Somalatha Subasinghe Theatre Festival for Young Audiences: Replace ‘Hate’ with ‘Humanity’ | Sunday Observer

Somalatha Subasinghe Theatre Festival for Young Audiences: Replace ‘Hate’ with ‘Humanity’

1 December, 2019

The annual Theatre Festival for Children presented by Somalatha Subasinghe Play House is indeed a theatrical treat for kids during school vacation and the festival is back on the boards at the Lionel Wendt Theatre from December 6 to 8 at 3.30pm and 6.45pm.

The festival will feature Punchi Apata Dan therei (We Know it Now) and Thoppi Welenda (The Hat Seller) written and directed by veteran dramatist Somalatha Subasinghe on December 6 at 3.30pm and 6.45pm. Walas Paula (The Three Bears and Goldilocks) written by Somalatha Subasinghe and directed by Chandana Aluthge will be staged on December 7 and 8 at 3.30pm and 6.45pm.

Over decades of productive involvement, especially with theatre, the late Somalatha Subasinghe has gifted numerous children’s plays for generations of children in the country. Her dedication to revolutionizing children’s and youth theatre as an educationist was remarkable. Through her tenderness and substantial talent in the field of theatre, she very well understood the psyche of children. She knew the language to touch upon the deepest emotions of children through her magical creations. While her creativity was mostly inspired by folktales and fairytales, the significance of her theatrical narration was that she always tried to eliminate the binaries suggested through the patriarchal society. This significant character can be seen in many of her productions. She never encouraged reproducing ideas of hate, punishment, isolation or ignorance in her plays. Rather, she brought love, humanity, empathy and compassion to the forefront of her every creative endeavour. For example, in the play Walas Paula (The Three Bears and Goldilocks) inspired by internationally acclaimed folktale, she consciously brought a paradigm shift for the ending of the original story. That is, although according to the original story, the little girl lost in the woods mistakenly walked into the Bear’s house and messed up everything there, runs away with fear when the three bears returned home. The original story ends by punishing the little girl for her mischievousness by isolating her further and making her life miserable. Contrarily, in Walas Paula, when the little girl tries to escape with fear of the bear family, the story takes another angle when the little bear invites her to play with him. So that, the poor girl who was lost in the woods, finally feels safe and loved. Likewise, in all her plays the key message was humanity irrespective of the situation.

“Beautifully crafted these three musical productions are produced with the intention of instilling in children, a sense of basic art forms and pride in our own culture. They also encourage them to understand the importance of family and its values. Also the lessons of love, humanity, responsibility, hard work and world awareness are refreshingly presented in these plays which is the foundation of Somalatha’s productions,” said Founder member of Play House and Director, Dr. Chandana Aluthge.

Describing the legacy of the late Somalatha Subasinghe, Dr Aluthge added, “In the adaptations, new characters and situations have been incorporated to facilitate an intellectual discourse with the Sri Lankan child, while action and humour on stage are subtly mixed to provide the audience with an aesthetic journey of entertainment.”

With the noble determination of cultivating humanity through art, Somalatha Subasinhe established the Somalatha Subasinghe Play House (SSPH) in 1981 a voluntary organisation to further the cause of theatre for Children and Youth in Sri Lanka. Over the years, it has produced a repertoire of internationally acclaimed theatre for Children and Youth and award-winning mainstream theatre productions. The professional theatre group has showcased Sri Lankan culture at a number of international Children’s theatre festivals in Europe and Asia.

Numerous plays produced through SSPH have been prescribed for several Grades of national school curricula. Thoppi Velenda (The Hat Seller) is the prescribed text for Grade 7 Sinhala Language and Literature of the national curriculum. Also Thoppi Velenda has been performed at numerous children’s threatre festivals in France, India, Bangladesh, Australia and South Korea. Punchi Apata Dan Therei is the prescribed text for Drama and Theatre for Grade 6 and Sinhala Language and Literature for Grade 9 of the National curriculum.

If you grew up with Somalatha Subasinghe’s beautiful plays and enjoyed them as a child, now is the time for you to introduce them to your children. If neither you nor your child has ever seen them, then this theatre festival will be a real treat for this holiday season.