My encounter with the "Void"
An experience at the recent Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition
During my short visit to Sri Lanka this year, I had the occasion to witness the Inter-School Shakespeare Drama Competition conducted by the YMCA, in Colombo. This, needless to say was, an uninvited return to my own teen days in which we, as school kids, had abundant fun taking part in drama (at times, to the horror of our sisters). I remember how the Shakespeare Contest was a main "date" we always strived to keep; and it is truly encouraging to see how, almost two decades later, the organizers of this competition have gone from strength to strength keeping up with the good work.
My visit to the Lionel Wendt on the 9th was not entirely pre-planned and I had the chance only to witness the Girls’ dramas and three of the Boys’ performances. But I was, to say the least, extremely impressed with what I saw. Of course, almost all the productions arrested me for the commitment these budding actors and actresses had put into their work. The stagecraft, the attention to detail and the fineness of the inter-play: I had to admit that school drama had leapt miles since our time. However, I made a promise to one of the schools participating from Kandy that I would write to the open press about their performance – for I, as an instructor in theater myself, saw enough reason to make such a promise and to fulfill it.
This school – as I later got to know it, Kingswood College from Kandy – staged a selection of scenes from Anthony and Cleopatra that showed a maturity I hardly expected from a school production. As I stated earlier, there was class in most of the performances that day. But, this outstation school, as far as their conceptualization of drama was concerned, had gone far in depth. What unveiled in their case was essentially a post-modernist and pseudo-feminist take on A&C – where the freshly defeated and morally devastated Anthony was represented on stage by a "void". In the conventional sense, Anthony "was not there". Anthony’s lines came from "the air" but he was physically absent on stage – which, I felt, was the best compliment one could pay the tragic general. Anthony’s presence (or absence) was marked by the lighting, as a spot kept following Anthony’s "supposed" movements on stage.
In contrast, Cleopatra’s characterization was both emotive and simultaneously charismatic – a blend that highlighted her elegance and energy at the verge of defeat. At one point Anthony does retain substance – but, that is after he stabs himself and succumbs to his wounds. Anthony being a void while alive and his post-death retaining of form, to me, further enriches the "centrality" of Cleopatra – a factor the performers tried to essentialize throughout the production.
I have seen different kinds of drama at various levels. But, I never expected an outstation high school to engage in such theoretically informed theater. Well, now I know better. I had the chance to speak and to pass my warmest regards to the "producer" (or, consultant, as he said he was supposed to be known) of this, our po-mo A&C: an interesting young man who introduced himself as Vihanga. He had many things on offer regarding the current literary scene in Sri Lanka (which need not necessarily be drawn here). According to him, the Kingswood showdown was neatly planned and rehearsed over four weeks and was a synthesis of the energies of his colleague Mr. Marlon Ariyasinghe, the "boys" and himself.
However, I promised Vihanga that I will highlight their memorable show if I was given the space, and I thank your newspaper for allowing me the opportunity to do so. As a person who once indulged in drama with a passion and as a teacher of theatre, I think there is much one can do to identify the hidden potential within the school circuit of our country – specially the outstations, where the opportunities are not too forthcoming.
Keep up the good work YMCA! Others who are genuinely interested in drama – please join in and throw in your lot!