Ahi on the Pearl Fishers and Inspiration

Posted on June 11, 2015 by Basement

I have an early faint memory of sitting in the most uncomfortable seats in the Opera House In Wellington with my primary school from Paparangi. I must have been about 10, full of anticipation to watch the opera The Pearl Fishers by Bizet. Until that very moment I had never been to the opera. Back home in Sri Lanka only the wealthy and those who had studied abroad entertained the idea of attending ‘High Art’ but because now I was living abroad, student tickets were only $5 AND my year long crush was also going to be on this class excursion, I signed up without hesitation to go along to the show too.

My parents and I left our homeland Sri Lanka to come to Aotearoa because of the growing civil unrest and until last year we hadn’t gone back home to Lanka for over 25 years.

I knew very little about the premise of The Pearl Fishers, the curtain rolled up, there was dead silence and suddenly from all the smoke emerged 30 brown faces, I was flabbergasted, shocked and confused, I had always thought opera was a bourgeois performative art form and only Europeans performed in it. As the night progressed and the story unfolded on stage I discovered that the exotic land where this drama was taking place was that of my ancestors, The Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. I remember coming home and telling my family all about it, going to the public library to listen to the audio, my music teacher making a copy of the tape for me. The arias of The Pearl Fishers has ever since stayed with me and I’ve always wanted to use it in a work that I was yet to make.

In 2004 I auditioned for Drama school, I got in, the same year the boxing day Tsunami destroyed our land. Our country was still trying to recover and rebuild from the devastation of the civil war and this tsunami was just another kick in the guts. Once I finished drama school and I got over turning up to auditions to play either terrorists, store owners, plane passengers or cab divers, I decided I needed to make my own work, and my go to source for inspiration was the work that had stayed with me for all those years. The music from The Pearl Fishers is the heartbeat of The Mourning After, it was what I listened to as I wrote this play. It was initially a solo play but now it comes to you as an ensemble play as I’ve discovered more playmates to tell stories with.

Speaking of mates, I found out many years later that my crush had only come to opera in the first place because they were trying to get closer to someone else and those 30 brown faces that made up the chorus were all the local cab drivers of Wellington.

Next time I’ll tell you all about How George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Harrison Ford coped filming Indiana Jones and The Tempe of Doom in Srilanka and the connection the film has to the play The Mourning After.

By Ahi Karunaharan

The Mourning After plays at the Basement Theatre 30 June – 3 July, 8pm.