Sunday, 14 February 2010

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Spectrum | Sundayobserver.lk - Sri Lanka
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"Theiyath Tha" maiden show: A surprise of surprises

It may sound boastful if I say that my mail box is cluttered with - invitations to literary functions. What is ironical is that I do not attend them. Or may be I do not attend a good part of them. I wonder why I am invited for I am no celebrity and can only conclude that it is my habit of scribbling odd things to newspapers that retrieves me from the dustbin of the fast moving world to which many a worthy being are relegated before life actually ebbs from them.

But some quaint reason prompted me to attend the maiden show of "Theiyath Tha". I did not peruse the card in detail and there I sat just to view a dance performance by children. Then I noticed that these children were different. I spoke to Buddhadasa Galappaththi who sat in front of me about my observation and he said "yes, they are rather different." Those who believe in the Maha Brahma or one single perpetrator of Creation will argue that the Creator just got bored with making uniform copies of living beings and now and then went on to manufacture different versions, some with handicaps even. Well, the Creator has been far from fair. (In the instance of those who have been disabled by circumstance the Creator can be exonerated).

But despite all the invectives poured on the selfish human tribe, the world does have its do-gooders. As I rummaged through the brochures handed to me I noticed familiar names that have gone into the play's production.

Directed by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra and Rohana Deva. Lyrics by Jayampathi Algama and Rohana Deva and so on and so forth. The brochure further informs that 43 children with special needs representing the different ethnicities and religions in the island, in an equitable proportion comprise the cast. The name "Theiyath tha" is a signal for the initial blessings of the traditional Sri Lankan rhythms and movements. It just thuds on Lankan soil with a familiarity that only natives perceive.

I was also handed a colourful brochure that carried the blurb, "Through the arts sharing and celebrating differences". Mesmerised by the endearing performances of children, especially by "The Fire Dance" (a dance said to have been performed for the first time here), children whom society generally spurns as disabled back home, I read it carefully and was in for more surprises. There is and has been for some time, in the arts field, an organisation called "Thidora". A Greek word? No. Very native. Very indigenous, suffused with Buddhist philosophy. "Thidora" or the three doors are the Mind, the Body and the Word. To quote the brochure.

"We, Thidora, while engaged in the process of enhancing the required communicative skills, aim at building thereby a life full of worth and respect for every human being.

'The Thidora' doors or pathways are open to those who have been disabled in any form, by birth or circumstance and disadvantaged by cultural, gender, ethnic, class and other social factors. Our doors are naturally open to those who are willing to be with and work together with the disabled and disadvantaged".

We are attuned to associate the "Glittering show biz of cinema and theatre" and the stagelights where move about perfectly made and beautiful humans, who usually get all the blessings. The drab and the "ugly" and the misshapen are left out. But on the stage of 'Teiyath tha' that carries an entrancing story of a beloved teacher, (script written by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra as informed) I watched how "Ugly" and deformed faces turned beautiful as they glowed with happiness. Happy for what? For the recognition provided, for the tremendous opportunity given to showcase their talents, for the social exposure as an alternative to being caged in institutions and stared at, as freaks or inundated with unwanted bouts of sympathy. Their disabilities are not of their own making but of the making of the Creator or a human responsible for the damage. Never mind getting punished for a crime that you committed but getting punished for a crime that somebody else has committed is just unjustifiable. So worthy organisations and humans should certainly step in to rectify the injustice.

"Theiyath tha" neatly fits into this therapy. Say the organisers, "We believe that the drama therapy we employ will offer a methodology that would help participants to develop skills and abilities necessary for other expressive arts. Drama brings together a plethora of arts like literature, music, dance, movement, sculpture, painting and several audio - visual arts. Through "Thidora" we would learn to listen more than just to hear, to perceive more than just to see, to think more than what our immediate thoughts would allow".

Profound ideas indeed!

To those interested in the history of "Thidora" here are some facts. Begun in 1987. Re-phased in 2008. Original name: Natya Silpa Shalika. Founder: Veteran dramatist, Dhamma Jagoda who was succeeded by Rohana Deva, present chairman. Credit for veering the project towards the disabled children of Sri Lanka goes to Wolfgang Stange via Interlink Trust, London.

Weekly based theatre workshops are held in and around Colombo including "Thidora" auditorium at Thalawathugoda. No fees are charged according to the brochure. Some of the productions have won awards too. "Palm and Coconut" on the ethnic conflict has been an award winner. In 1998 the group had joined Sunetra Bandaranaike Trust to form Butterfly Theatre company that led to the production, "Butterflies will always fly" directed by Rohana Deva and Wolfgang Stange. Drama "Flowers will always bloom "took wings to distant cities as London, New Delhi and Brisbane.

Of course, flowers will always bloom under tender care. So will human flowers. The organisation now dubbed "Thidora" (Three Doors), a name that also collectively is the acronym for Theatre Institute for Disability Oriented Research and Advocacy sees that flowers of all kinds bloom.

And despite the name seemingly limited to disabled, it today encompasses even patronage of disadvantaged children. These include children living in underprivileged areas minus proper amenities to help blossom their talents. The sky is the limit for preserving humans armed with noble intentions.

Good Luck to "Thidora".


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