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Kaushalya and Chandana combine theatre for children

Many psychologists argue that a personality is mainly based on their childhood experiences. That is the reason many educational methodologies have been developed focusing on the childhood period. However, a professional institute for inculcating aesthetic values among children is with rare in our country. Veteran dramatist Somalatha Subhasinghe has started an institute named 'theatre for children' with that objective.

Today her daughter Kaushalya Fernando, who acted some unforgettable characters in the stage and cinema, and her son-in-law Chandana Aluthge are continuing her effort to serve the society by developing aesthetic senses among children.

Kaushalya Fernando. Picture by Tennyson Edirisinghe

Promoting theatre culture

"According to the constitutional act the main objective of the 'theatre for children' is to promote the theatre culture among children and youth, to do researches, to do new theatre productions for children and youth." Aluthge said.

Theatre for children and youth need special kind of training since it is completely different from adult theatre.

There are completely different methods and skills used in the theatre for children. The actors should be very specific and clear on what they are doing on the stage and they should be capable to convey the message simply and clearly to the audience.

Even though, this is applicable for adult theatre as well, this theatre has specialty since we are addressing to the children.

Somalatha Subasinghe established this institution in 1981. Today there are several prominent young actors/actresses and other personalities including myself, who have been trained in this institution. Aluthge was in the first batch at the time Subasinghe started this institute and it helped him realize certain talents and the abilities. It is not only in acting or music but in choreography, stage lighting methods, costume designing, directing and many other things which relevant at the stage. That was a prominent arena for the younger generation who were interested on theatre and also it was a place to meet people and discuss the likes and dislikes of the theatre.

Conveying the message

For the last 27 years this institute had a quite but steady journey and today, Kaushalya and Aluthge are continuing the work started by her mother. His main concentration is on children,

"There are various types of children's theatre in the world. If we put them into two baskets, one is the theatre done by the children. Children are taking part of the theatre and it can be a play or any kind of a performance.

"The other category is professional actors are playing for children. Our main focus is on to the second category which is professional actors are playing for

Children participating in ‘Theatre for Children’

children. Therefore, a good team of actors are essential and they should have the ability to convey the message correctly and clearly to the audience. Our main orientation is to educate children and youth through the theatre. Then the next question would be 'what is to be educated?'. We are trying to educate them the sense of basic art forms such as music, dancing, colors, paintings, and movements."

All the theatre productions they have done for children during past few years are with particular objectives to achieve their orientation. For an example theatre can be interpreted as a puzzle. Therefore by seeing the theatre children would try to understand these puzzles. They would apply these experiences and understandings in their own lives.

It is important to make the awareness of the society among the children starting from their homes. This theatre school is tying to make them understand about the relationship between the family members, friends and other relations and even with animals to cultivate values in life such as love, caring, forgive and forget, and protection.

However it is not to promote petty-minded ideas among children but to establish that we all are human beings and everybody has an equal right to be treated as human beings.

"Unfortunately Sri Lankan children are listening to adult music and watching adult dances. It is necessary to create opportunities for them to listen different piece of music and to see different type of daces and allow them to live in their little own world. Therefore we are creating an aesthetic atmosphere during the time children participate in our programs by presenting them many music events, dances, colours, various characters and movements as against the television or radio programs that they used to hear and watch," Kaushalya Fernando said.

Value of forgiveness

The other important thing in the children's theatre is the language. Sinhala language has various idioms, metaphors and rhythmic patterns. Somalatha Subasinghe has written all these children's plays and she is very particular about the language.

She always tries to accommodate these language techniques as much as possible. It helps them improve their ability to understand the language and the correct language usage. Today children don't encounter with games such as traditional music, dances and activities due to lack of social space, time and the busy life style of their parents.

"The production called Valas Paula which was produced by me in 2003 and written by Kaushalya's mother and it was an experiment done by me with using modern music and natural movements. It was a combination of traditional music and modern music including natural movements. I think it was successful when considering the spectators views."

Same in 'Valas Paula' they try to cultivate the human value of forgiveness for others cruelty. In all her plays she has clearly convey that message to the audience and that can educate generations and if the education system of our country has a proper plan to continue the children's theatre, it would cover reasonable area of children's education and they could expect compassionate generations in future.

Compared with the children's theatre in other countries especially in Europe and some of the Asian countries, the situation here in Sri Lanka is really pathetic.

"We have participated some of the international children's theatre festivals and we have seen the effort that they are setting to develop the children's theatre in their countries."

Restricted capabilities

As a small institution, they are trying our level best to create a better children's theatre in the country. However, due to the lack of resources and facilities their capabilities are restricted only in Colombo.

"One of the main reasons that we are restricted in to Colombo and suburbs area in the country is that, it is ethically wrong to charge high prices in children's theatre.

"Therefore, we have to keep the rates low as much as possible but on the other hand we have to pay professional charges for the actor/actresses, equipments, transport facilities and hall charges. So it creates huge deficit which we have to bear. Most of the times, private/government organizations reluctant to organize children's theatre since it is out of their corporate agendas."

It is quite important to have the institutional involvement to promote and develop children's theatre since it creates large involvement for the well-being of the society. To improve the awareness of the parents about the importance of cultivating aesthetic senses in their children, is equally important for the betterment of a nation.


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