Kolkata, June 15, 2015: Sri Lanka needs India's help to establish the concept of theatre as a tool for education, says veteran Sri Lankan theatre personality Parakrama Niriella, heaping praise on the 'theatre in education' innovation that has sparked interest in his country's theatre circuit.
Hailed as one of the pioneers of street theatre in Sri Lanka, the 66-year-old Niriella, a critically-acclaimed name in the country's television and cinema circuit, initiated the idea of mobile theatre and founded 'Janakaraliya' (theatre of the people) - a multi ethnic mobile drama troupe.
"There is a new trend in Sri Lankan people... people are inquisitive about what is happening in theatre in India, particularly the way theatre is applied as an educational tool and is spreading all over India," Niriella told IANS during a visit here.
Through mobile theatre productions in Sinhala and Tamil, Niriella has since 2003 tried to spread the message of peaceful coexistence among the multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies of the island nation in the Indian Ocean.
In the mobile theatre format, the group uses a collapsible theatre and travels through districts with "three lorry loads" of props and equipment, conducting educational programmes for schooling communities, youth and marginalized people in addition to staging dramas.
The mobile theatre's first foreign outing was in 2014 at Kerala's 6th International Theatre Festival.
"Since the country is an island, it's very rare that new things come into theatre; so we are now trying to change. We are impressed by the National School of Drama's theatre in Education (TIE) company and we need help from India to push that idea in Sri Lanka," Niriella said, lauding the mushrooming of NSD centres across India.
The main barrier so far has been the lack of support for theatre from the government as well as the public.
"We have a big problem; it's very difficult to convey the necessity of theatre and drama to our government and our people and now, applied theatre methods of teaching are being used as a tool of education.
We need to promote them in our school system," the Rajagiriya-based director said. But the ace scriptwriter sees some hope.
"Now the government has changed and the president and the prime minister need us to do that (promote theatre in schools). We have a proposal. We also need to introduce an arts and culture act to bring changes in theatre education," he said.
In addition, Niriella also wants to restart the workshops conducted by Indian theatre-persons in Sri Lanka, which were discontinued in 2002.
"We need again to coordinate with NSD to get some teachers there," stressed Niriella, who was inspired by Indian theatre legend Habib Tanvir to add beauty to street and village theatre. Among Janakaraliya's repertoire is 'Charandas', the Sinhalese and Tamil adaptation of Tanvir's iconic play 'Charandas Chor'. "In 1978, I came to Raipur to participate in a workshop conducted by Habib Tanvir.
He had an answer to my question (how to add aesthetics and quality through music and dance). The dramas performed by his folk theatre group had beautiful outcomes and were performed on open air stages," Niriella reminisced. (Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)