Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The New “Lotus Pond” Performing Arts Center opposite Vihara Maha Devi
I have passed the grand looking Chinese built and gifted Arts Center in the heart of Colombo, and wondered why it had not been opened as yet. It is being maintained by one arm of the Security Forces at the moment. I am not sure who will be responsible to maintain and run it, along with the Ministry under whom it will be!
I was told that they are either looking for an auspicious time for the President to open it or that as it was gift from the People’s Republic of China they are waiting for a date from the Prime Minister of China to come for the opening. Either way the announcement has been made, namely 15th December 2011. It is possible the Chinese PM will touch down to open it and be on his way.
I firmly believe ‘performing arts’ is a mark of the completeness of a society, and the ability to express oneself to others in that medium. We must encourage this expression of opera, dance, drama and songs in all forms, but can we really match the expectations? The issue as always is that the ARTS SUBSIDY is the first to be cut in a budget tightening mood. What is more, I was told that as the monthly maintenance of the Center is expected to be around Rs6M a month, that we will only be able to hire the Hall for performances at the rate of Rs300,000 per night.
In my opinion this is the death knell to performance before it even starts, as there is hardly anyone except those with deep pockets or foreign rock star performances that can charge entrance fees to cover this cost, in addition to the other charges for a performance. If one takes the example of an audience of 1500 then it works out at Rs200 each. Whilst that does not amount to a lot, for Sinhala or Tamil performances or those of the local dance and home grown productions, to get local audiences to pay an average of at least Rs750 per ticket to fill the auditorium is not an easy task, bearing in mind that it has never been done to date. We never had a place so large that could accommodate this number. The Lionel Wendt can hold a maximum of 650 including the 150+ in the balcony.
If the encouragement of the use of the facility is the goal, so that as many people in our country can enjoy the Arts, then I believe weekday charges must be capped at Rs100,000 and Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to be at about Rs175,000 for at least the first year on a promotional basis. The supply and demand of this facility can then be determined at these price points. One must then recognize the need to subsidize the arts in order to encourage the arts, and the people’s appreciation of the Performing Arts. Prize Givings and Convocations can be held only during daytime at lower rates that allows multiday use to help further defray the costs.
The recently published photos showed a small open air theatre on the roof. I believe fringe theater must be encouraged there, with only a small charge for hire such as Rs5000 for the space, so that 200 to 500 capacity can be accommodated at a nominal entry fee to encourage participation of the general public and increase their appreciation of the facility and the performances they can appreciate.
We have now got a much needed performing arts center, so lets make maximum use out of it. Many of the facilities to date accommodated a rather upper middle class clientele. I would like to see a more varied distribution this time with access to most people. I remember going to the Bolshoi in Moscow and Kirov in Leningrad in the days of Communist rule, paying a few roubles entry, and foreigners like us were not charged extra, and further there was an allocation for foreigners that made it easier for us to go when compared with the locals.
It also must be appreciated that with this development, a public bus service catering to the theatre goers must be laid out on say about 10 bus routes to enable people to get home at reasonable cost. The current cheapest way to get home if one does not have access to private transport is to use a three wheeler, which depending on the distance to one’s home can cost anywhere from Rs100 to Rs500 for a relatively short distance, and needs to be added to the cost of the evening.
Taking account of the points I have referred to above, I sincerely hope the relevant ministry, (Defense! Culture is it? Is the Municipal Council that is physically close by completely out of the loop?) will take on these points in a constructive manner, and assign dedicated and knowledgeable staff to this task, to permit the public to enjoy this great asset in the heart of Colombo along with the related publicity to attract users to this facility, not just to gawk at a new building and satisfy one’s curiosity, but also to learn to appreciate drama, dance and related performing arts.
I used to pass by the place when it was covered by the galvanized roofing sheets all around, and the Chinese labor, some said they were prisoners, who worked day and night to build it and then give it to the People of Sri Lanka. We must express our grateful appreciation to all who helped build it and let us hope we can continue to maintain this to the best of our ability and not wait for the Chinese to come and repair the revolving stages if they break down, but be able to use our technical skills to ensure it is kept in daily working order so that all performances can go ahead without a glitch.
Let us hope we all have a chance to visit and be given a tour of its facilities similar to the recent tour given to the Press. It is still to be named wait for it!!....................