The State and Fate of Theatre | Sunday Observer

The State and Fate of Theatre

16 August, 2020

Lihan Mendis is a passionate young theatre practitioner who has been devoted to theatre from his schooldays at S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia.

Over the years I have seen him perform on stage, in productions as Jerome L. De Silva’s Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From the Bridge presented by the Workshop Players in 2016, and Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew presented by Combined Theatre Company in 2017, directed by the late Vinodh Senadheera and Delon Weerasinghe. In 2018 Lihan made his directorial debut through Broken Leg Theatre Company’s production of U.S playwright Rajiv Joseph’s two character stage play, Gruesome Playground Injuries.

His commitment to fostering theatre in Sri Lanka has motivated him to take on the role of a drama and theatre trainer for schoolchildren, and directing school productions.

In this seventh instalment of The State and Fate of Theatre, Lihan Mendis, a young and ardent theatre practitioner of the new generation, discusses the challenges he and his colleagues in theatre faced due to the lockdown earlier this year, and also his views on what he sees as the future of theatre.

Q. Did the lockdown halt any theatre activities you had planned and were in the course of putting into action? How much of a backlash has the current pandemic situation caused your plans as a theatre artiste and practitioner?

A. Yes. Mind Adventures Theatre Company was in the rehearsal stages for our new play Maya which we staged last year, in which I was acting and producing as part of the company. We had planned to tour the play around the country. There were other projects that we as a company were to announce later in the year but had to shut down or put on the backburner indefinitely.

In my view, the pandemic has forced all theatre artistes and theatre companies to diversify. Theatre as we knew it, is no more and it is ludicrous to assume that things will return to the way they were.

I am referring to the new policies of social distancing that are vital to public health and safety but obviously affect the relationship between theatre artistes and their audiences in the confines of a theatre space. Coming to this realisation was difficult as it meant that I, along with many others had to restructure. But that’s life.

Q. Schoolchildren who are very passionate about drama and theatre will try to further their scope in theatre by getting involved in public theatre productions. Will there be sufficient opportunities for such youngsters in the next two to three years due to the pandemic situation? How could their aspirations in theatre get affected in the next few years?

A. Schoolchildren must be afforded every opportunity, but within reason and in keeping with public health and safety regulations of course, to perform and develop their skills. If I were to make a safe guess, I would say that by the middle of this decade we will have shifted comfortably into the age of ‘digitised theatre’ which is a hybrid of theatre and film.

In this connection, I can see children being involved in large scale digitised theatre productions with a limited physical audience yet performing to a potentially unlimited digital audience.

This in my view is huge! We cannot deny the impact of film on theatre, nor look at aspirations in theatre from the same lens any longer.

Q. As a theatre practitioner you have experience in both traditional proscenium theatre as well as more non-traditional, ‘experimental’ theatre. Do you think this current situation will see proscenium theatre getting more adversely affected and the growth of more experimental theatre approaches especially among the younger generation of theatre enthusiast?

A. Without question, it is clear that theatre spaces which are confined to the four walls across the board and cinemas alike have been adversely affected by this air borne pandemic.

Until it comes to a point where socially distanced theatre can cease to exist- traditional, non-traditional and experimental theatre practice will have to adopt a policy and adapt by reconfiguring staging, seating and choice of venue for whatever play is being rehearsed or developed.

In my view, this adaptation may lead to an increased interest in experimental theatre among the youth.

Yet we must take into account that that growth – if any - is a byproduct of innovation that has been spurred on by necessity.