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