theatre for change: Moves on stage with humane touch | Daily News

theatre for change: Moves on stage with humane touch

Hope is one of the strongest forces on earth, and hope is what Jehan Aloysius uses to free the mind through his vision which is CentreStage Productions. The Founder and Artistic Director of CentreStage Productions Aloysius, uses this hope which is within all of us, to make us dream that which may appear impossible and make it possible. Dramatic Moves features CentreStage Productions where self- belief transcends barriers.

"I first started directing way back in 1995. I did not have CentreStage productions as a name, but in 2001, I decided to establish my own theatre troupe, to focus on new writing for the stage. Our focus has always been on developing young writers, performers, directors and dramatists and really nurture those talents and to create a Sri Lankan identity in literature as well by creating new works, that can be taken to other countries," said Aloysius.

CentreStage also focuses on forum theatre and using theatre for social change - such as working with people affected by the Tsunami and the Civil War in Sri Lanka. So there is a vast amount of activity CentreStage has done.

"We also initiated the 'Stage Hands Project' which is my humanitarian arm. We use the proceeds from my plays to do our humanitarian work on a voluntary basis and we don't charge money. Every year we do one major humanitarian project last year for example we worked with victims of bullying and then the previous year we worked with the disabled. Those are some of the things we have been doing through Centre Stage," stated Aloysius.

It was the Sunera Foundation that invited him to work with the disabled soldiers during the war.

"I decided to work with Rana Viru Sevana and I started to formulate techniques for teaching as well as for performing these plays. When I work with the disabled and young people, you see the transformative nature of the process. Because of the loss of a limb and the lack of confidence - some of the soldiers felt ugly and deformed, they felt it was karma and they were ready to die at a certain age. And now they are travelling with choreographers and theatre practitioners around the world as performers," pointed out Aloysius.

Aloysius left his comfortable job in advertising to follow his dream of using theater for change. You may not be able to change the world but the scope and power of theatre is a really powerful tool, to open up the minds of the audience. The actors and actresses grapple with their individual issues and transform the communities.

"We did Tchaikovsky's 'Swan lake' and 'Nutcracker'. When we did 'Swan Lake' it became world news and featured on CNN and BBC. It became hugely successful. As a result of that, these soldiers were thrust into prominence. They soldiers said that even though they had lost a limb, because of the praise they received, they thought they had really done something," added Aloysius.

Aloysius maintains that he does not see the disability within people, but the ability that they have not identified - That they themselves are not ready to accept they have.

"Swan Lake featured Soldiers as well as people with various disabilities from Down Syndrome to the deaf. Even my 'Nutcracker' featured those performers. Ballet is dance and music, and you are working with soldiers who have lost both or one leg. The deaf cannot hear the music so you are working with visual cues and physical cues. If you take the musical 'Rag', it talks about University ragging and these issues are swept under the carpet for various reasons. People need to be reminded that this does exist. It is institutionalized bullying and it has been here for as long as we can remember. The absolute horror of ragging and ragging related violence and the vested interests people have in letting this continue is something we need to open peoples' minds to," explained Aloysius.

Aloysius's plays also deal with mental illness and child abuse. After the Tsunami the focus was on psychosocial development such as teaching children to play.

"So for this I worked with CARE, British Council and the National Child Protection Authority. We wanted to help children who have lost everything. I believe the universe conspires to send people to meet me and work with me. They get the opportunity to explore their full potential. They might have an issue they are grappling with. And it becomes a safe space to explore their full potential," added Aloysius.

'The Ritual' is another play which is important to Aloysius. It was shortlisted for the Gratiean Award. Aloysius was shortlisted for the Gratiean twice.

"I am also doing 'Pyramus and Thisby' which is a re- adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'. I took the two smaller plots and made it into a fully- fledged out performance and I have set it in Sri Lanka in the early 1900's but used fusion music as well as contemporary elements to make it accessible. I used Shakespeare's text, dance, sinhala language and that play suddenly became a phenomenon. So it was performed numerous times. It received standing ovations by local and international audiences.

CentreStage will represent Sri Lanka at the Theatre Olympics in India showcasing Pyramus and Thisbe. The entire troupe numbering 15 will go to the Theatre Olympics," explained Aloysius.

Aloysius instantly identifies leaders because the stage is where leaders are born.

"I don't look at what you have done, I look at what I have, and what kind of opportunity I can give the person. It is up to you to embrace it and become a star. When I worked with soldiers without limbs I got them to do the most amazing things that they themselves couldn't believe they could do. Some of these soldiers had just lost their legs. They were still figuring out how to walk and here I was trying to make them dance," said Aloysius.

Actor Dion Nanayakkara, came from Kandy to Colombo in search of a theatre company to join and made the right choice joining CentreStage.

"I found CentreStage productions. I first joined the production 'Bengal Bungalow' for which I auditioned for a couple of roles. But as Jehan says, it is not the role you want, it is the role that is right for you. But I stayed on because I realized there was something in CentreStage which is quite different. After 'Bengal Bungalow' I became part of Jehan's core team in CentreStage productions," said Nanayakkara.

For him, it was a childhood passion that he achieved through CentreStage.

"I have always been into the Arts. Performing on stage is a thrill that you can't really quantify. Being on stage and being applauded is something which you can't measure. That element of performance is something I have wanted to be a part of ever since I was a child. In terms of drama there is always that thrill of playing someone else," stated Nanayakkara.

The highlight of his career is 'Rag'. That was his debut performance on the public stage as a public performer performing on CentreStage.

"In CentreStage we find there is always more to drama. In Rag it was not just the performance. It was the message that was given. We tell people about the important issues in society through a performance. So while you are entertaining them, you are educating them about what they need to know. It was an adventure. There was a lot of learning and a lot of emotions that went with it and there was a lot of passion from a lot of people that went into that production.

'Rag' was a very strong play in terms of what it did to the people who took part in it and also to whoever it spoke to. I played the role of Joseph which is the lead role. There are characteristics of Joseph that resonated with myself as a person. It was quite wonderful to play the role. There were a lot of things I had in common with the character," explained Nanayakkara.

Actor Kavishka Perera, a self-taught dancer had the moves, but CentreStage helped him become something much more.

"I actually walked into an audition for 'Rag'. I came in as a dancer. In my process throughout the drama, I realized that it was the ideal place for me. I have been into dancing and I am a self-taught dancer. All my skills were taken to a very different level with the training I got," said Perera.

He is quick to point out that what they learn at CentreStage is to be a human sponge.

"It is not only dancing but drama, singing and Acrobatics. It is a lot of learning when you are here. That is what kept me around. It is a lot of responsibility passed down from Jehan himself. Jehan helped me move forwards. And I gave it my best. I will be giving my best for CentreStage because I was made for this. I was initially a sportsperson and then I started dancing. Coming on stage happened in the latter part of school. And at some point I realized that the self -satisfaction we get through drama is much more than you can get from anything else," explained Perera.

Perera will soon have another achievement to be proud of as he will be going to the Theatre Olympics. "Through drama you entertain yourself, and you pass a message onto society and make a change in a person. If there is a possibility of changing one person's life, it is worth it. There is no greater satisfaction," said Perera. 


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