The War Reporter – An interview with the directors

This was published a while ago in The Nation and while it is hardly a masterpiece, it is still a published piece of work under my name.  So here it is:

Directing The War Reporter

By Natalie Soysa

Tehani Chitty as the War Reporter

Natalie Soysa met with Floating Space at the Goethe-Institut last week to chat about their latest production, The War Reporter – a play by Theresia Walser, translated for performance in Sri Lanka by Asoka de Zoysa. The performance is presented in collaboration with the Goethe-Insitut, Sri Lanka, the German Cultural Centre.

The production brings together a cast that includes Tehani Chitty, Venuri Perera, Imani Perera, Minari Fernando, Lilanka Botejue, Chinthaka Fernando, Niren Neydorff, Gehan Blok and Christopher Stephen.

Floating Space has been in existence since November 2007, initiated by two like-minded individuals Ruhanie Perera and Jake Oorloff who function as the company’s co-creative directors. Past productions of Floating Space include ‘In a shadow – An evening of performance poetry’ (Colombo 2007) and ‘A Bedtime Story’ (Colombo 2008).

They both work locally and overseas in various aspects of performance, and we wanted a closer look at their work. So, after a long rehearsal with their cast, Ruhanie Perera and Jake Oorloff spoke to us of their plans for this production and the future of the company.

Following are excerpts:
Q: Why have you picked The War Reporter as your latest production?

Ruhanie: The War Reporter is a deeply political play – on one hand, it speaks of culture and the hegemony of language, and on the other, it brings into focus the right of expression, and in this respect, despite it being located within a very specific German playwriting context, it speaks in our time and place. This was its significance for us.

Jake: I think, like everybody else, we are concerned of the systematic curtailing of expression within the country. We wanted to discuss both the impact of paranoia around the protection of a language within a community, as much as look at what happened to forms of expression at a time of war, which we felt very strongly about.
We were also interested in how we placed ourselves – or were placed – in the roles of either traitor or patriot, in relation to what we felt and expressed about the war, and what that meant at the time for Sri Lankans who did not agree with the war. As citizens, we felt we had a right to express dissent, and yet, what we consistently confronted was the feeling of absolute impotency, when the right and mediums of expression were being systematically denied.

Q: Tell me of your directorial vision and the challenges you faced with this production?

Ruhanie: The script revolves around what language means to a community or people. It may be interpreted as a metaphor for self-expression, but also an expression of a culture or community. The idea that one language and, by extension, a culture is more superior or more precious and requires protecting and preserving becomes a gnawing question.

Jake: Language in itself has given rise to conflict and, in some instances, fuelled it. The references to culture and the need to protect culture have strong parallels. Over the years, we have seen politicians assuming the role of cultural protectors, and I find it rather absurd, and also disturbing.

The challenge we faced was that the performance was culture specific, which was taken into consideration during the translation, and when I worked with the actors. Some of the themes and ideas resonate in our context, and I feel our audiences will be able to immediately identify, if not appreciate them. We did not want to be limited by the absolutes and the obvious. So themes are introduced during the performance, but, at the end, the audience is left with questions rather than answers.

Ruhanie: The role of the war reporter is interesting, perhaps because of our recent past, but also because it is a signifier of curtailed expression. More often than not, journalists can’t or don’t report freely. As a citizen, the feeling of helplessness overwhelms when you read the newspapers, and you start questioning its authenticity and its impartiality.

Jake: In the context of the play, the ‘war’ is just outside your garden, but you are safe. It is in the gardens of your neighbours, so you can still live without fear. You don’t have to be concerned of the reports, the reporting or reporters.

Q: Let’s talk about the theatre company. Why ‘Floating Space’?

Ruhanie: We decided to go with ‘Floating Space’ because it conveyed something of the fluidity in our approach to creating performance. It is perhaps for this reason that we are sometimes identified as an experimental theatre company.

Jake: ‘Floating Space’ also reflects something of our intention to go beyond being a company that works toward a production once a year. It is a – sort of – undefined space, in that, we’re a theatre company that’s not just about theatre. For example, drama in education, performance research and publication are areas that we are involved in at present, and are areas that are important for our practice.

Q: What do you feel are your individual contributions to Floating Space?

Ruhanie: At the time that Jake and I decided to collaborate, what we wanted for our practice was the same… so that is how it started. At a very structural or technical level, we work as directors, but our roles vary depending on the project.

Q: Where do you see Floating Space in the next few years?

Jake: We would like to collaborate more with artistes in the country and in the region. Presently, we work outside the country about four or five times a year in workshop and producing work. We are presently working on inviting artistes from other parts of the world to work with us in Sri Lanka. Workshops and training for performers is something we want to look at. Perhaps offer courses for performers.

Ruhanie: As performers working in Sri Lanka, we don’t have the time to be self-reflective of our work. And it’s important that we have the space for that in workshop and in training sessions. We also would like to be part of a culture of research, review and documentation of performance – and that is a part of our future work.

The War Reporter, presented by Floating Space, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, Sri Lanka, the German Cultural Centre, goes on the Boards from March 25 to 28 at the German Cultural Centre, Colombo 7. The Electronic Media Sponsor for the production is MTV and Isotonic Lime Blast came in to refresh and revive the cast.

Tickets will be available at the venue from March 20.

Official Link : http://www.nation.lk/2010/03/14/eyefea6.htm

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3 thoughts on “The War Reporter – An interview with the directors

  1. Jake says “So themes are introduced during the performance, but, at the end, the audience is left with questions rather than answers.” This was very true. Many, including myself, left the venue wondering why they attended, and what on earth the production was about.

    Upon reading this, and in fact the literature on it before I saw the production, there is such a great disconnect between the themes and issues the directors say the play is anchored to – obviously resonant in SL and bound to kindle interest as a result – and what the play was actually able to communicate through theatre.

    Jake’s and Ruhanie’s vision for their company must be supported and commended (and I know Jake to be a genuinely nice bloke), but their ability to adapt scripts and stage good theatre – the fundamentals of any theatre group – cannot suggest this production as an example of ability or experience.

    Sanjana Hattotuwa

  2. There were a lot of mixed reviews on the War Reporter, Sanjana. Some even felt the need to come back a second time to make sure of what they were seeing. I am unfortunately not in a position to give you my opinion as I was backstage during the production, automatically deeming it null and void on the grounds of boderline nepotism. Hence I opted to merely post the interview and not a review itself.

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