TCK Strides on the Stage of English Drama Education | Sunday Observer

TCK Strides on the Stage of English Drama Education

4 October, 2020

Drama and theatre is a subject that is gaining popularity among youth at undergraduate level in Sri Lanka as the State university system produces academically qualified practitioners in drama and theatre to the folds of the arts with each passing year. The subject of drama and theatre is however also part of the school curriculum, and available not only in Sinhala medium but also for the English medium syllabus. To me, the existence of the latter was not heard of until recently when, Kandy based English drama and theatre practitioner Aslam Marikkar made me aware of this fact.

Aslam who is a dedicated playwright and director, is the Founder of Sri Theatre Company and has over the years produced several original English medium stage plays. Apart from being a theatre practitioner Aslam is also an educator in the subject of drama and theatre as he is the English drama teacher at his alma mater, Trinity College, Kandy (TCK). Thanks to Aslam’s efforts to foster drama and theatre among youth, his school can proudly claim to be practically the only school in Sri Lanka that offers drama and theatre as a subject for English medium O/L students. In this article I bring to the readers of the Sunday Observer a Q&A feature with Aslam Marikkar who offers insights as to how his love for the stage began the inception of his theatre company, and how the noteworthy development in the English medium O/L syllabus at Trinity College began and what may be the nature of its journey ahead.

Q: How far back goes your love for stage drama and the English theatre? Being born and raised in Kandy what were the main sources of English theatre that you were exposed to as a schoolboy?

A: It all started in the year 1999. I was a young blissfully ignorant school boy aimlessly walking the corridors at school. Most kids knew what they wanted to become I was however fashionably clueless. Then one day I was stopped on my tracks and Ms.Rengasamy, she veered me off course toward the college hall. There I met the most passionate of young men, who were my seniors at the time, a group of men that took to heart the importance of the stage. With them I visited the Wendt for the first time, took part at the Shakespeare drama competition and from there on I refused to look back. I was taken whole heartedly with all I saw.

Q: You are a committed theatre practitioner with a focus on writing original scripts in English for the stage. Sri Theatre Company was founded by you and has produced several original English stage dramas over the years. What were the origins of Sri Theatre Company? How did the nucleus of the theatre troupe begin?

A: The nucleus I might say is my first script coupled with sheer will to see it being performed on stage. Then I realised with patience the right people come together. It’s a very organic process.

I still have a picture of the first Sri Theatre Company crew which proudly hangs on my wall. Special mention must be given to Mrs. Malinie Samarajeeva who opened her doors and let me use her living room as I pleased. And as always the first crew that blew life into the script and gave it character on stage must and will always be appreciated.

Q: You are an old boy of Trinity College Kandy, who now serves the college as English drama teacher. How did this engagement as a drama and theatre teacher begin? What are your goals as a drama and theatre artiste for your own school in the capacity of a teacher when it comes to inculcating the love for theatre amongst students at Trinity?

A: Mr. Andrew Fowlerwatt met my mother at the Centenary Trinity Anthonian Big match. She was accompanying my grandfather who was the oldest cricket captain alive at the time of the event. I guess the conversation happened to include me and a very light hearted inquiry was made ; I was working as a TV journalist in Colombo at the time. This inquiry was then passed onto me and I thought it best to test the waters and give Mr. Fowlerwatt a call. That’s was how the title Drama Teacher accompanied my introductions. The theatre tradition at Trinity is very old. The first play performed according an old college magazine I read at the archives was the trial scene in Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. It was performed in 1875 after a prize giving.

My presence is just another event attached to the long narrative at Trinity College. When I walked into this environment there was nothing much I had to do. Drama was already a part of the structure. I simply shared my experience with what was already happening. Mr. Fowlerwatt being a dramatist himself was very keen on the inclusion of drama within the school curriculum. It was at his suggestion that drama was introduced as a compulsory subject to all grade six students. Over all I believe the theatre is an ingrained aspect of Trinity College culture. Regardless my presence.

Q: As a teacher of English Drama and Theatre at school level can you provide insight about the subject syllabi? Trinity College has English drama and Theatre as a subject for O/Ls. How practically strenuous is this subject in comparison to the other electives in the aesthetic subject category for O/Ls?

A: O/L Drama and theatre to the surprise of many is now available in English. Trinity I believe is the only school sitting for the paper at the moment. However this option for O/L s was available for quite a few years. It had just vanished under the radar. It’s a relatively fun subject as it involves acting as a part of the program. I would not say it’s easy because there are sections that require you put in a bit of hard work like the History of Sri Lankan theatre and types of folk theatre in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless if you like the stage you will find the subject useful. Compared to other subjects, I believe, it will depend on your preference. This is after all considered an aesthetic subject.

Q: Can you please describe to the readers of the Sunday Observer a bit about the syllabus and the prescribed texts? Are they texts that you would say many English speaking bilinguals in Sri Lanka are familiar with?

A: The syllabus can be separated into a few parts that will assist with simplifying the whole. Theatre production, history of modern Sri Lankan theatre beginning with ‘Nurthi’, folk drama and aspect of theatre in rituals, basic technical terms associated with Eastern theatre and exploring a list of Sri Lankan dramatist. The two prescribed plays we study at the moment are ‘Let’s give them Curry’ by Ernest McEntire and ‘Arms and the Man’ by Bernard Shaw. I doubt these plays are familiar to modern audiences but reading through them, especially ‘Let’s give them Curry’ I must say is very relevant to the present in every aspect. They are not bilingual, not ‘Arm and the Man’ for sure. ‘But let’s give them Curry’ is very Sri Lankan English by tone.

Q: Now that Trinity has begun its journey in drama and theatre studies for the O/L curriculum, would you, together with Trinity College be willing to make initiatives in Kandy to encourage more schools in Kandy to consider introducing the subject to their students? Perhaps by holding a seminar that would introduce the subject syllabus and the practicalities of how the syllabus can be taught to English teachers in other schools in Kandy?

A: This is something that we have considered. If the subject is to stay alive more schools need to know the benefit of teaching it to students. A structured syllabus is available and we have managed to expand it with notes. This we plan to share with interested schools. It will take a while to initiate considering these dragging times but will be done as soon as life gets back on track in the city.

Q: What have your students revealed of their own goals when selecting this subject? Is it just a random selection for some of them to simply follow a subject of the arts and letters in view of sitting for O/Ls?

A: A few students seem to be keen on making theatre a part of their lives. I try my best to include the entire class to do the same. Only time will tell.

Q: What can you say about the current English drama and theatre syllabus? What in your opinion as both a theatre practitioner and a teacher could improve the syllabus?

A: The syllabus is the same as what the Sinhala students have got to follow. The only difference would be that we have two different prescribed scripts and we focus a bit more on Sri Lankan English drama. I personally believe that the names of Sri Lankan dramatist from both mediums should be included into both syllabuses as the dramatist all fall into the whole of modern Sri Lankan theatre regardless of medium. Also a bit more on Tamil drama too can widen the students’ range of appreciating the profession. The one down side is that the prescribed script “Let’s Give Them Curry by Ernest McEntire” is very hard to find. We too have a photocopy of the script and its text is literally fading away as we speak. If there is anyone that can share with us a copy it will be greatly appreciated! Other than that small inclusion the O/L syllabus sets a good foundation to understanding theatre as a profession.