethmi Perera, who between them gave details about ‘The Power of One’, the making of ‘Rag - The Musical’ and the plot synopsis. The event progressed towards a musical performance that gave a taste of the musicality that may be expected in ‘Rag - The Musical.’ Four songs from the play were performed. ‘I Have a Dream’ was sung by Dion Nanayakkara who plays the protagonist Joseph, in the play. Cast member Julian Anderson sang ‘I Won’t Cry Anymore’. The song ‘Natasha’s Lament’ was performed by Nanayakkara and Sushmita Wijayaratna. And ‘Mother’s Lullaby’ was performed by seasoned songstress of the English theatre - Dmitri Gunatilake.

A notable feature of this selection of actors is that, except for Gunatilake the rest are newcomers to stage. The ‘crescendo’, if one may call it, of the musical aspect to the launch came with the song ‘The Power of One’ sung by the entire team.

I ventured to ask Aloysius whether he intended to present an ‘insider’s voice’ about campus ragging. He provided in elaborate detail about how the first kernel for the play sparked before his own foray into campus culture and how the substance of the play is not meant to be an insider’s story. “No catharsis?” I asked. “No catharsis.” He affirmed, but added that given the play’s nature it has a cathartic aspect to it, possibly for those who would connect with it, but the work is not his own individual purgation of repressed emotions.

Aloysius remarked that now as he watches his work develop, he relives in his thoughts some of his own campus experiences although the storyline is not strictly speaking the exact same events that he encountered as an undergrad.

Theatre is not always a profitable venture and requires the support of patrons. In this regard, Aloysius and his team gratefully acknowledged the support given this production by The British Council, Mascons Ltd, and the confectioner Ambrosia (Pvt) Ltd. The day’s program concluded on a cheery celebrative note as a scrumptious cake with the compliments of Ambrosia (Pvt) Ltd, was cut and a toast of ‘bubbly’ raised to officially mark the arrival of The Power of One movement and the upcoming return of ‘Rag - The Musical’.