‘Pyramus & Thisby’ to enchant theatre-goers once again | Sunday Observer

‘Pyramus & Thisby’ to enchant theatre-goers once again

Scene from Pyramus & Thisby
Scene from Pyramus & Thisby

When it comes to Sri Lankan theatre, Jehan Aloysius occupies a niche, virtually of his own. A full time theatre practitioner who writes original stage plays in English which have proven to be highly popular among theatre-goers; he is the Chairman and Artistic Director of Centre Stage Productions, a theatre company which has been a platform for many new talented young thespians to find their feet, voice, rhythm and moves on the boards. Recently, his much loved work Pyramus & Thisby performed at the Theatre Olympics in Delhi, is undoubtedly a significant step for Sri Lankan theatre in English, to gain exposure outside at international theatre festivals beyond our shores. In this feature, Jehan gives insight into the experience he and his troupe had at the Theatre Olympics and about his much loved Pyramus & Thisby which is now making its steps back on to the boards of the Wendt to enchant theatre-goers.

Q: You are one of the few practitioners of drama and theatre in our country who has made a full time occupation of English theatre. How rewarding has it been so far? The word ‘rewarding’ in this context not being limited to monetary gains.

A: The rewards are never monetary in amateur theatre in Sri Lanka. I’m always driven by my passion for the art form as well its power to transform the psyche of both practitioner and audience. The decision to leave my job in advertising to do theatre was in fact prompted by the post-disaster workshops I conducted around Sri Lanka for 3 years, immediately following the 2004 Tsunami. These workshops, and others with injured soldiers (both during and post-war), as well as with the disabled, are probably the most rewarding projects for me. I decided in 2005 that I wanted to make a change in people’s lives through theatre. I feel I’m doing that with each show.

“As I always say, with most projects, the process is occasionally more important than the show itself. The show is for the audience, but the process is for the actors. The positive emotional and physical transformations of each cast member makes it worth the effort. We have used theatre for teaching English as a second language, for psychosocial development and trauma therapy, as well as for post-war reconciliation. Most recently we initiated the Power of One workshops on bullying and ragging in addition to our Stage Hands Project volunteer work. It’s important to note that our humanitarian efforts are funded by any proceeds from our shows.

Q: Your adaptation of Shakespeare’s, A Mid Summer Night’s Dream as ‘Pyramus & Thisby’ has had notable success over the years. What went into the creation of this script? How big a creative investment was this project?

A: It’s literally been ‘12 Years of Enchantment’, as our slogan for our upcoming performance celebrates. I originally wanted to create an outdoor performance that would celebrate Sri Lankan theatre traditions. I had first staged adaptations of the play-within-a-play sub-plot of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1995 and 1996. I had always wanted to expand this into a show that we could take overseas to showcase the vibrant cultural dramaturgy of Sri Lanka.

The outdoor performance was billed as an ‘experiential’ theatre production. There was fire, dance, music and loud slapstick comedy from the ‘bawdy’ or ‘low-life’ characters of the artisans. This was juxtaposed with the most lyrical Shakespearean verse and fusion dance through the fairies. I’m glad to note that the show has been discussed and studied by University students, locally and overseas, who have been encouraged to write their dissertations and assignments on the show. As a troupe that has consistently created and promoted original Sri Lankan theatre locally and overseas, we are glad to have represented the country with this play which has also had a following of the expatriate community based here. The show uses dance as a narrative element as well.

All additions and adaptations of Shakespeare’s meta-narrative were done using dance, ballet and the Sinhala language in order to steer away from bastardising the Bard’s verse and prose.

My research led to working with practitioners in Matara and Weligama for the traditional Kolam, Thovil / Shanthikarma and other elements as well as the drumming. All the traditional masks were custom made by working practitioners and performers in Ambalangoda. In fact, some of the early performers of the show were from Matara.

The show is not meant to be a cultural pageant in any way. But, I do believe in fidelity of representation, so learning the correct rhythms and dance / movement forms was vital.

This said, the fairies allowed me to blend western-inspired fusion music and dance forms and break rules. The entire production was initially an experimental, eclectic experience, which thankfully, has been successfully staged regularly over 12 years. We hope our audiences will continue to enjoy our efforts in future as well.

Q: Recently, you took Pyramus & Thisby onto the boards of the ‘Theatre Olympics’ in Delhi, India. What was this theatre competition like? Can you give our readers some insight into this event?

A: The event was a wonderful showcase and celebration of international performances. As a non-competitive festival, the event brought together 25,000 artistes, 450 shows and 600 ambient performances over 3 months, in multiple states, in this year’s host country, India.

The Theatre Olympics were initiated in Greece and was last held in Poland two years before. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of the cast, and our host in India, The National School of Drama, made our stay enjoyable and luxurious as well.

We are thankful to the Presidential Secretariat for assistance in the flight costs, as well as various other donations from well-wishers who came forward when the corporate sector chose to ignore our requests for support. We performed in Delhi and Kolkata, and the show received excellent reviews and ovations.

The reviews published by scholars in the press, are humbling indeed, since they each had many shows - often on the same day - from around the world, over those three months. In fact, the cast felt like celebrities as they were literally mobbed onstage by super-fans after each show. I made sure the cast also had the opportunity to have some time to take in the best of the experience, though our schedule was very tight.

I am very proud of my cast indeed. My troupe has travelled around the globe with our shows, from India to Poland and Norway over the past 17 years. Our first play, ‘The Ritual’, travelled to India in 2002 and to Jaffna during the ceasefire in 2004. We have since represented the country at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Asia’s largest theatre festival, in 2015 and 2016, as well as with other shows including, ‘Pyramus & Thisby’.

Q: Why did you enter Pyramus & Thisby as your entry to this competition and not another of your original creations?

A: I felt ‘Pyramus & Thisby’ was the ideal celebration of local theatre traditions for the world platform. It is also a play that transcends language and a singular style. It is also interactive and experiential.

Q: Your theatre company, Centre Stage Productions is going to stage Pyramus & Thisby on the boards of the Lionel Wendt on Saturday, July 7. Will theatergoers who have seen this play before see any changes, new additions in the creative design or script in this latest performance?

A: I always believe that theatre is a living form, always in flux and evolving. It is never static, and dies when ‘fixed’. Pyramus & Thisby is no exception. It is also an evolving production, with high comedy and high-art in the form of verse theatre merging together. The occasionally bawdy slapstick is tempered with the interpretation of the Oberon & Titania fairy story, which has been expanded to a full-blown battle of the sexes.

The division, tension and reunification of the fairies also mirrors the historical context of the time in which the show was created, during the war-raged 2006.

It seems so far away now, but at that time I also wrote my hitherto un-staged musical, ‘Crossing The Line’. I hope to stage that musical soon, so I’m wooing musicians and performers to workshop the production.

Our July 7 show hopes to be a magical evening of family comedy. We encourage audiences to come at least 15 minutes before the show begins in order to enjoy our signature ‘pre-show’ which may be a surprising treat to those who have watched it on many occasions.

The box office is now open at the Lionel Wendt Theatre, call 0112695794. Online bookings will also be accepted at www.lionelwendt.org till two days before the show. Bulk reservations can be made on our hotline 0772949767. Also, you could follow us on Facebook on the Pyramus & Thisby or Centre Stage Productions pages.

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