Editor-in-Chief, Richard Beck, talks to Leeth Singhage who has made the journey from Sri Lanka to Edinburgh with The One TEEN Show.
Leeth, let’s start with your origins. Tell me about growing up in Sri Lanka.
I lived, grew up and was schooled in Colombo district in the Western Province of Sri Lanka. I went to a semi-government Catholic school (St. Joseph's College) till O Levels and switched to a private international school (Elizabeth Moir Senior School) for my A Levels to pursue my higher studies abroad.
Was drama on the curriculum at school? How much theatre experience do you have?
Drama was not a prominent academic course at school, but St. Joseph's College did have many extra-curricular opportunities for the performing arts: from inter-house productions and all-island Shakespeare drama competitions to the school's own public productions. That was my introduction to theatre, early on. Since starring as Peter Pan in a public production of Peter Pan the Musical at age 14, I've been playing key roles in multiple public theatre productions each year with different theatre groups including Friedrich in Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End touring production of The Sound Of Music in 2018, and Kalana in a National award-winning bilingual social-satire that toured Asia's largest theatre festival in 2020. The One TEEN Show is my second original play as a writer. All in all, I've acted in around 16 productions over the past six years.
That’s a lot of experience, particularly in western theatre, but what form does most drama take in Sri Lanka? Is there a modern movement that goes with traditional performances?
It takes a variety of forms, from traditional like kolam and sokari to plays based on Chekhov or Ibsen, to traditional musical theatre (e.g., Sinhabahu) that takes a more pageant-like form, to more modern forms including devised work and abstract pieces. There hasn’t been that much of a movement to rekindle traditional performance styles per se, especially in local English theatre, although there is an increasing trend towards multi-lingual plays that have fusion elements.
Enough influences there for you to draw on for your play The One TEEN Show. More specifically, what was the stimulus for devising the piece?
This play is about a teenager’s coming of age in a country that is dealing with its own crisis of identity. It’s based on real events from Sri Lanka’s current economic/political crisis. The country is out of foreign currency reserves - to the point that it doesn't have the Forex to even import essential items like fuel and medicine; leading to 15-hour power cuts, fuel & gas queues, inflation, etc. I did interviews with several Sri Lankan teenagers, friends and colleagues mainly, but almost all of them relatively well-off in comparison to the less-privileged majority of the country, but the play is also made to entertain and inspire, and it’s filled with music, dance, comedy, multiple characters and commentary, all in a 40-minute one-teen show.
It's a solo show but it also features SarongHoodie - or Shoodie - your alter-ego. How would you define this character and why is he necessary to the play? What power does having this mask give you on stage as a performer?
Shoodie has basically allowed me to separate the showman within me from the rest of me. I think this has helped me both on and off stage, and ultimately made me more comfortable as a performer. The character is a representation of carefree logic: an advocate for reanalyzing & reevaluating the ways of the world and self, unhindered by the abstract biases, dogmas and stigmas of society.
What has Shoodie helped you learn about yourself at a time when Sri Lanka's crisis is ever-worsening?
That I have a lot of privilege to be making a show while there are many people who are struggling to get through the day amidst my country’s economic crisis. This is why I decided to change the play to depict more of Sri Lanka’s crisis in recent months, much after I was selected to perform at EdFringe.
Why is it important for you to come to Edinburgh?
I believe I have an important, relevant, and authentic story to share; one that encapsulates the vibe of an entire nation hardly captured in mainstream media, and so the world’s biggest arts festival seems the best place to tell it. Entrance has been made free for this show for this reason (pay what you want), because I think it’s important that as many people as possible get to see the show.
You are obviously influenced by your country but which individuals inspire you?
I'm quite eclectic and have been inspired by the best of every genre & field, e.g., Michael Jackson, Eminem, Johnny Depp, Natalie Portman, Bruce Lee, Elon Musk, Buddhist teachings, anime (Naruto!), and, of course, my own alter-ego SarongHoodie.
You've already made your international on-screen debut in ITV's Good Karma Hospital. How did you get that part? What was it like working on TV?
Acting on-screen has always been my goal and I had the opportunity to audition for the part during my internship at a local casting company after completing my A Levels. I'd already had some experience of acting for the camera with my own short film and video productions much before this audition came, up which I think helped. And I really do enjoy the process of acting for the screen which is an entirely different experience from performing live onstage.
What's next for Leeth and Shoodie?
I've been accepted to Stanford University's class of 2026 in San Francisco, California, with a generous scholarship and will be starting my undergraduate education there this September - soon after my visit to EdFringe! But during this 4-year enrollment, I also do plan to continue my artistic endeavours as a writer and actor both within the university and outside of it - if the opportunities present themselves. Maybe I’ll break into Hollywood while I’m at it.
We wish you good luck in Edinburgh and in your new life in California. Have a great Fringe.