By Uditha Jayasinghe
Bridging the generation gap through theatre can be an entertaining process and play writer and director Ruwanthie de Chickera is taking experiences straight from the source to the stage.
“Dear Children, Sincerely…” international theatre collaboration between Rwanda and Sri Lanka, produced by Stages Theatre Group, and will hit the boards this Friday.
The play is created out of almost one years’ worth of research into the generation born in the 1930s. This generation, born during colonial times, is remarkable in witnessing the entire history of modern Sri Lankan colonialism, independence, the insurrections, the civil war, the technological revolution and post war Sri Lanka.
This iconic generation had been instrumental in creating new thinking, formulating foundations, which have influenced the course of the country. What do they feel when they look back on their own history? What do they regret? What did they learn? How do their reflections and their journey compare with the reflections of the same generation born in Rwanda? What can be learned from comparing the histories of these two countries as witnessed by the generation that lived through these histories? These are the ideas and questions that gave birth to the play.
“The transcripts of extensive interviews from Sri Lankans and Rwandans were used to put the play together. The idea was adopted by nine countries and became the backdrop of a series of “stories” that are told to the audience,” she said in the midst of rehearsals.
“The Rwandan and Sri Lanka collaboration was the first to materialise. We are hoping to collaborate with Palestine and Ireland at some point next year. But working with the Rwandans we started to look at some of the insights we could get through the parallels.”
“Dear Children, Sincerely….” was initially performed in Kigali in 2015 with the same cast that features five Rwandans and seven Sri Lankans. It picked from 20 stories created by the nine countries participating in the project as collapsing all the narratives into one drama was impossible.
“For this play we are showing three stories that we created together. The first is a story called Decades; it is essentially looking at the last eight decades of history and in each ten years selecting one milestone event that changed the course of the country and people.”
The first piece is followed by a humorous take on arranged marriage and essentially shows the generation’s experience of love, sex and marriage. The third piece tries to understand society when something as horrific as genocide happens and the entire institutions that hold together a country fall apart.
This Sri Lanka-Rwandan collaboration brings into life, the thoughts, reflections and insight of the generation born in the 1930s, their memories and collective wisdom in the form of powerful storytelling.
Following the performance in Colombo, the play will be taken on a tour of India through the prestigious National School of Drama, where the production will be performed in New Delhi, Kerala and Jammu Kashmir.
Alexia Uwera Mupende along with the rest of her friends in the cast was born after the Rwandan genocide that shocked the world over two decades ago. In that time the country has taken steps to understand the tribal conflict as based on cast and worked to establish a national identity, absorbing everyone as Rwandans. An effort Sri Lanka is still struggling with.
“I was surprised at how similar Sri Lanka and Rwanda’s experiences are. It is up to us to decide what our fate is and these different tags we put on each other do not make a difference in who we want to be, whether it’s a doctor, engineer, mother, father or student,” insisted Alexia.
Strong leadership and evolving mindsets are needed to move beyond ethnic or tribal differences and Rwanda has made this transition over the last two decades, healing its painful wounds and allowing its children to move towards a different future. Perhaps Sri Lanka can take a cue from their success.