Young thespians take the stage

The 45th All-Island Inter School Shakespeare Drama Competition came to a close last weekend, with the finals being held on 28 and 29 September at the Bishop’s College Auditorium.

Jointly organised by the Colombo YMCA and Rotary Club of Colombo North, the all-island Shakespeare drama competition has been around long enough for it to be a tradition in many Colombo schools; where several generations of dramatists got their start into the dramatic arts via ‘Shakes’.

However, while it is the norm in Colombo schools, those around the island have only recently begun to see the importance of Shakes. This year, the organisers saw 40 entries come in, with 36 schools actually taking part in this year’s competition.

The President of the Rotary Club of Colombo North Dulip Jayamaha said: “We saw more entries this year than any year before it, and usually see less female participation. Usually, boys come out stronger in terms of participation, but this year we saw a change.” He added: “Many young dramatists discover their love for theatre here, even after they leave school, regardless of whether they stayed with the arts or not – their passion remains and we see a lot of thespians returning to be a part of the competition in any way they can.”

Jayamaha’s daughter Lasika, whose life this competition has been a part of since the day she was born, added: “It’s been a real joy to witness all of this great talent come and go over the years. It’s even better when you see someone, who got their start at Shakes, really shine in other theatre productions, and even pursue it as a career.”

The Youth Secretary and Programmes Secretary of Colombo YMCA Chris Robinson said: “The all-island drama competition has been one of the YMCA’s main events for so many years, and in addition to our leadership programmes and other charity events, this has proven to be one of the biggest successes in terms of enriching young minds.”

The semi-finals this year stretched out over four days, unlike the three days usually taken in the past, engaging two panels of judges. Four girls’ schools and four boys’ schools were selected for the finals. Girls – Gateway College Dehiwala, Musaeus College, Bishop’s College, and St. Bridget’s Convent and Boys – Ananda College, St. Peter’s College, D.S. Senanayake College, and St. Benedict’s College.

The winners of this year’s competition were Bishop’s College, who performed ‘King Lear’, and D.S. Senanayake College, who performed ‘A comedy of Errors’.
First runner-up was awarded to Musaeus College for their rendering of ‘Measure for Measure’ and St. Benedict’s College’s take on ‘Henry the IV Part III’.
Best actress and actor awards went to Raadha Faizal from Bishop’s College and Dimmithry Jayawardene from St. Benedict’s College, respectively.

As is usual for Shakes, the costumes were fantastic, the lighting and props were inventive, the music was on point, and the performances were truly inspiring.

Over the years, Shakes has really amazed – time and time again. While there were occasional disgruntles, complaints from school children who wished their school had been selected, or insisted, adamantly that there were better performances in the semi-finals round that got overlooked, it was still a mind-blowing display of talent and bravery.
Attorney-At-Law Shehara Herath, compèring for the night said: “The competition keeps getting better and more competitive and I think it’s a really positive thing. It’s a great opportunity for youngsters to improve their skills and to grow.”

Hasna Riyaz, a Bishopian, who had never seen a Shakespeare production before, and was “only there to watch her friends” said: “Even though I don’t know all that much about theatre, I can still appreciate the hard work that must’ve gone into all those amazing costumes and also to memorising those lines.”

Roshane Jayampathy, who directed the semi-finals entries for St. Laurence’s College and Gateway College Kandy added: “Since I was in school, Shakes has always been a draw for passionate people, and it’s evident that this year also it’s remained the same, with so many dedicated performances.”

Sri Lankan theatre-goers owe a huge thanks to the Rotary Club of Colombo North and the Colombo YMCA for setting the stage for young students to really shine, and to find their voice. The students who take part truly get an opportunity to work on their drama skills, to learn discipline, organisation skills, as well as teamwork.

The all-island Shakespeare drama competition is far more than just a competition, it’s a place young people can really build up their character and use them for their future development, and is an incredible gift for students around the island who wish to become performers, or to simply experience something most rewarding.

By Dimithri Wijesinghe

Photos by Pradeep Dambarage