ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED BY MEGAN MCCARTHY ODELL ON JULY 23, 2016.
EDITED AND RE-PUBLISHED BY ODELL ON APRIL 17, 2020.
Stories of Sri Lanka, Lessons for the World: The name of a performing arts workshop I want to create that utilizes Sri Lankan folk tales, Sri Lankan and western mediums of performance art, and a global outlook in order to help make the world a better place.
BASIC DESCRIPTION OF PROJECT PROPOSAL: Creation of a performing arts workshop that works with government run, provincial schools in Colombo for a month at a time. At the end of each week, the students create and perform a performance piece at the Independence Memorial Hall in Colombo.
I attended an art history lecture given by Dr. Bilinda Devage Nandadeva from University of Kelaniya, where he explained the idea that culture is influenced by many outside sources, not just one. Cross cultural collaboration is a natural process that creates the nations, religions, politics, and on a micro level, even the people that exist today. This idea got me thinking: how do we stop this segregated culture mindset? How can we stop violent conflicts and bring people together with the realization that we’re all not so different after all? Two words: “education” and “art”.
I started off by learning as much as I could about Sri Lanka’s education system. It’s divided into three sections: government run, semi-government run, and private schools. Within each of those categories are subcategories, such as national and provincial, which refer to the size and therefore funding amount of the school. There are primary schools, collegiate schools, and universities.
I decided to narrow down the amount of schools that my program would work with by sticking to government-run, provincial schools– they are smaller and receive less funding, so the arts are often overlooked. The students would definitely benefit more from a program like this.
Based off of the classes I taught at Mesh Academy, the University of Colombo at Sri Palee, the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, and the rural school in Bandarawela, I could see the positive effects that self expression and performing arts had on students. These modern/postmodern classes that we taught also demonstrated how students can benefit from immersing themselves in an outside culture they know little about.
I emailed the administration of the Independence Memorial Hall and inquired about how to rent out the space. They explained that the rules are similar to what is on the memorial’s website for the museum auditorium, you need to book no later than a week in advanced and you can’t harm the structure of the building. The cost to rent ranges from 12,000 rupees to 25,000 rupees depending on how long you need it. For four hours it would be around 15,000, so assuming one show would require a dress rehearsal the night before and then time to set up the memorial hall before that rehearsal and before the show, I’m estimating this would cost around 16,000 rupees for a single weekend use. That’s 16,000 per school performance, and since this is a program made up of artists, I’m guessing we won’t have that much money to spend each month. I will apply for this program to be non-profit and supported by the Sri Lankan government.
WHO IS A PART OF THE PROGRAM:
Guest artists from the following companies: Chitrasena Dance Company, Freedom Theatre Group, Soul Sounds Music Academy
First, Chitrasena Dance Company. This is the dance company that we took two classes from on traditional Kandyan style dancing. As Sri Lanka’s most prestigious dance company, it’s still famous and relevant 70+ years after its creation because of the company’s eagerness to combine the traditional aspects of Sri Lanka’s dance culture and the modern, global aspects of dance culture outside of Sri Lanka. This keenness for cross cultural collaboration is very important to implement when teaching the students of my proposed program about art and its importance.
Bijayini Satpathy, Surupa Sen, and Pavithra Reddy. Copyright 2012 Nan Melville/Nrityagram
Second, Freedom Theatre Group. This is an award winning drama company that defines itself as “a collective of artists committed to producing brave, original theatre with artistic and socio-political relevance.” They were established in 1994 and continue their work today under the artistic direction of the group’s founder Rajitha Dissanayake. A company like this would serve my program well, as its whole focus is tying in the relevance of today’s current events and political happenings with art, under a theatrical lens.
A scene from the company’s 2008 play No Return.
Third, Soul Sounds Music Academy. Although this is the newest company on the list, being created in 2000, it is one of the fastest growing and most recognized music academies in Sri Lanka. Notably, its choral and vocal program is nationally acclaimed. Unlike the other two groups, Soul Sounds is primarily a school before all else, and is motivated by its mission to give all children a chance to excel and express themselves through music. The academy gives lessons in singing- both in classical Sri Lankan styles and western contemporary styles, various instruments, musical theatre, and even music therapy for children with special needs. Because of how eclectic this group is, how education focused they are, and how their focus includes all children no matter their skill set or circumstances, this academy could provide excellent faculty and classes for students in my program.
