“I always knew I would be an actor” | Daily News

“I always knew I would be an actor”

Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke is an actor and director, best known by Colombo’s drama enthusiasts for his role in the theater company Mind Adventures. With experience in both central hubs of Colombo and London, both in film and on stage, he currently keeps very busy by immersing himself in several creative projects at the same time. We caught up with Arun for a chat about his career, experimental theater and the future of drama in Sri Lanka.

What has your journey in acting from Sri Lanka to the UK and back been like so far?

I’ve always been interested in acting, since I was very young, and never really in my life did I ever conceive of doing anything else other than acting, writing or directing. My first professional gig was straight out of high school for Mind Adventures (the company I now work for). It was a play called ‘Chatroom’ by Enda Walsh, that Tracy Holsinger directed. I auditioned and got a part, six months after that show I was off to London to study Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths.

After that I returned to Sri Lanka and co-directed and acted in a show called ‘Rondo’ again with Tracy and Mind Adventures.

I went back to the UK and continued to work as an actor in productions like ‘O Brave New World, ‘Tanika’s Journey’ and companies like s Frantic Assembly, You Me Bum Bum Train and Retz. It was in the UK that I studied devised performance and was first exposed to immersive theatre.

Both were hugely important to my work since. I returned to Sri Lanka in 2013 and directed a show called ‘Paraya’, which I later also performed in.

This year I’ve acted in three productions, and a few short films. I’m the Associate Artistic Director of Mind Adventures so that keeps me very busy: writing, directing or acting in one or two things at any given period.

When and how did you first begin acting? What about it do you love?

I always knew I would be an actor, never any doubt there. My first steps towards it were when I was young and dancing with the Chitrasensa School of Dance.

Then I dropped it for a little while until high school, when inter-house drama competitions gave me a chance to play on stage again and be seen by people who worked in theatre. I took a gap year after high school, and booked my first play very soon after. It was Chatroom for Mind Adventures, directed by Tracy Holsinger. After that I was off to London, to study theatre and work as a jobbing actor. Aside from years in the UK though, I’ve worked with Tracy and most of the cast of ‘Chatroom’ pretty continuously from the day we clapped eyes on each other.

Being an actor is the greatest job there is. I adore it. I love the camaraderie of the profession, especially in theatre. The bonds between actors are immediate and long lasting because you have to put yourself into this weird space where you have to be vulnerable and emotionally open with strangers. That openness means you very quickly form bonds with each other and the feeling of making shows and doing long extended runs of a show create a deep sense of belonging, of ensemble.

Belonging being the key word, since most of us become actors because we desperately want attention and don’t know how else to get it. ‘Love Me! Love Me!’ That sort of thing.

What has been your most memorable role to date – the one you connected best with?

I’ve had a few I’ve loved, but the one that comes to mind is in a film I shot last year called ‘The Joyous Farmer’. I just saw it so it for the first time a week ago, so it’s fresh in the mind. I played an alcoholic pill-popping farmer whose land is arid and dry, who goes on nightmarish quest to make his land bear fruit.

It wasn’t necessarily about the connection I had with the character but I loved the process of being in his skin and having to play such an exposing moment in a person’s life. With theatre, the ones that come to mind are Jack in ‘Only Soldiers’, Dan in ‘Closer’ and Trinculo in ‘The Tempest’.

Some say stage-acting and directing are not viable careers in Sri Lanka. Do you agree and if so how do you feel the industry can go about changing that?

I don’t think I can agree, since I do make my living off it. I’m very happy to say this is my professional work, although I understand that not everyone has that luxury.

What can be done? I think the industry at large needs to create a set of standards and guidelines for working hours, payment and a minimum wage.

That will help to make people understand that this is not a hobby, and that when one hires people, one is expected to pay for their services.

There is a movement right now to make those standards and guidelines, and I’m hopeful that goes through.

Mind Adventures is probably the most experimental theater group in the English drama scene in Colombo. Tell us about your role in it and the contribution that you feel its productions make to local theater.

Our M.O. is about trying to push the form and experiment with new types of work every time we make a new show, so I’m happy to hear you say that. I serve as the Associate Artistic Director, so that means that I work with Tracy, our Artistic Director, on the creative direction of the company. We each take turns directing shows, and acting in each other’s work and sometimes directing together. I write sometimes as well. It’s a great collaborative process, not just with each other, but with the company at large; actors, designers, stage managers, everyone has a voice and the best idea wins out, no matter who came up with it.

What other creative projects are you working on besides theatre? Do you have any projects in the pipeline?

I run a production company called Scout Productions, that provides production services to short film, music video or fashion shoots that come from overseas to Sri Lanka, and I also run Hot Butter Collective, an artist’s collective that has had exhibitions at the Barefoot Gallery and Ruby Studios. That keeps me pretty busy. I’m also currently at work on a feature length screenplay with a good friend of mine, which we’re hoping to shoot at some point next year.

Some dramatists have said theater and art in Sri Lanka is currently in a state of change. What do you feel the future of local theater (and visual media) will look like?

I think the Sri Lankan art scene is at an exciting point right now; the last few years have seen an emergence of a lot of young vibrant talent who are taking their work out to the public on their own terms. That excites me, and I think that will be the change: artists no longer having to use the existing modes of expression and distribution to get their work seen by the public. I can’t attest to knowing what the future of local theatre will look like, but I hope that it can become more inclusive, more indicative of the country’s diversity and continue to grow and flourish through collaboration beyond borders, be they borders of land, language, race, religion, gender or sexual preference. That would be nice. 


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