VOLUME 8, NUMBER 1
SPECIAL ISSUE: REAPING THE REWARDS OF
THE PLAN FOR MOUNT HOLYOKE 2003
goals: Encourage greater integration of the performing and expressive
arts in the curriculum and College life Embrace diversity
and build an inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff
While growing up in
Sri Lanka, Indika Senanayake '03 didn't experience professional
theater. It basically doesn't exist there. But when she got a
taste of what it's like to be onstage--performing in a play directed
at the College by visiting artist Chuck Mike during her sophomore
year--a theatre arts major, perhaps even a star, was born. Inspired
by her experience with the play and by Mike, a practitioner of
"theatre for development," Senanayake became fascinated with "transformation
through performance" and in theatre for development (a form in
which performers visit a community in a developing country, discuss
pressing social issues with its members, create and perform a
play, and involve community members in the production).
Senanayake's performance piece, created as part of her senior
thesis, was based on her observation of Sri Lankan rituals
and her experience of her culture's rites of passage.
These interests have
taken her as far afield as Ghana, where she explored theatre for
development as a junior, and back to her native country, where
she researched cultural practices last summer. Upon her return
this fall and in consultation with Mount Holyoke faculty members
in departments as wide-ranging as dance, anthropology, and theatre
arts, Senanayake created and performed a theatrical tour de force
at the College in March. The piece was based on her observation
of Sri Lankan rituals focusing on transformation and altered states
of being (including a rarely seen exorcism ritual) and her experience
of her culture's rites of passage.
"The parallel suspension
of consciousness that can occur in the spheres of ritual and theatre
is at the heart of my formal explorations," she says. "My piece
drew on my transformations as a woman and emergent artist negotiating
ideals of beauty and womanhood in Sri Lanka, Ghana, and the U.S.
The seven traditional Sri Lankan rites of passage were integral
to the shaping of the performance. They have served as a prism
through which to filter the light of my discoveries as a woman
from a traditional culture of restraint making her way through
a world of limitless freedom."
With the hope of
continuing her journey of discovery, Senanayake has applied for
an Alumnae Association fellowship that would enable her to return
to Sri Lanka after graduation to examine "the Dance of the Long
Hall," the only form of traditional dance practiced exclusively
by women there, and to work with the only women's street theatre
group in her country. She then plans to create an interdisciplinary
performance piece, drawing on Sri Lankan myths of transformation
and re-invention. When it is complete, Senanayake would like to
perform it in communities in both Sri Lanka and the United States.
Joyce Devlin, Mount Holyoke professor and chair of theatre arts
and Senanayake's adviser, would certainly be in the audience.
"Indika's work revolves around universal themes; we see ourselves
in a different culture," says Devlin. "This brings all of us closer
and bridges difference. It's a wonderful use of theatre."