Students from the music academy featured, many from the women’s chorus group
HOW DOES THIS PROGRAM WORK:
A different school is chosen every month
A group of 3 guest artists (1 from each collaborating company) is assigned to each grade of the school
Guest artists come 3X a week for an hour during the school day to work with the students
The students of the chosen school will brainstorm and choose one traditional Sri Lankan folk tale to tell; they will base their final performance on the narrative structure of this story, but tell it through multiple performing mediums: dance, song, instruments, drama, etc.
Each grade will be exposed to the different art mediums that the guest artists are experts in, and students will get the opportunity to choose which medium to participate in for the final performance
Guest artists will lead discussions with all grades on how the folktale is relevant to the modern day world. All of the classes will collaborate on the final sequence of the show, which is where the story is summed up and the students, through performing, show how this story based in Sri Lanka can apply to other parts of the world, even to current events today. This will raise cross cultural awareness for the audience.
HOW DOES THE FINAL PERFORMANCE WORK:
I like the idea of having the final performance that the students will prepare and rehearse for during the one month stay of my program’s guest artists, follow a narrative structure.
The students would decide on and tell one story that is native to Sri Lankan culture, showing it in an interactive way for audiences by allowing the audience to physically walk through the story.
There would be one set entrance at the Independence Memorial Hall for the audience to enter through and a decorated pathway that they follow as the story continues. Students would be stationed at different areas of the monument, each group or grade prepared with a different art medium- dance, drama, music, fine arts, etc.- in order to tell a different part of the story.
The stations would be sectioned off by a physical set that the students could build themselves; it could be painted scene drapes that hang from the ceiling of the monument, thus secluding each “part” of the story until the audience walks to its location.
By the end of this physical pathway that the audience has followed, which would also correspond with the end of the story, all of the students gather together as the sectioned off scenery drops to the floor, revealing one final artistic act that would sum up the story and connect its relevance to the modern world today.
Why Independence Memorial Hall?
aesthetically pleasing, good space for a public performance
significance of this monument: it was erected in honor of Sri Lankan independence from the British. It represents independence, peace, and potential.
Independence Square at night. Copyright 2009 Devaka Seneviratne
This is a public performance because it potentially deals with large views and ideas that the public can appreciate.
The fact that this is a performance that is open to the public adds weight and focus for the students, this is a performance that is beyond their world and perspective
PROJECT GOALS: The 3 goals of this program are: 1) to give students a more accurate and well rounded view of their culture as Sri Lankans. This means acknowledging that there is more to their culture than Buddhism and Sinhala contributions, and that multiple outside cultures and religions have influenced what Sri Lanka is today. 2) to broaden students’ perspectives and show a wider view of the world around them, what other cultures bring to the table of diversity. It will also explain why diversity and respect for differences (be it cultural differences or interpersonal differences) are important. 3) to share, with the students, the opportunity to teach what they have learned to the public. Through sharing their knowledge and offering food for thought in a creative and constructive way, this will simultaneously make the students more confident in exploring cross cultural collaboration in the future and teach the audience to question and explore their perceptions of the world.
WHY IS THIS RELEVANT? FINAL THOUGHTS:
The art produced and maintained in a country says a lot about its past, its present, and its future. The greatest and most revered societies in history have one thing in common: an appreciation for the arts. Art displays high emotional intelligence, curiosity, creative thinking, and many other skills and abilities that can lead a society to being successful.
Keeping this in mind, I believe that in order to combat most if not all of the problems faced in the world today, we must utilize the arts as a long term solution. I believe every child in the world deserves the opportunity to grow up with art playing a large role in their development, to embrace the powerful lessons- like acceptance and love- that art naturally teaches, and to be shaped by its peaceful demeanor whenever facing a conflict.
In light of all of the violence that has continually occurred within the United States, Sri Lanka (during the summers of 2016 and 2017), and in almost every part of the world, the idea of creating a long term solution of ending large-scale violence through raising children to love and be aware of systematic oppression and activism, through arts-based education reform, is extremely relevant. This will ultimately develop generations of people who will not only accept and “learn to deal with” those who are different, but who will also take the initiative in respecting and empowering everyone, no matter if they are different.