The pandemic and its hugely unpopular companion, the lockdown has and continues to have adverse effects on children and families. The transition to virtual platforms took place at a rapid-fire pace, drastically overwhelming and impacting lives. While start-ups and various systemic changes as a result of the lockdown are viewed in a positive light, only a minority address the pressing and almost diabolical issues related to the dawn of the digital revolution and its accelerated growth during the lockdown period. Statistics prove a rise in domestic abuse, sexual crimes, cyber-crimes and more, which are the tip of the proverbial iceberg as depression, suicidal tendencies and a general inertia to violence seems to have surreptitiously invaded our homes and society in general.

The Children in Lockdown Arts Festival 2021, curated by Stages Theatre Group and supported by Kindernothilfe, a German organization working closely with children  is a virtual event that gathers together artists, children, and adults to reflect on the treatment and experiences of children in Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival will showcase 20 commissioned artworks addressing the challenges faced by children during the pandemic and comprises of three days of public screenings and live interactive digital sessions and a closing plenary for select artists.

These 20 artworks have been created by both child and adult artists. They include theatre performances, art installations, puppet shows, short-film screenings, and artist talks. Through the mentorship programme, initiated with dedicated professional artists, the commissioned child artists received continuous personal guidance for their artwork.

“All the artworks will be publicly released for the first time during the online sessions of the Children in Lockdown Arts Festival 2021 on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of November 2021”

All the artworks will be publicly released for the first time during the online sessions of the Children in Lockdown Arts Festival 2021 on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of November 2021.
The Children in Lockdown Arts Festival will also be a space for communities to meet, discuss, debate, and communicate on the issues faced by children during the pandemic. This will be done through talks, panel discussions, workshops, and forums led by children, adults, artists, and professionals working with children.
Further, the Festival offers a single point to gather reflections from children all over Sri Lanka on their experiences of the pandemic through the open-source digital arts exhibition component of the festival, curated by 19-year old Acsah Kulasingham and Amani Naeemullah, which will showcase submissions from children island-wide under the specific category in Sri Lanka.

Participants Views: 

Sulochana Dissanayake – Founder and Artistic Director of Power of Play (Pvt) Ltd., uses theatre and puppetry to

address multiple socially critical issues. “Ruwanthi influenced the trajectory of my career and life and she showed me a world beyond Shakespeare through the wonders of the local theatre. Therefore, it is a privilege and honour to work with her after 20 years in a truly effective platform such as this. One of our main vehicles of communication for Sri Lanka are the traditional folklore, folktales, folk characters such as Mahadenamuththa and his golayas (band of merry men), Andare and the Jana Katha (folk tales) which have been part of our ensemble since 2011 in order to effectively portray socio-economic issues such as sexual awareness, AIDS, bribery, domestic abuse, gender equality and more. Using our very own stories evokes a sense of familiarity, thus Mahadenamuththa comes alive and becomes relevant to the present generation. It is a fascination that took wing while studying puppetry in Indonesia as it’s the birthplace of the rod puppets (wayang golek) which portrays issues related to climate change and more through the stories of Rama and Seetha. So in this platform you will meet a few new faces who are incorporated to give it a modern Sri Lankan twist – for instance, Uusi Amma – Indikatupancha’s friend from the North, Polbaamuni – Puwakbadilla’s wife, Abdul Nana – Kotukithaiyya’s son-in-law among the community. It will also include an actual human actor along with his child.

The underlying issues faced by adults who are expected to achieve a work-life balance through the pandemic is a matter close to my heart as I, myself being an entrepreneur and mom to two young kids can identify with the herculean task we are driven to accomplish viz – the output is doubled and half the cost with the support systems of nannies, day-cares, physical schools and others shutting down almost overnight while our children are expected to get educated and the constant disruptions faced at virtual meetings are causing families to burst at the seams. It is necessary to shed light on these matters without further delay and not take an ostrich mentality in which we bury our heads in the sand as it is real and here to stay so the faster we take measures to counter the adverse effects, the better it would be to move forward as families, a society and a country.

