To art or not to art? | Daily News

To art or not to art?

Thespian’s plight in a pruned society

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players... as the great bard himself, William Shakespeare, once famously said. Oh, how sweet the sound of drama, forsooth! Timeless, it is, whether 'twas performed long since, today, or in the years to come. Such plays doth touch our hearts, for we are but human. Macbeth, a tale of regicide, it speaks of the ambition of a great warrior. In truth, such things have happened in the past, and lo, do we not witness them happening in our present? Might they not happen again in centuries yet to come? And then there's Romeo and Juliet, a story of love that was doomed from the start. Such a tragedy hath befallen others before, and even now we see it happening in our midst. Shall it not also come to pass in days yet to be?

Indeed, drama is a medium of expression that playwrights do use to shine a light upon the sociopolitical issues of life. Today, I speak with Priyankara Rathnayake whose play Rathu Ves Muhunu based on Sophocles' Oedipus, shall be performed at the Elphinstone Theatre on March 3 at 3.30 and 6.30 pm. Come, all you players, and witness this masterpiece on the grand stage!

Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and a little about this ambitious play of yours?

A. I have worked with Dhamma Jagoda and Somalatha Subasinghe. I have also worked with foreign thespians/artistes. As a professional thespian I have done five or six plays. Also as a drama teacher at University, I have directed plays in order to educate my students. Now, Rathu Ves Muhunu is a play based on Oedipus by Sophocles that I did with my students in 2001/2002. That was done for the purpose of education. This time I am directing it as a professional play. I have also done a Sinhala translation/adaptation of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. I also produced Antigone by Sophocles. Rathu Ves Muhunu is an adaptation of Oedipus by Sophocles. This is my latest. From my childhood I have loved reading books and theatre and film. My father worked at Ceylon Theatres Company and my mum also watched films and read books. After passing my A/Ls I joined the State Film School and did a one- year diploma course there. There I was exposed to legends like Sarachchandra, Dayananda Gunawardena, Sugathapala de Silva, Somalatha Subasinghe and Ranjith Dharmakeerthi, who taught there. This opened up new avenues for me to perform. I also had the opportunity to work with some of them. When I joined campus, I opted to study Cinema. There I metVasantha Obeysekera who taught us. Later I had the privilege of working with him. I also had the good fortune of working with Tissa Abeysekara while I was a university student.

Q: What is it about the world of Drama that fascinates you?

A:The field of drama is subject to constant change. Drama is also influenced by our creativity. As society changes, so does drama. As we change, so does drama. It is sociopolitical. It is an expression of our minds. What we have experienced in life, we bring to life on stage. That is why drama is so extraordinary. These plays that we do, were performed centuries ago. Yet the themes and what they speak of is relevant to us even today. If you take Shakespeare or Sophocles, the subject matter is something we can appreciate even today. The plot and the story line is similar to what we are experiencing in society and all over the world. History as we know, often repeats itself.

Q: What do you feel is the purpose or objective of drama?

A: We know that in the history of our country there have been turbulent times – political struggles and insurgencies. This is not only in Sri Lanka, it happens throughout the world. In many parts of the world there is discrimination. These realities of life can be brought to the stage. This is why we say that drama creates change. Our thoughts, ideas and beliefs can be expressed on the stage through drama. It can be a powerful force for education. Today we are forced to question the effectiveness of our education system. Just look at what we have seen on TV this month. A father kills his children. A mother commits suicide leaving her children behind. A driver runs over two puppies on the road. A student commits suicide over a broken phone. The husband of a teacher is murdered by some students in the school. We need to ask ourselves why this is happening? Is our education system to be blamed? Where have we gone wrong? What is the state of our education system? I think drama can play a part in changing society. Personally I think that as a society we have become somewhat separated from the Arts. I feel that Arts can play a crucial role in humanizing us. Changing the system is in the hands of the people. But peoples’ minds can be changed by the arts.

Q: How would you describe the current state of the drama industry?

A: In our country Drama and the arts is not lucrative. Doing a play does not make you immensely rich. It is not regarded as a profession in Sri Lanka. If I did not do my job, I could not do drama. Most of us do our jobs as a way to make a living, and we devote our spare time to doing drama.

Q:What is your interpretation of the growing disconnect between society and the Arts that you mentioned earlier?

A: I don’t see Art as something we can live without. I think every child born into this world is an artiste. A child can dance, a child can sing, a child can draw and a child can recite a poem. But what our education system does is, it prunes the child. What our society does is, it prunes the child. I think this is why we see a society in such disorder. Every man and woman born into the world is an artiste. But the really amazing thing is that some humans do not lose this ability. By some miracle it resurfaces in their lives. That enjoyment has not left them. And then they branch out into different fields. If you take me, I have chosen drama – acting and directing.

Q: Can you describe your approach to adapting and presenting the play Oedipus?

A. I am doing what many thespians have done throughout our times. We do adaptations. We base our plays on the originals. We are inventive. That is the ideal word to use - inventive. Just think of the play Hamlet. Hamlet is one play by Shakespeare that has been done in so many ways that it has become one of the most widely used plays in history. It has been done in so many modern ways. Shakespeare is a playwright whose plays are absolutely adored! I mean everyone loves his plays! Because it has so much potential for adaptation.

Again, as I have pointed out before in this interview, we relate to drama. Now in my play Rathu Ves Muhunu, yes it is based on Sophocles’ Oedipus, but at the same time it is not Sophocles’ Oedipus! It has something of my inventiveness. I recently got to know that an adaptation of Hamlet was done in India. It was totally Indian! Even one on Macbeth was done in Malayalam style. It was different from the normal Shakespeare’s Macbeth that we have seen. But of course the creator stated that it was inspired by Shakespeare. At this very moment somewhere in the world, something like what is described in Macbeth could be happening now – the murder of a King.



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