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Sunday, 31 January 2016

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 DRAMA  

The making of a kingly reclaim

How the 'Joes' regained the crown of interschool drama after a decade:


From left: Brenden Hakel, Heshal Peiris, Joshua Perera, Christopher Jayawardena, and Melanctha Cruse.

The dream of a decade, plotting and planning with much commitment by students and old boys of St. Joseph's College Colombo resulted in a 'champion's production' that earned them the 'crown' at the finals of the Annual All Island Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competition last year. It was 'King Lear' that brought back the 'crown' of interschool drama to the boys in blue and white on Darley road, fulfilling a collective dream since they last won the competition in 2005.

Recently I met five of the seven core cast members of that winning production in the hallowed precincts of their beloved school along with their director, old Josephian and well known theatre practitioner, Kevin Cruze, who maintained, "Actually King Lear was a production I had planned for a girl school that year but eventually I didn't take on the job and was later impelled to take on the task of directing my own school's production." It was Anuk De Silva, an old Josephian and a reputed theatre practitioner himself, who had been instrumental in convincing Cruze to take on the directorial mantle.

Seated in cordial interactive conversation with Christopher Jayawardena, Heshal Peiris, Joshua Perera, Melanctha Cruse and Brenden Hakel together with their director, I delved to discover the craft of performance developed by them.

The initial step had been in the aftermath of the inter-house drama competition, which set the 'stage' for a prospective Shakespeare ensemble. Casting was done, and a general setup of 'who plays who' was in place.

With a core of seven leads and a total cast of 24 players, the boys and their director had a weighty task ahead.

When asked what it was like to gear up, mentally, to perform at the finals, the five youngsters said very candidly that as soon as they got to know they were in the finals it was simply a matter of charging forth-'full steam ahead'! Momentum had built up with a great deal of past pupil support pouring in to drive the boys forward with the school spirit. From that point onwards claiming the laurels of victory was not something for themselves but all the 'aiyas' since 2005.

Morale had been built up optimally! But apart from the emotional strength, a very carefully tailored plan had been crafted to build up the cast and production from scratch. Were they 'comfortable' with their roles initially?. "No", they answered in unison.


The Director Kevin Cruze

Cruze's strategy had been to test the boys with different roles before making a final decision. Casting the character of King Lear had been a colossal task. "Everything fell into place about 3 weeks before the finals," explained Cruze, who said when he saw how well Heshal played the eponymous protagonist the rest wasn't difficult.

Melanctha admitted that he found it particularly difficult to adjust when he was recast and had to switch characters across genders going from being the Earl of Glouster to a daughter of Lear. But nevertheless Melanctha along with Joshua proved his acting ability by securing a nomination for the award of Best Supporting Actor last year. Brenden who played the role of the Fool had a particularly big task being the youngest among them. The King and The Fool had to gel well. And Heshal and Brenden made it a point to cordially build up their interplay dynamics with a little pre rehearsal 'clowning around' to thaw any ice that might have existed across their age divide. "As a team we needed to gel very well," said Heshal who believes it was a key to their success.

They had all felt they began living their characters out rather than 'performing'. There had even been something like off the record peer reviews among themselves of each others' performances. They all said 'Kevin aiya' kept pushing them, leaving zero space for slacking!

Cruze had regularly made notes studiously over each actor's development.

He made each of them come up with ideas to improve their performance after he pointed out shortcomings.

He brought in fellow theatre practitioners to taken on several players as small tutoring groups to build up little details in their performance. Several of them had been, needless to say, old Josephians.

Thespians like Dino Corera, Anuk De Silva, Amesh de Silva, Revon Fernandopulle had been some of them. And stage management had been done by Jordan Bryan, who incidentally had to face the tragedy of an irreplaceable personal loss during the days leading up to the finals.

Despite the tribulations there was an enormous degree of unwavering dedication to reach the goal as a collective dream.


Scene from the winning production

Watching the BBC's film of Shakespeare's 'King Lear' had been helpful to the boys to learn more of their characters.

That showed them what 'events' shaped their characters prior to the scenes they played in their production which is an ensemble of excerpts from the drama script. It was therefore not merely learning lines for the roles but realising the characters. How important a factor were the props? With a minimalist approach they had opted for props that were more convertible for their onstage needs and not pose as possible stationary obstructions.

The backdrop mattered in creating a sense of atmosphere the boys said in facilitating a smoother performance. "We did feel like we were walking into a castle," they admitted. Without it their performance level would have decreased.

And the 'final factor' at 'the finals to boost their 'performing pulse' had been the big audience! The boys knew they were performing to a large crowd and it was their moment of glory.

They were committed to giving nothing short of their absolute utmost! And no they were not really 'nervous' as some may think. "It was like a dream," said Christopher reflecting on that evening of performing at the finals. "Getting there was one of the best experiences of my life."

The dreams from childhood whenever they are touched and tasted prove to be the sweetest of memories in later life.

Surely Kevin Cruze and last year's victorious Joes can happily make that claim.

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