GENDER NEUTRALITY IN PERFORMANCE

Ashini Fernando

Theatre is a medium designed to awaken the minds of audiences. In Shakespeare’s times, young men played female characters as women were not allowed to perform on stage. Today, performance is more nuanced, with actors being brave enough to explore beyond their comfort zones, with women playing men and vice versa, blurring the lines between conventional gender roles prescribed by society. Ashini Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s wellknown and multifaceted actresses spoke to ARTRA about how her role in ‘The Pillowman’ (2018) that explored the theatrical practice of neutralizing the gender of a character through the clever maneuvering of the corporal, costuming and makeup.

Ashini began acting at an early age and has gathered experience in the English theatre scene of the country since her first public performance in 2004. Recently, she received praise for her performance as Ariel, a vindictive and fierce detective in Martin McDonagh’s play ‘The Pillowman’ adapted for Sri Lanka by Stagelightandmagic Inc. under the direction of Shannon Misso. The play delved deep into societal issues of gender, child abuse, murder, disability and sexual assault. Ashini was also a part of ‘The 39 Steps’ (2013) directed by Nafeesa Amirudeen, ‘The War Reporter’ (2010) directed by Ruhanie Perera and Jake Oorloff, ‘V Day’ directed by Hans Billimoria and ‘Grease Yaka Returns’ (2018) directed by Nishantha De Sliva and Rajitha Hettiarachchi. In this interview with ARTRA, she shares the way through which she managed to play distinct characters on stage, switching from one costume to another to ensure that her performance used the corporal to reveal larger social relevance and thematic significance to audiences. 

Q | What made you pursue performance?

A | I used to act in school. I did about four years of the Shakespeare Drama Competition, and Nafeesa Amirudeen used to direct us together with a team of people including Mohamed Adamaly who helped me pursue performance further. I joined the cast of Feroze Kamardeen’s ‘R&J: The Tale of Romeo and Juliet’ in 2004. Since then I have been acting. The main aim for me is to be as versatile as possible. Even if a play is really challenging, I would think of it as a learning experience. With any form of theatre, you actually get to adapt yourself to so many different circumstances and that in itself is a learning experience for me.

Q | How do you think performance has relevance in the day-to-day? Do you think it allows you to resonate with others?

A: I think performance has the strongest ability to resonate with someone because more than anything, you actually get to see somebody be and exist. It’s not like reading. Us as performers can definitely see how we can transport an audience. That is also such a delicate thing because we have an audience in our hands and we have a certain responsibility as to where we take them. It is important that the message we want to give them is received and the feelings are felt. That will make them think and start questioning.

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11th February, 2020 Performance Art

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