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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

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To the theatre born

In a career spanning 42 years, Jerome de Silva conquered the theatre scene in Sri Lanka. As a young Peterite he made his directorial debut in 1979 and hasn't looked back. Sri Lanka has discovered many young potential actors and actresses through Jerome de Silva. The Encounter of the Week is ranked among great thespians and still pretty much rules the drama scene.

Q: What is the driving force behind you to bring you to where you are now?

Jerome de Silva. Picture by Ranjith Asanka

A: Well actually my father died when I was very young, I was five years old and it was a tough time and my mother had to bring up six children , four boys and two girls and that helped me to cultivate a lot of good values. From the time I was young this passion was in me for theatre. When I was young I realized I can't afford all what I wanted to do: go for elocution classes and drama classes. I suppose I have an inborn talent and that makes me to push myself to where I am. I had to learn the hard way. I used to be very good in my studies and I was considering to be a doctor but I was more inclined to the arts even though I did science subjects for my O-levels and A-levels. I was more inclined to acting on stage and dancing and even though I had very humble beginnings I decided that nothing can stop me and I kept trying and trying and working the hard way even though I was not academically qualified in any of the arts.

Q: What inspired you to produce and direct the plays you have directed?

A: Actually when I broke into the theatre scene what happened was that I was very interested in drama and in my school at St. Joseph's college there was no drama at that time. From there I moved onto St. Peter's College and I took part in the elocution competitions in the school. So I was basically singled out to take part in singing competitions and drama competitions because my reputation had preceded me.

Then in the A/levels a classmate of mine who was from The Wendy Whatmore Academy came and told me that Wendy Whatmore was doing a revival of musical 'The Boyfriend' for the renovation of the Lionel Wendt and that was the first time I got on stage in 1970. At that time it was the Thomians who dominated the drama scene and I along with Fr. Claver Perera I started the Drama Society in St. Peter's College. We started doing plays and taking part in more Shakespeare Competitions. I used to help Fr. Claver Perera direct. In 1979, Fr. Claver was abroad and the onus was on me to direct Shakespeare in the interschool drama competition. And I was on my own. And that year St. Peter's did very well and lost by the toss of a coin.

A scene from a workshop play. Picture by Shehal Joseph

S Thomas won. That was my directorial debut. It was huge success.

Q: At the moment what are you doing?

A: My professional career started in broadcasting in 1971 before I did my A-Levels I joined the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation. At the same time my theatre career also took off. And there I started doing radio drama so this was going parallel to my theatre career. It was then that the Doyen of Advertising Reggie Candappa noticed me and introduced me to advertising. And then began my advertising career. And he pushed me to be creative. And I was exposed to advertising at an international level.

All these things were parallel, my advertising career, my drama career and my theatre career. Until two years ago I was in advertising. So you can see that everything has gone parallel. And now I decided about two and a half years ago when I was working for Dialog I decided I could finally follow my passion in the theatre career. So I pretty much gave up my day job. Now seven days of the week I teach drama. I am more involved with drama than ever before.

I have also worked with Tamil groups in Jaffna and Batticaloa while the war was on. My brother was the army commander at that time. I also go to places like Galle and Matara and conduct drama workshops for students from schools there. I am also into Sinhala drama and have won many awards at state drama festivals including best production.

Q: Any project the Workshop Players will be doing in the future?

A: Oh yes! The Workshop Players celebrate 20 years next year. We really have big plans. Next March we have a little thing because that will be the completion bringing some of the old members back and do a little thing for the anniversary itself. After that we are planning a big production. We are right now working on the royalties.

Q: How many production have you done so far?

A: My goodness! I can't count. Talking about school, major productions and workshops I think over 80.

Q: Anything special this Christmas?

A scene from 'It's Cool in the Furnace'

A: I'm helping St. Benedicts College for their carol service and the Christian Arts Foundation (CHRAFT) for which I am the director for the drama section. We are planning a Christmas program. At CHRAFT, we help to spread the word of the bible through drama. The production will be called 'The Unopened Gift'.

Q: How did the Workshop Players come into being?

A: In 1991 I helped the primary section for their school concert. In 1991 they had just started the English Literary and Drama Society at St. Peter's College. And some of the senior prefects were members of that and they said: 'machan we like to meet girls!'.

Then I came up with the idea of starting a drama workshop. And on March 7, 1992, 33 students amongst them students from Royal College, St. Thomas' College, St. Josephs College, Anula Vidyalaya, Methodist College attended and that is how it all began. Now the number has swelled to 3000. For every production the cast is 90 percent new.

 

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