The ‘Children in Lockdown Arts Festival,’ has also given an opportunity for the youth to actively participate in voicing their perspectives. The Stages Junior Ensemble is a child-led theatre group under the guidance of the adult artists at Stages. The junior ensemble has upto 20 kids aged between 9 – 15 years of age from an array of schools in Colombo. For the festival, the kids came up with a film completely done on zoom about their experiences of online school aptly called Zoom Gloom.

“Online school is hell, but it is also hilarious. The Junior Ensemble of Stages Theatre Group takes us into the world of online classrooms where we watch a group of teachers and students struggle to make sense of their lessons and their lives,” stated 15 year  olds, Okitha Karunadhara, director and  Anouk Abeywickrama, head of publicity who are part of the Stages Junior Ensemble. Expressing the fact that they along with their team mates have gained confidence in showcasing their experiences through this platform, we are grateful for the guidance received by our mentors as the Stages Junior Ensemble as it has enabled us to develop our artistic skills and work as a team. We value being entrusted with the task of delivering a crucial message. This has also created an avenue to discuss fundamental matters openly and take responsibility in showcasing our story to the audience. Surmise it to say, it is for children and adults by children.”

Maleen Jayasuriya, a graduate in the field of Engineering and Robotics with a passion for the arts is part of an ensemble of professional artists leading child artists – “Our group comprises of a Doctor, Lawyer, Theatre Artist and Social Media marketing expert and we focus on Digital Wellbeing known as the Digital Wellbeing initiative – for this festival– we address the effects on children who are caught in a vortex known as the digital revolution. As well, our usual regulatory systems in our society, ranging from our family unit to our education system and policy makers have not been able to keep up with the influx of technology. The rapid pace has left our systems in a quandary, overwhelming the processes. The volley of unfiltered information they have access to at the tip of their fingers is colossal and can result in addictions, excessive crimes and more if not harnessed, with awareness being created systematically to grow simultaneously with the exponential growth of digitalization.

Therefore, in order to raise awareness – we chose to work with 20 child artists – who were encouraged to write the scripts and perform. We hope to facilitate understanding of the dangers that lurk in the virtual world in which various marketing gimmicks are being used to create unhealthy addictions. We believe that instead of us lecturing the younger generation about the effects, they themselves can be advocates of change they wish to see and use the wealth of information they have access to in a positive light for the development of themselves and the betterment of society. The content was entirely recorded by the children during the lockdown and they have utilized various social media platforms to share their conversations.

N. Maniwanan an artist shares a young child’s challenge in an environment that is restricted due to the pandemic through the short film, ‘Thotti meengal,’ which means tanked fish. “During the lockdown, I saw the world through my niece’s eyes as her way of life involving play time with her neighbourhood friend, visits to the park came to a crashing halt without warning. As the adults in her home were immersed in mundane tasks or virtual work, the little one simply wanted to play and her perennial question during that period was, “can we go out to play?” It is a story for parents and teachers specifically due to the lack of sensitivity displayed towards little children whose lives were disrupted without warning and they were compelled to adapt to an unprecedented world governed by restrictions  – taking away their carefree time of play.

In order to ensure maximum accessibility and participation of children and communities island-wide, all digital interactive sessions will be facilitated in Sinhala, Tamil, English, and Sign Language.
The festival artworks are curated by eminent playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director Ruwanthie de Chickera and Film Maker Malith Hegoda, while the festival is overseen by festival director Piumi Wijesundara. The festival partners are Kindernothilfe, the Goethe institute Colombo, the German Embassy, Sunethra Bandaranaike Trust, Lionel Wendt, Music Matters, Oneness Centre and News First.

The Children in Lockdown Arts Festival is an open online event, with free admittance, suitable for all audiences.
Register for free viewing of an artistic portrayal by adults and kids on the effects of the lockdown to children and families – Going live in November!
To register and be part of the exciting events coming up, log on to:



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About Rochelle Gunaratne

I believe that everyone has a story to tell and in turn, I love listening to those stories, attempting to paint a picture to my readers with my words. I may not be an artist or painter, but I believe words can create powerful images in ones mind and it is how we share our stories with others.
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