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Performing lived histories: working through our war, and post-war lives

Within the working scope of the company, exploring a performance making practice organic to our own growth and evolving sense of being became the focus of the company. We became preoccupied with the technique of storytelling as a means of making a theatre that could speak through the silence of the war. And so, performance work such as The War Reporter (2010), The Gaza Mono-Logues (2010/2011), My Other History (2011/2012) and Forgetting November (2015) are indicative of how the series of choices we made to consistently engage with the stories told in the landscape of the political upheavals experienced within the specificity of the years they were performed during.

As young theatre practitioners although located by then in the terrain of the post-war, a country at war was the only country we knew and we wanted our voice and critical response to the larger politics that framed us to be present within the work. The spirit of Floating Space’s art, although not strictly a ‘political theatre,’ reflected the concerns of a community, and that of artists living and working in that community. The four productions mark also our continuing commentary, informed by lived history, on violence against journalists in the country, war as seen through the eyes of children, the narrative of displacement and the post-war struggle for memory and memorial. We were also making simultaneous choices over the form of the work, as well as build an argument for ethical considerations around working with lived histories.

The War Reporter

(Performed in Colombo in March 2010 in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut, the German Cultural Centre in Colombo)

The War Reporter

 German playwright Theresia Walser’s Die Kriegsberichtserstatterin was translated for performance by Prof. Asoka De Zoysa for Floating Space Theatre Company in 2010. The choice for the title The War Reporter was both artistic and political. The production responded not only to the war on journalism and the freedom of expression but also the apathy that such violation was met with in Colombo.

Abstract in aesthetic, the performance was set within a garden party where there is much anticipation caused by the proposed announcement of a promotion to be made by Director of a Language Institute. The War Reporter pivots around the entrance of a young woman who relentlessly penetrates this bubble of the elite and the genteel, with their own special flavour of petty backbiting, polite chatter and finger food, with reports of war. As the Institute’s need to protect ‘the language’ it is responsible for grows in pitch, the group becomes almost oblivious to the war reporter who interrupts with her reality of a life completely altered by war. I have seen people dead, says the war reporter, in an attempt to convince. And yet, the people dead, the numbers of lives she experiences and tries to report on to those who will not listen fails to penetrate the group of people so tightly-knotted by their individual circumstances. The performance thus brought into focus the hegemony of culture and language that resonated in the context of the Sri Lankan conflict.

 My Other History

(First performed as part of Unmaking Time at the Park Street Mews Warehouse, Colombo 2011, the production was also featured at the Galle Literary Festival in 2012. In October of the same year the production also toured in the cities of Jaffna and Kandy.)

My Other History

 Awarded the Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust Grant 2011, Jake Oorloff created My Other History as part of (Un)making Time; a project to support  new theatre-making  initiated by the Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust. Reconciliation was the theme suggested by the Trust, and the performance focuses on a history and experience of displacement and dislocation as a result of war in Sri Lanka. The inspiration for the script was found in a short text titled ‘Home Town Jaffna’ written by D. Subramaniam, who was forced out of his home due to the conflict in the area of Jaffna were he lived. The plot follows his travel to Colombo and eventual return to his place of origin.

Set in a time of Sri Lanka’s move toward political reconciliation, My Other History explores the idea of reconciliation as a moment of remembrance, a process of letting go, an act of listening as much as that of confrontation. While emphasis is placed on a reconciliation that is political and collective and pivots sometimes on a notion of moving forward that does not acknowledge its past, this is the story of the personal. My Other History is set in the present, while referring to a past that plays out through the memory of a young man and his conversation with his mother who tries to connect her son to his past, and to what is her history. It hints at the history of a people denied of land, memory and life; it touches on a family’s sense of belonging in the context of their experience of displacement and their understandings of being patriotic or even their ability to love their country.

Forgetting November

(Performed in September 2015 at the Harold Pieris Gallery in Colombo, the performance was created as an extension of the event ‘Watch this space: Framing the past, untying the future’ curated by Groundviews.)

The performance Forgetting November explores the idea of memory and the process of memorialization, as much as it considers the long and difficult process of moving on from the personal and collective traumas experiences in times of political upheaval and militarized societies. Responding to the politics of time and context, it problematizes the idea of public memorials, meant to stand as repositories of grief, and bear witness to a collective history.