By Dimithri Wijesinghe
It’s been a while since the Covid-19 pandemic has taken over our lives, so much so that whenever anyone says anything remotely unrelated to the virus, it’s considered a waste of time, unimportant, and irrelevant conversation, because apparently if you don’t talk about the ever present global crisis 24/7, you will somehow forget it.
Should this really be the case? Must we constantly dwell on this unfortunate fact of life we are all actively aware of? Many would argue that it is counterproductive to dwell on the one thing that is causing all of your problems, and particularly something you cannot change.
So what should we dwell on? What are more productive, healthier ways to spend your days? One thing that has proven time and time again to be effective in relaxing and distracting oneself from the unfortunate truths of life has been the arts. Particularly during times of crisis, the arts take on a very important role, and in times like this, keeping the arts alive becomes even more important.
We spoke to a number of local performers, artists, and creators on their thoughts about the role of the artist during such times, the importance of keeping art alive, and what becomes of art when the world is faced with such a crisis.
Brandon Ingram, best known for his theatre work as an actor and writer, stated that economically looking at it, artists will be part of those who are most under fire and hardest hit, considering that even below the tourism and travel industry, are those people who create for a living. He said that even when everything is being rebuilt, the entertainment sector will be the last thing to be considered, and in these unprecedented times and even before all of this, it was not particularly seen as a commodity and it will be the first to suffer any type of cut in funding, not that there was any to begin with.
He also shared that despite it being considered so low in the totem pole, art has been key in helping communities manoeuvre through the difficult times. When all this is settling down, the arts, he said, will always be in that contradictory place it always finds itself in; important enough to heal and provide people solace, but also never getting the support it needs to truly thrive.
Never a better time to be creative
It is true that the arts have never been treated all too fairly in Sri Lanka; an opinion that was almost unanimously shared amongst all the creators we got in touch with but also, one other thing they all shared was that, while it is a tragic time no doubt, there has never been a better time to be creative.
Theatre director and playwright Rajitha Hettiarachchi shared that in these exceptional times, where we have been stripped of our traditional crutches, now is the time to look beyond our limitations. He said that now is the time to give importance to the stories; when we don’t have access to a theatre or a stage and when we are cut off from what we are used to, we can look to other mediums to strengthen our storytelling skills. He shared that he himself has been working on his writing, scripts, and other projects to be pursued hopefully when the time comes.
Yureni Noshika, actress, musician, emcee, and prominent public figure also shared, in Rajitha’s sentiments, that this is indeed the best time to be creative. She said that it is the ideal time to do the things you have been putting off or had no time to do. Gather the knowledge you need to create and make better content. “You may be a banker by profession, but if your passion is filmmaking, then now is the time to learn that skill; gather the knowledge and do your research,” she said.
Yureni also stressed on the new media available to the world of entertainment, being a strong believer in video streaming being the future of media consumption. She said: “Globally, the industry is focused on online content, mini-series, TV serials, etc. and language is not a barrier anymore; we see that with Parasite’s success.” She added that it is time to take our art to the next level as the Sri Lankan market is raw; it is untapped.
We must spend our time and put in effort exploring these new technologies, she said, adding that she is part of a collective, transmedia project titled “9NINE” which is focused on creating a web series that allows the audience to become familiar with a character even before it hits the big screen. She stated they are currently marketing the concept; there’s a lot of hype being built around it and this will be the new wave of entertainment to focus on taking our creators to the world.
Doing their part
We spoke to Saranga Disasekara who also shared that the role of the artist is particularly important during this time and that much like what Yureni has expressed, it is also important to take the time to provide growth for yourself.
He said that while he has been working on creative projects aimed at the future, he has taken efforts to keep in touch with his audience to provide entertainment and support where he can, as it is part of the job description of an entertainer to alleviate the pressures posed by society and provide relief or a momentary distraction, at the very least.
Jehan Aloysius similarly shared that the role of an artist comes into prominence as artists are necessary to boost morale and maintain positivity overall amongst the community. He shared that he too has been doing his best to share creative content on his social media, making sure to share his short stories and music.
“I know that there is a lot of uncertainty and depression, and there is a responsibility on those who have the tools and the skills to alter such moods,” he said. He shared that he has encouraged people to send in their monologues and various performances to evaluate. Further, he is providing one-on-one sessions for kids and aspiring performers and he added that it is really not about making a buck at this point. Instead, it is about nourishing the creative energy of our community to keep the arts alive. Theatre practitioners including Jehan, Rajitha, and many others have really taken on an important role during these pandemic times.
We spoke to another Neidra Williams, who also shared that she and Jehan Bastians have been conducting a podcast on podhub.lk amongst many others, who have also been sharing their respective expertise on the platform.
She said that the arts can truly help people; there have been many disasters over the years and art has been ever present in overcoming suffering. We can help build up some endorphins and keep the positive vibes going to help people cope better with a situation they have no control over. With the new technologies available, artists are no longer limited to traditional mediums; there really is no need and these new methods of live chats and video streaming may even be better for the growth and interaction of artists.
Art has always played a prominent role in society and its growth, and whether its role will truly be acknowledged in its true value and capacity is up for debate. There is no doubt that the service it does for some is immeasurable. However, the role of the artist in its ever-growing and changing nature has taken on another dimension during these times of crisis; with technology at the helm, making the best of a bad situation has taken on a whole new meaning.