Theatre of Friendship

Theatre of Friendship Photo

Theatre of Friendship uses Playback Theatre to build bridges between Sri Lankan communities who otherwise have no contact and no shared language. For more than a generation, civil war has divided the country. Theatre of Friendship creates space for people to hear one another’s stories and develop understanding across cultural divides. Four diverse Sri Lankan communities have formed a network called 'Theatre of Friendship: Playback Sri Lanka'. They have invited us to support them to hold a national gathering in January 2013. We are raising money to make that possible.

The Future We Are Creating

Facilitating deep listening, recognition of others, and acknowledgement of each person’s relevance and dignity, the project aims to form long term cross-cultural alliances in Sri Lanka.

A group of volunteer artists has offered preliminary training in Playback Theatre to groups in Jaffna, Colombo, Hatton and Galle. This began in 2006 and 2007, then resumed in January 2012 after a hiatus due to the war. The 2012 training culminated in a national gathering of the four groups in Kandy, hosted by Mountain Flower Playback Theatre.

Following this event, we asked the local groups if they would like to take the work forward and how they would like to do that.

In June 2012, leaders from each of the four groups met with project leader Cymbeline Buhler. They decided to form the network 'Theatre of Friendship: Playback Sri Lanka'. The Jaffna based group, Kaveri Kala Manram, invited the network members to gather at their centre in Chilipuram in January 2013. They invited the international artists to come and support them. This is the first major initiative taken by the newly formed network.

The international trainers' aim is for our activities to become self-perpetuating, with the project driven by local participants at every stage. We are committed to ongoing support for these communities until at least 2017, when we envisage the local participants will be highly skilled in all aspects of Playback Theatre practice. 

The Theatre of Friendship network identifies its goals as follows:

- to bring people together and build  greater solidarity between individuals       

- to support community development in rural areas

- to work cross-culturally with the aim of promoting peace and harmony in society     

- to make strong connections between regions   

- to work on 4-5 levels: grass roots/NGOs; schools; government offices; provincial councils; religious groups; women’s groups; general public.  

- to build up the network. Register all people engaged in Playback Theatre practice in Sri Lanka and also link with friends of Theatre of Friendship from around Sri Lanka and internationally

How We Are Creating It

Playback Theatre creates a space in which difficult experiences and emotions can be safely expressed. This makes it a powerful tool for peace-building work and the promotion of justice in a non-litigious, non-punitive manner.

We plan to provide ongoing regular support to each of the groups involved. We will also work with them closely to adapt the work to suit their particular post-war circumstances.

We see the local leaders as experts in how best to take this work forwards. We are offering them as much support as we are able to, and also linking them up with professionals who bring expertise specific to their needs.

Our Story & Why You Should Support Us

Theatre of Friendship grew out of post-tsunami work done by Cymbeline Buhler in 2006. The group she worked with loved Playback Theatre. They did a performance and a lot of people came. They were generous with stories and the young people played them out in ways that mixed traditional movement styles with this contemporary form. 

A thought bubble rose up about Playback Theatre as a tool to build bridges where the war had divided communities. She returned a year later with Sister Clare Therese from India. They worked with the same group and also went to the hill country and worked with Centre for Social Concern, an organisation that works to support, protect and advocate for the rights of the tea plantation workers. They spoke with both groups about the idea of working together and starting a process of intercultural dialogue using Playback Theatre. They both responded positively.

Soon after that, the ceasefire broke down and the war escalated. They had to pause with their activities. 

Later, when the war had ended, they were warmly invited to work with a group in Jaffna, Kaveri Kala Manram, company formed to promote the therapeutic use of drama in the war-affected communities. In January 2012, they returned with a team of ten international trainers from Australia, India, Germany and the UK. They worked with four groups: Yathra, Unawatuna (the original group); Mountain Flower Playback, Hatton (a group formed by the Centre for Social Concern); Kaveri Kala Manram, Jaffna (the group who invited them to come in 2012 to support their post-war theatre work and Interact Art, Colombo (a black box theatre company).

This culminated in a national gathering, following which the local groups decided to form a network to continue this work.

The network has requested ongoing support from the international trainers. We are committed to supporting them until they have developed strong foundations in the skills of Playback Theatre. 

At this early stage in the project, we are seeking support from the broader community so we can volunteer to support this next phase of the project. Our activities in January 2013 will consolidate the project, placing it in a viable position to seek funding from a range of stable sources.

“Last thirty years people of Sri Lanka have gone through suffering ways. Both sides have been affected by this war. Now every Sri Lankan should accept each other’s burden and respect other’s rights. I hope we can start this kind of discussion through play back theatre, The play back theatre has good power to bring together people into one concept and one thought” Rev Joshua, leader of Kaveri Kala Mantram (Jaffna)

" I, Fr. S Benny, the chairman of Theatre of Friendship, Playback Sri Lanka, have gone through different forum theatre training programmes such as street drama, theatre of the oppressed etc. Among these dramas Playback Theatre is special for me. It gives role happiness in organising, conducting and performing. It brings out the innermost emotional aspects of human beings. It turns back the audience to go into memorable moments in their lives. It connects people irrespective of caste, colour, race and religion. Thus it builds up relationships which are basic for human life. By working as a team especially the Sinhalese and Tamils can create a witness value for brotherhood and solidarity."