Arun Welandawe - Prematilleke

For most theatre practioners, the literary significance of a play is as crucial as the performance. In the form of dialogue and stage directions, language allows the director and actors to delve deep into character portrayals and social contexts to stimulate the audience. The performance thus becomes a concoction of performative excellence and linguistic agility. In this context, we find Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke to be an exemplary contemporary theatre director and practitioner who approaches performance art with an interdisciplinary approach. His recent play, ‘The One Who Loves You So’ won the Gratiaen Prize for 2018. The Gratiaen Prize, awarded by the Gratiaen Trust recognizes the most noteworthy original piece of Sri Lankan writing in English annually. ‘The One Who Loves You So’ was selected by a distinguished panel of judges for its performative and literary significance exploring controversial subjects and powerful machination of the genre of drama.

‘The One Who Loves You So’ in our opinion is significant for its transient nature, from performance to written and vise versa, for which Arun has wisely articulated the plight of the LGBTQ+ community in Colombo in a coherant manner with much insight to larger questions on relationships, intimacy and social stigma. Arun’s journey as a playwright and director began as a graduate in Drama and Theatre Arts from Goldsmiths College, London, UK, thereafter serving as the Associate Artistic Director of Mind Adventures Theatre Company from 2013 to 2017. During his years as a theatre practitioner, he has juggled the roles of actor, playwright and director, broadening his horizons in relation to the artistry of performance. He specializes in immersive theatre and is known for plays such as ‘Paraya’ (2013), ‘Blowhards’ (2013, 2015, 2016), ‘Close to the Bone’ (2016) and ‘Better Than Ever Before’ (2016). His plays are known for their blatant socio-political commentary and intriguing use of space coupled with a taste for experimentation.

With ‘The One Who Loves You So’ Arun enters a territory inspired by his own personal experiences, delineating the lives of two young gay men who meet facilitated by a dating app, and the manner in which their relationship progresses. Arun deals with a range of themes relevant to the LGBTQ+ community locally and universally, including the impact of technology, marginalization and how class struggles intersect with notions of gender. The sexuality and emotionality that transmit between Vidhura and Nick, the main characters on stage are visceral, and Arun is unafraid to let the audience see it unfold. The play was first performed in August 2018 at the Namel-Malini Punchi Theatre, with Brandon Ingram playing Vidhura and Benjamin Aluwihare in the role of Nick. In the exclusive interview with ARTRA, Arun discusses the importance of literature on stage while also focusing on how the performance of a subject close to one’s heart in fact turns into a work of advocacy.

Q | How do you approach theatre or performance practice?

A | Honestly, I just try to be intuitive in the process. I’ve been doing this for just shy of a decade, longer if I count university, and certain aspects of process aren’t really at the forefront of your mind anymore. It is a deeply important question to ask yourself as you start out, as you begin to define your work, but after a period, those ideas are absorbed into the work and you don’t really ponder on it much anymore. Every project is different; has different requirements of yourself and the process. I try not to get stuck in the ‘how’ and just explore what I’m interested in. Part of the journey of making work is that you can’t zoom out too much to look at the whole. It is almost a process of focusing in, looking at the trees rather than trying to build the forest at once. 

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3rd September, 2019 Performance Art