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Anasuya Subasinghe found musical theater interesting, entertaining and fun, but after some time realized that she wanted to take her studies beyond Broadway Theater | (Pics by Gihan Alwis)

“The biggest challenge in Indika Ferdinando’s latest play ‘The Irresistible Rise of Mr. Signno’ was to find the resources including the best suited actors,” said Olfactory Designer and an actress in the play Anasuya Subasinghe in an interview with The Nation. ‘The Irresistible Rise of Mr. Signno’ is the creative component of Indika’s research which explores the performative elements in Sinhalese ritual practices and the transposition of these elements in contemporary theatre.

With a narrative that draws from ritual, fairytale, mythology, folklore and Buddhism, this play incorporates Sri Lankan traditional dance, mask, pyrotechnics, acrobatics and musical compositions in folk fusion.  “The play required people who are skilled in low country dance, who can act, who can play traditional drums, have the ability to sing and who have a sound knowledge of English. It was a tough task and he spent a quite a lot of time selecting the cast, “she said.

Studying theater changed her view on stage plays that it made her believe that theater is something which goes beyond mere entertainment. “People shouldn’t come into the theater and just laugh and walk away. They need to take something away to think about”

Award winning stage actress Anasuya said the drama team is currently undergoing a rigorous rehearsal process preparing for the upcoming debut of the play. “Directing the play Indika looks into a lot of details and this demands a lot of discipline from the actors,” she mentioned adding that the play consists of 20 actors, which is a large number for a usual theater production. “Endurance is something that the play really demands from the actors, and for actors like me who are self-trained, involving in the drama was an excellent training process.”

Notebook-of-an-achieverAnasuya said that her passion for theater began to grow even before she joined school. She believes that the first stage play she ever witnessed could be the reason behind her inspiration in the theater career. “I remember Dr. Sarachchandra’s Singhabahu. I was mesmerized watching the play. I didn’t understand the language back then, but I understood the story. It was magical for my five-year-old self. I still remember where I was seated. I suppose it had a great influence on me,” she recalled.

She first started with the English theater which was outside school.  She engaged in the school theater towards the end of her school career, but started working with the theater committedly after she left school and joined Jerome de Silva’s theater workshops.

“Musical theater was interesting, entertaining and it was a lot of fun to do. But after some time I realized that I want to study theater beyond Broadway Theater. There was something missing in what I did and I wanted to find out what it was,” she said.

She said she noticed a significant gap between Sinhala theater and English theater in Sri Lanka. Sinhala theater is what mostly familiar to the country, but what was addressed by the English Theater was different from what was addressed by Sinhala Theater.

Anasuya left the country to New Zealand to study theater further. She joined University of Waitkato and studied subject in depth. This is where she was influenced to decide which kind of theater she wanted to practice when she returns to her motherland.

Studying theater changed her view on stage plays that it made her believe that theater is something which goes beyond mere entertainment. “People shouldn’t come into the theater and just laugh and walk away. They need to take something away to think about”.
Over the years she has contributed to a number of Sinhala and English theater productions including Rajitha Dissanayaka’s Apahu Harenna Be, Indika Ferdinando’s Colombo Colombo and Piyal Kariyawasam’s Rahas Udawiya (the secretive people). In 2005 Anasuya won the Best Supporting Actress Award for the character she played in ‘Master Builder’ and in 2010 she was able to bag the award for the Best Actress for her performances in ‘Colombo Colombo’ at the State Theater Festival.

Her first play after returning to the country was Ibsen’s ‘The Master Builder ‘adapted to Sinhala by Piyal Kariyawasam. After that she started working with Sinhala Theater. The best thing about Sinhala Theater is that it continues for years rather than just completing a season. This gives the opportunity to the dramatists to present their work in front of different audiences. In different parts of the country the plays would make a different impact,” she iterated adding that the theater shouldn’t be Colombo centric. “As a performer, this gives me opportunity to reinvent my performances, keep growing and understand the play better.”

Speaking about the English theater in Sri Lanka she identified that the English dramas are mostly Colombo centric. “English dramas always seemed to be stagnated around the comfortable zone in Colombo. It needs to go beyond that. But I am not sure whether this will happen any time soon,” she stressed.

“It could be the facilities and expenses and an attempt to maintain the standards of the play,” she pointed out. Yet, she said that this can’t be seen in the Sinhala Theater that it always tries to go out of the town regardless the limitations in facilities. “Although we have taken Sinhala theater productions out of Colombo, the performances have never been compromised. We have always adapted to the facilities which we could get hold of,” she said emphasizing that theater doesn’t have to be an expensive affair. “Theater should be closer to people, more down to earth.”

Anasuya said that in stage plays, she needs to be able to relate to the characters and the socio-political situation of the play she takes part in. She should feel the impact which the producer is trying to make in order to produce the best performance possible.

Currently she is engaged with her PhD studies in theater performances in Victoria University Melbourne focused on Kolam Rituals.  She is engaged with Indika Ferdinando’s play, which is also a PhD research project, while she is in the country for her field work. She said that her research project too might turn into a play as she is writing it at the moment. “Indika’s play is also practice based research. There are similarities in the research procedures therefore it is a learning process to me,” she said. “By the end of the performance it might support the research or it might challenge the research. Whichever, we have to wait until the end to find out,” she added.

She said that Indika’s play will be an immersive, all sensory theater experience. “You can’t call the audience spectators in this play. They will be attendees who are present at the performance and the play will be tapping into all human senses including the mind,” she further explained. “Therefore this will be a different kind of an experience.”

Commenting on foreign theater adaptations in Sri Lanka, Anasuya said that she finds the theater adaptations in the country satisfactory that most of our dramatists have found a way to link the stories into our society and culture creating our own identity. “A drama script isn’t fixed to be done in a certain way. It is important to find our own identity in every production we do. It doesn’t have to be a carbon copy,” she explained.

“Why should a dramatist do a carbon copy of a drama when there are so many different ways of enacting it on stage?” she queried. “When we explore a version that is more close to us, it will create a better stage play,” she opined.


A play that transcends audio-visual experience
THE IRRESISTIBLE RISE OF MR. SIGNNO

Playwright and director Indika Ferdinando who has received state theatre awards for several plays including Colombo Colombo and Janadipathi Thaththa will be presenting his latest production ‘The Irresistible Rise of Mr. Signno’ on  October 10 and 11 at the Asoka College Gymnasium in Maradana. The show, on both days, will commence at 6.30 pm.

Indika is a senior lecturer at the Drama, Ballet and Modern Dance Department at the University of the Visual and Performing Arts in Colombo. He is at present reading for a practice-led PhD in directing theatre at Monash University, Australia. This new play is the creative component of his research which explores the performative elements in Sinhalese ritual practices and the transposition of these elements in contemporary theatre. With a narrative that draws from ritual, fairytale, mythology, folklore and Buddhism, the play incorporates Sri Lankan traditional dance, mask, pyrotechnics, acrobatics and musical compositions in folk fusion. Transcending the audio-visual experience generated by conventional theatre, various fragrances will be released and food will be served to attendees during the performance.

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