Groundviews

Interview with Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke, Director of ‘Paraya’

Directed by Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke and produced by Mind Adventures, Paraya will begin its run on 18th of this month to the 21st.

For any other theatrical production, that description would suffice, along with perhaps details on where to get tickets and more information on the box plan. Paraya though is different. It’s not going on stage at the Wendt, Punchi Theatre, The British School, The British Council or any other traditional venue for theatre. This play takes place in the beautiful decay of a very large building in the heart of Colombo, unused for three decades. There will be no rows of carefully numbered seats. The production will quite literally take place in the middle of the audience and across various locations in this old, dilapidated building. Those in the audience will have the freedom to choose how they want to engage with the production, by following and interacting with characters as they see fit. Those more passive will of course see a production, but it won’t be as interesting or ultimately, enlightening as those who choose to walk, run, inquire and interact. Paraya is multi-faceted, and its many perspectives will only come to light if you choose to actively engage, which in itself is fundamentally different to theatrical productions in a more traditional stage-setting.

Smriti Daniel’s interview with Arun published in The Sunday Times goes into why he chose to work with Mind Adventures on this project. I caught up with him on the set of Paraya, as the rest of the cast were setting up the space and warming up for rehearsals, to go deeper into the production itself – its genesis, the reasons behind the choice of the location, what Arun considers immersive theatre and how this production is both a response to and shaped by post-war Sri Lanka, including, inter alia, censorship, militarisation and the democratic deficit. We also talk about what Arun expects of the audience – what he wants them to do, and indeed, take away from this production.

The media strategy for Paraya is also quite interesting. Mind Adventures has created a blog to support the production called the National Happiness Authority. Save for Smriti’s interview with Arun, Paraya has no official media sponsor or mainstream media advertising. Relying solely on web media, word of mouth, emails and social networking, the blog serves as the central point for information on the production, including ticketing. One reserves a ticket for what “will no doubt be the greatest show on earth” that will “salute our Great Leader, and remember our Victory, and all our nation’s great achievements”.

Over the coming days, Groundviews will offer, through Twitter (@groundviews) and Facebook, glimpses into the world Paraya is located in to pique interest. I opted to not see a run through of the production today, because I want to, on the night of the production, be caught unawares. By design or pure chance, I want to find myself trapped, upset, angry, shouted at, confided in or peering quietly at the life of a character that helps me understand why something was said or done.

Paraya promises to be a unique theatrical experience, and I encourage you to reserve your ticket for the “National Silver Jubilee Celebrations” without delay.