Colombo is in the process of losing its drama theatres. The issue becomes critical following information regarding the possible moves to privatize the John De Silva Memorial Theatre. John De Silva Theatre is both historic and a popular drama venue, and affordable to producers and drama fans.
“There is a necessity of a modern theatre. Yet if it is going to be like Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre which is unaffordable then it would be a failure.” said M.Safeer, a dramatist and Committee Director of Colombo International Theatre Festival.
“ Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre is not a proper place to show dramas. One reason is it is financially impossible to access. The other thing is it is not a theatre itself. There are two types, one is the hall and the other is the theatre. Nelum Pokuna is an actual hall. But a theatre should be movable, adjustable and actors should be able to speak without mikes.” Safeer explained further.
According to him the government should develop culture, just it is developing roads. A developed culture is a sign of a developing country.
“Lumbini Theatre is just a stage. There are no proper lights. The roof is leaking. Though it was closed for some time for renovation nothing has been renewed. It is totally crippled.” said Safeer.
As Safeer voiced Elphinstone Theatre is also under renovation for more than five to six years.
“As far as I know even a new theatre can be constructed within such a period,” he said further. As Safeer mentioned Colombo is losing its all the theatres. The only one left is the Tower Hall Theatre.
“The government runs with our taxes. So they can give back the John de Silva Memorial Theatre without getting any profit. If they privatize the theatre what would happen is private sector will get the profit. The hiring cost will be unaffordable tickets will have to be priced high. We are driving people away from drama and the stage. Then the theatre would be unaffordable for the dramatists.” he commented. “If the government can give free health facilities and free education then it should also treat the minds of people through the arts”.
Priyankara Rathnayaka, artiste commented Sri Lankan drama is not developed due to its commercialization.
“If the drama is privatized it will decline. As artists we are highly against this move of selling John de Silva Memorial Theatre.”
“The present government can’t be trusted. If it is going to privatize art then it is easy for the government to privatize schools also.”
As he mentioned this should be a fight for the public and not only a fight of artistes.
“If the public keep silent on the matter then it is easy for the officials to privatize the theatre.” He added further. “ If any institute is privatized then it is closed for the public. And it cannot be trusted what will happen after it is privatized.”
According to actor, Wasantha Wittachchi John de Silva Memorial Theatre is the only theatre left in Colombo. As the dramatist request they need the Theatre back even without renovating.
As he mentioned Namel Malani Punchi Theatre is not enough as there are only about 200 seats. And in the Tower Hall Theatre also, there is not enough parking spaces.
“If the Theatre is privatized then it will cost Rs 75,000 but it is with the government the price will be less as Rs 15,000 or Rs 20,000. The dramatists won’t be able to use the Theatre and then another building will add to the list of bare buildings in Colombo.”
According to Deputy Director of The Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Sudeera Withana they are unaware of the matter.