Thinking beyond the shores of Lanka | Sunday Observer

Thinking beyond the shores of Lanka

M. Safeer
M. Safeer

The much awaited Colombo International Theatre Festival 2019 kicks off today at the Elphinstone Theatre, Colombo, with theatrical performances from seven countries, including, Germany, America, Rumania, Austria, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. This is the eighth consecutive year of CITF organized by Inter Act Art, a collective of theatre artists who have dedicated themselves to the development of theatre art, which has a vibrant history and a potential future. They have been involved in the various cultural and art endeavours for the past few decades and CITF is one of the best art endeavours they have gifted to the Sri Lankan theatre scene.

This year, CITF is felicitating Sri Lankan veteran theatre artist Dr. Jayalath Manorathna, for his decades’ long contribution to theatre when he marks the 50th year of being involved in theatre. He is one of the most senior living theatre artists in the country today.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, the Festival director, M. Safeer, known for his diligent involvement in upgrading the Sri Lankan theatre in the international arena, said, “we are pleased to host the Colombo International Theatre Festival for the 8th consecutive year. Although we had to postpone the event by a few months due to the unfortunate Easter Sunday attack, it’s encouraging to note the support and the trust that international artists have exhibited to us by showing up for the festival with their brilliant theatre productions.”

CITF is a non-competitive event which calls for applications via online. The applicant should be able to meet the air fare of the production team while the rest of the facilities would be provided by the festival for those selected. According to Safeer, this year the CITF has received more than 180 applications from around the world and for the first round they have shortlisted 27 productions, of which the eight best have been selected. The theme this year is, focus on children and the young adult. However, the comparison of a young adult from Europe and one from South Asia is rather debatable. The culture, norms and thinking could be vastly different, and how we treat a young adult and the European attitude towards them would also differ. “Selecting theatre plays is a challenging task as we have to consider cultural differences and barriers as well. There’s a vast difference between the culture and understanding of a Sri Lankan and a European young adult. The subjects which a European young adult would discuss openly would be taboo here in Sri Lanka, which even adults may not wish to discuss openly. Therefore, it’s a tough task, with many controversies to be faced, especially, by the selection committee when dealing with the main focus of the Festival. However, we consider this festival as an eye opener to broaden the horizons and think beyond the island mentality,” Safeer said.

This year CITF has five local award winning productions, namely, Do re mi fa so la ti by Sachithra Rahubaddha, Nokiya Hitapu deyak by Nalin Lusena, Menna Ape Rajjuruwo by D.K. Atigala, Fight Fancy by Nimasha Fernando and Grease Yaka Returns by Rajitha Hettiarachchi / Nishantha de Silva.

As in all previous years, there is a series of workshops and discussions organised at the Goethe Institut Colombo featuring distinguished local and foreign theatrical professionals and directors. These workshops and discussions have created many opportunities for local artists to learn about theatre practices in other parts of the world and share and expand their knowledge.

The Colombo International Theatre Festival is the only international theatre festival which has been thriving for years, and has became a reality with the undying determination of Safeer and his team of theatre lovers. It is definitely not an easy task to sustain for years, without a soulful commitment and clear mission. However, although today, CITF is an established and recognised festival in the world, his mission is yet to be fulfilled. “My dream is to have a moving festival around the country. It is unfortunate that we have to restrict the festival to Colombo due to limited funds. Almost every established as well as amateur theatre artists in the country are from the outstation areas. They have made their names in the field and according to my experience we get the most engaging audiences outside Colombo.

Therefore, it’s unfair to limit all cultural art works to Colombo. So the next step would be to move around the country and I hope we would be able to make it a reality soon,” Safeer said.