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October 25, 2022

The Global Stage: Passport to Sri Lanka


Destination: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo, the commercial capital and most populous city in Sri Lanka, has several theatres, including the Lionel Wendt Theatre, The Elphinstone and Tower Hall, which cater mostly to Western-style drama. The Navarangahala theatre opened in 1969 and is home to Asian and regional performance, while a more recent design, the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre – which is in the shape of a lotus pond – was dedicated in 2011 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for world-class productions.

Theatre Company: Clutch Plays Theatre

Taken from the sports term for a vital play at a crucial moment, Clutch Plays Theatre was created about six months into the pandemic. “Why not make a theatre company now?” said Artistic Director Mayaan Haputantri. “It seemed ridiculous to make a theatre company in the middle of the pandemic, but also perfect. Shortly after, I formed a 4-person board for the company and we got underway.”

Mayaan first became interested in theatre through the All-Island Interschool Shakespeare Competition. “Schools perform 30-minute extracts from a select list of Shakespeare plays, which rotate every year, and a panel of judges crown the winners,” he explained. “When I left school, I didn’t really have a place to go to continue with my passion for drama. There are quite a few theatre companies, but none of them felt safe and right for me. I wanted the type of theatre that would inspire and leave an imprint on whoever came to watch the shows, so we formed Clutch Plays Theatre to fill that purpose.”

Clutch Plays first produced Boys’ Play by Jack Heifner in 2020 and followed that play’s success with their second production.

Production: Tiny Beautiful Things by Nia Vardalos, based on the book by Cheryl Strayed (US/UK)

“The first word that I thought of right after I finished reading the script for the first time was ‘healing,’” said Mayaan. “Many of the letters are very relatable, even if the exact situations and troubles that people face aren’t things that you yourself might experience. With the pandemic came an all-time high in struggles with mental health for many people. This play doesn’t shy away from that, bringing the issues we face in our lives into the spotlight. There were many times where just reading her words helped me with my own struggles and many of our audience members wrote back to us with feedback and how they benefited from hearing her words. And as a team, that is all we ever hoped for by producing this show.”

As with most areas, the pandemic slowed theatre productions in Sri Lanka — particularly in the English Language. “Sinhalese language theatre has made a good comeback, but there is a lot of stress in putting on a show during these times. Mainly from worrying about whether a cast member will get Covid in the lead-up to a show.” The cast members rehearsed masked and when the masks came off a week before the show “there was a lot of giggling and joking when the actors had to see each other’s faces for the first time.” The audiences still came out even thought there was an Omicron surge leading up to opening and audiences needed to be capped. “The show itself is a very personal show. I think having a smaller audience on the show days helped make it feel more personal and private to those who came to watch,” said Mayaan. “Despite all the stress and worries that come from doing a show, despite all of us having to work our day jobs, we knew that this was a story that needed to be told. There is no timeline in which we wouldn’t do it all again.”

What’s next?

Mayaan is hard at work on the next production. “We hope to put on a show end of February 2023, and many other projects are already in the pipeline. We are hard at work to become a platform for all creative collaborators to shine — Clutch Plays Theatre is just getting started!”

Discover Tiny Beautiful Things, along with many more universal plays and musicals, at Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2022 Clutch Plays Theatre production of Tiny Beautiful Things (Mayaan Haputantri)