Manchester applauds 'Fillin the Blanks'

'We've written a play, they've lived it'
Where does "Stages" go now? "Jaffna," chorus the enthusiastic group. "For most of us taking this play to Jaffna is more important than taking it to Manchester."

Manchester was alien, and unfortunately Jaffna all the more so. The fact that the play speaks of a day-to-day occurrence in the northern peninsula makes them apprehensive. "We can't exactly say how it might be received. We've just written it. They've lived it."

It was an invitation by the Archdeacon of Jaffna that led to this idea. "He watched one of the dress rehearsals and felt that it would be the ideal play to be performed there." They will also hold workshops structured around it.

"We've all grown much closer thanks to the Manchester trip and we've also got our work mapped out for the next year or so. Our main focus is still within the country."

Look out Jaffna, here they come!

By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne
Letting go. It's difficult. But when it comes to one's memories, letting go is the hardest part.

Take Sumathi for example. His character is forced to leave his home suddenly due to a raging war. In the present Sumathi has built a life for himself in the city. But yet he feels incomplete. He lives in a rented home with minimum furniture, his entire life revolving around his wife and their unborn child. But suddenly everything changes.

The road to his home, closed to him for so long is opened. Sumathi's mind hirs in a vortex of emotions. One part of him feels that this may be the beginning of better days whilst the other is wary, afraid to expect anything. It's a saga of coming to terms with reality.

Success abroad: Ruwanthie de Chickera
Pic by Ishara Kodikara

This was the complex plot that made up 'Fillin the Blanks', a play that the Stages Theatre Company performed at "Culture Shock", the cultural festival of the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester, UK last month.

"Fillin the Blanks" thrilled audiences when it was performed at the British Council a few weeks prior to the group leaving for Manchester. But how would it go down with an international audience?

"Very well," smiles Ruwanthie de Chickera, the director of the play. "Surprising as it may seem impressing audiences overseas is easier than impressing those at home. Attitudes vary."

Their efforts were rewarded with a standing ovation.

One look at these thespians and it is obvious that the "Manchester Experience" was worthwhile. "We were there for around one and half weeks and there was really no time to sit and chat. There were workshops to attend, plays to watch. It was great."

They not only attended workshops but also held workshops of their own. "I was really proud of our group," says Ruwanthie. "The turn out was excellent." The two workshops that "Stages" presented were based on "Translation" and "Forum Theatre", both of which they themselves had experimented with before.

The diverse backgrounds of each youth theatre group provided the ideal blend of culture. The Indian group held a workshop on traditional make-up, while the Far Eastern groups held workshops on martial arts and movement based theatre.

There were ten other plays that were performed together with "Fillin the Blanks" at the festival. One by a theatre company from Trinidad was full of music, says Amal de Chickera, one of the five who collaborated on Fillin the Blanks. "The carnival in Trinidad took pride of place but a subtly projected political theme seeped through," he said.

Were there any pronounced differences between the plays? "The international groups focused mainly on political themes and other such issues that are part of their daily lives but in the case of the British, youth related problems were prominent," said Thushara Hettihamu, another of the playwrights.

Six of these groups were from Britain and they were twinned with an international partner. Stages was paired with a Welsh theatre group "Sherman".

The twins collaborated to develop a new piece of performance text based on a common theme. They were given the option of either working together or as two individual groups.

Stages opted for the second. But what of the play by their "twin"? "The theme was the same. But any similarity ended there. The biggest difference was that Sherman's actors were much younger than ourselves. Popular culture also played a huge role in their interpretation of a journey."

A classic strum
By Vidushi Seneviratne
Imagine listening to Beethoven...........absolute bliss for any lover of classical music. But this great composer's music being performed on the guitar - doubtful!

Maybe listening to Ulrich Steier is all you need to convince yourself that this is possible.

This German is a multi-faceted musician. Apart from the guitar, he plays the drums, the electric guitar and also sings. The string guitar of course, is his favourite. "Playing the piano is relatively easier, since you get to use both your hands. But you have to use just one hand and produce the same music on the guitar," he says.

Coming from a musical background, Ulrich's parents both played the piano, while his sister played the guitar. His father was a talented pianist . But World War 11 put paid to any dreams of pursuing a musical career.

"Since my father missed out on pursuing his own dream, he wholeheartedly supported mine. Though today he is 78, he has learnt the computer by himself, just so that he could correspond with me when I'm on tour. That's how supportive he is," he said smilingly.

"I'm a happy person because I always knew what I wanted to do. I can live through the guitar," he says.

Beginning his first music lessons at the age of three, he was nine when he took up the guitar at the music school of Mulheim, Germany.

Ulrich went on to study under Professor Hans Graf at the Folkwang University of Essen. Joining the Conservatory of Enschede in Netherlands, he passed the extended qualification in music with honours and won the Daagblad Tubantia/Twentsche Courant Prijs.

Ulrich was awarded the two year Chain Scholarship, and during this period studied the guitar under various reputed classical guitarists. In 1999, he was awarded the Chain-Diploma. Since 2001, he has been attached to the Conservatory of Enschede as guitar lecturer.

Ulrich Steier has toured extensively in Europe. Among his several CDs, you can find solos as well as duos, performed with artistes such as the Italian tenor Franco Careccia.

It was an invitation by the 'GTZ' (German Development Corporation), which brought this versatile guitarist to Sri Lanka.

Having been here for four weeks, he will be performing for lovers of classical music in Sri Lanka, at one of his rare open-air concerts.

