The State and Fate of Theatre | Sunday Observer

The State and Fate of Theatre

5 July, 2020
Jehan  Aloysius
Jehan Aloysius

A feature series of Q&A interviews with Sri Lankan theatre practitioners on perceptions and perspectives of what lies ahead for Sri Lankan theatre as the world grapples with a pandemic that calls for ‘social distancing’.

Starting off ‘The State and Fate of Theatre’, this series of email based Q&A type interview features, is one of Sri Lankan English theatre’s most prominent practitioners who holds a reputation as an accomplished director, playwright, choreographer, and actor, whose pursuit of theatre has had a pioneering effect on Sri Lanka’s robust English theatre through his creation of original musicals in English, such as ‘Rag – The Musical’, as well as a host of other original English stage plays as ‘Bengal Bungalow’, ‘Pyramus and Thisby’, and ‘Stormy Weather’ which have unfailingly delighted Sri Lankan theatregoers over the years.

Thus, I present to the readers of the Sunday Observer Jehan Aloysius, founder of Centre Stage Productions who shares with us, what he sees, as the road ahead in his journey in theatre, as Sri Lanka adapts to life in a world dealing with the curtailment of a global pandemic.

Q. In the face of social distancing becoming more or less an official regulation by the state authorities to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, have you at present any plans for theatre productions in the next two years?

A: I do have 2-3 shows planned for next year and beyond. Two are original musicals, 'Venus United' and 'Serendipity', which my troupe and I have been in development and workshops for the past year. We also plan a one day performance of our popular 'Pyramus & Thisby' to celebrate 15 years of the show.

Q. Did the lockdown which began in March this year and the current situation halt any productions you had already planned?

A: We were rehearsing 'Venus United' and had even planned a special preview at the British Council in March to celebrate Women's Month. We postponed the preview due to the restrictions.

Many of our purchases from overseas for costumes and props have been stuck in the mail for the last four months. Our rehearsals shifted to group chats online.

We do hope to be ready to stage the show when we can safely rehearse and gather an audience. We are thankful that our regular partners such as Cargills and the British Council have been understanding and supportive of the delays.

Q. You are an artiste as well as an instructor and teacher in theatre. In your opinion how hard an impact does this current pandemic situation pose to the theatre community in terms of the established practitioners and students who are aspiring artistes?

A: We as artistes do not have a regular income. Nor do we have health insurance or benefits, bonuses or promotions. Almost 95% of our regular work has disappeared since March due to the virus.

It's certainly not an easy time for artistes around the world. However, I personally used the time to write and revise my shows as well as to compose, perform and record the music for my musicals. None of these pay, obviously, but, ‘the show’ must, of course, ‘go on’.

I have also been conducting free online coaching for singers and young performers. This also helps me to keep my skills ready for when work resumes. It may even lead to me taking on paid students as groups if I have time to do so later.

Q. Do you think the proscenium theatre will get temporarily torn out of Colombo’s urban socio-cultural fabric in the next year or two?

A: I believe that theatre will return sooner than we expect, if all act responsibly to eliminate the risk of this virus. Outdoor performances and alternative spaces are also great alternatives.

As theatre practitioners, we are quite used to adapting to new spaces and audiences.

We also have a responsibility and drive to really find our audiences and entertain and educate with the performances we create and present. Mobile theatre, intimate performances and socially distanced spaces may be some ways to reach our audiences and for theatre to survive the virus.