DEFYING SOCIAL PREJUDICES
Chalana Wijesuriya is hailed for his inventive approach to theatre, and celebrated for his skill of evoking reflection upon social conditions which are both poignant and contentious as a director & actor. The performance artist first began his work in theatre as an actor in 2007, stumbling upon a stage unaware of what would soon be a part of his professional career. His initial years at D. S. Senanayake College reinforced and supported his passion for theatre through its strong theatrical influence which also played a role in pursuing his Masters in Psychology at the University of West London, as he identified the complimentary nature of both the subjects in understanding characterization & development. Consequently, during the reading of his Masters, he had taken up many directorial roles in theatre as well as teaching the subject. Chalana is the Drama Coach at Visakha Vidyalaya and Drama Teacher and Consultant at Elizabeth Moir School, and also one of the founding members at IdeaCouch, a performance company that curates plays and performance events.
Following Ananda Drama’s 2014 devised theatre production, ‘Grease Yaka’, its thematic sequel ‘Grease Yaka Returns’ was first performed in 2018. Recently held at the 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Asia’s largest international theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama in India in February 2020, the award-winning play is a dark comedy that explored the role of fear in society and the consequences of its active implementation. “The performance of ‘Grease Yaka Returns’ was different from some of Colombo’s mainstream shows due to its partially-scripted and partially-devised nature along with the minimal set design, universality and its bilingualism” Chalana explained. We found his performance integral in ‘Grease Yaka Returns’ in creating awareness and raising questions about power structures and its role in impacting social divisions. Its bilingualism and partially scripted nature add to the non-conventionality of the play, reinforcing the strength and poignancy it elucidates. Chalana states, “I believe that being part of a performance piece that has challenged conventional theatre and social norms within Sri Lanka itself has been a unique experience for me, and I hope that this is only a stepping stone for more productions similar to ‘Grease Yaka Returns’ to be produced in the future”.
Chalana’s adaptation of ‘4AM’ by Jonathan Dorf, which he directed for Visakha Vidyalaya emerged champions at the 29th Annual Inter School Drama Competition 2015. ‘4AM’, narrates a story of a group of teenagers awake at 4AM while the rest of the world sleeps. His direction in this winning play allowed the characters and their stories to be depicted in its authenticity, initiating taboo conversations in a prejudiced society. “In this production I was interested in a more naturalistic style of acting. The production was challenging for both the actors and myself. To begin with, the play is confrontational in its subject matter dealing with the emotional and psychological problems teenagers are faced with in this day and age.” The play consists of characters that take on the roles of an early-morning jogger, a disk jockey, a modern Romeo and Juliet, the author of an unusual letter, and many other teen characters as they explore the curious intertwining of lives. We commend Chalana Wijesuriya for his provocative stance in tackling sensitive subject matters such as suicide, abuse and harassment.
Chalana has performed in productions of esteemed theatre directors, namely that of Tracy Holsinger, Jehan Aloysius and Sashane Perera to name a few. His work as an actor from plays such as ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (2018) by Tracy Holsinger, ‘Reality Show’ (2015) by Jehan Aloysius by Centre Stage and ‘Men Without Shadows’ (2014) by Sashane Perera for Stage Lights & Magic, as well as his initial years acting for the productions that participated in the Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competitions, we find, have contributed to his credibility and inventive perspectives in dissecting the mechanics, technicalities and the emotional depth and are reflected in his plays. “It took me a number of years, and working with a plethora of theatre practitioners, before I got a sense of what I wanted to create and why I wanted to create them. For me the process of evolving and creating has meant constantly questioning myself and my intent, while also contemplating on my response to social issues. I think ‘good theatre’ needs to understand the context in which it is created, and thereby engage with it in exploring its scope” shared the artist.
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