The audience will be able to savour a 'taste' of his newest CD release, 'Kemnader Konzerte' as well as pieces from well-known composers such as I. Albeniz, L. Brouwer and Beethoven.

Though his forte is classical music, being an artiste also open to other styles, Ulrich will be playing with-known pieces as well as his own compositions.

Interacting with the audience, Ulrich will be giving little snippets about his instruments, the composers and their compositions.

So just ignore the fact that you might be a little naive about the intricacies of classical guitar, and get yourself down to the Barefoot Gallery tonight (August 18), at 7.00 p.m.

Tickets priced at Rs.300 (limited) are available at the Barefoot Cafe.

Leafing through notes of colonialism
By Thiruni Kelegama
"Leaf Litter", an exhibition by Fiona Hall will be held at the Paradise Road Gallery from August 17 to 28.

"Money doesn't grow on trees - does it? Plants have played a crucial role in the history of colonisation and the development of world economics," says Fiona Hall.

Fiona Hall is a well-known Australian artist who has exhibited widely, both at home and overseas. She has won several art prizes including the prestigious "Contempora 5" award, Australia's most lucrative art prize in 1997.

Hall first came to Sri Lanka in 1999 as the Australian artist-in-residence at Lunuganga, the garden estate of Geoffrey Bawa, only to return regularly thereafter. "Leaf Litter" is an exhibition drawn from her ongoing work at Lunuganga. The works, fine leaf paintings against a background of bank notes from the species' country of origin, explore issues of colonialism and exploitation of natural resources.

"I have always been very interested in bank notes and the economy in different countries. I have been collecting bank notes from little wayside shops in Australia and gradually my collection built up. It was at Lunuganga, that the idea first came to me, to show how plants were entwined into our lives," she replies when asked why she chose bank notes as the background to her paintings. "I have also had an immense interest in botany," she adds with a smile.

"Leaf Litter" aligns the distribution of plant species with the distribution of monetary wealth. It also displays botanical connections across diverse territories, for plants like people have colonised where they can. Closely related species belonging to the same botanical family have evolved and adapted to wide-ranging habitats, she explains.

"The variety of plants here interested me when I first came in 1999. I tried to paint leaves on a few bank notes and was fascinated with the result. The next time around, I came prepared with my box of bank notes and started painting." Unfortunately, the first works of leaves on the bank notes will not be displayed as they have been purchased by the National Art Gallery of Australia.

A Na leaf has been painted on a Ceylonese bank note, which depicts George the VIth, the frangipani on a Cuban bank note, rubber on a Brazilian bank note, and Gotukola on an Indonesian bank note.

A moonamal leaf adorns another Sri Lankan bank note.

"In 'Leaf Litter' the currency of international trades, its circuitous routes and the material choices used for exchange and commerce have been pared down to two elements. One deposited almost as a gouache, is finely drawn as filigree veins on the other, the surface of money," comments Suhanya Raffel, the Head of Asian Art in the Queensland Art Gallery in 2001 on this exhibition.

Kala Korner by Dee Cee
Shoddy treatment for the 'Little Angel' !
Walking into the Liberty cinema the other day to see what was being hailed as a good film - Somaratne Dissanayake's 'Punchi Suranganavi', I was disappointed to notice just a handful of people turning up for the usually crowded evening show. The count was less than fifty and most of them were children who had come with their parents to enjoy what was described as 'a film suitable for children from 5 years to 125'. It was just the second week after the release of the film. It was more shocking to hear that the day's morning show had just nine people!

Another quality film - Sunil Ariyaratne's 'Sudu Sevaneli' too didn't attract the expected audiences.

This is happening when films with provocative or humorous titles (most of the time with the 'Adults Only' tag) are drawing full houses, showing that television has not really affected cinema. Whatever the reason, it will only push the serious filmmakers away. It's so costly to produce a film today and if you are not sure of recovering the money, why on earth should one put in all that money and go through the hassle of producing what would be accepted as a quality product. The only consolation is that quality films are doing the 'festival rounds' but that brings only prestige. From a country's point of view, of course, there is recognition that we have good filmmakers who are capable of competing with other countries making good films.

'Saroja' girl excels
Talking about 'Punchi Suranganavi', the film is good. Following his commendable effort in 'Saroja', Somaratne has been successful in producing yet another fine combination which could be enjoyed both by children and adults alike.

The 'Saroja' girl, Nithayamani turns in yet another lively performance proving her ability to reach greater heights in years to come. The player who acts as her father (Sellasamy is the name, if I remember right) is a treat to watch, playing the role of the humble gardener perfectly. Young Taraka acts well as the boy getting into tantrums.

We see Sriyantha Mendis so often on the small screen - it was a welcome departure to watch him act in a film. I can't remember seeing Namel Weeramuni in films before - we always remember him on stage, so it was memories coming back.

The Black July scenes at the end of the film created the impact that director Somaratne obviously wanted to achieve - to leave the message on the necessity for ethnic harmony.

The Ritual needs finances
By Marisa de Silva
'The Ritual', performed by CentreStage Productions in April, has been given the honour of opening this year's StageRite Festival in Bangalore, India (October 6-12).

'The Ritual', the brainchild of young playwright cum actor cum director Jehan Aloysius, is based on themes and subjects relevant to the South Asian region. Rituals connected to marriage, reproduction, dowry deaths and cooking are some of the main aspects brought out.

CentreStage Productions is now seeking sponsorship from patrons of the arts to help meet the costs of their participation at the festival. Those interested could contact CentreStage Productions at

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