By Dilshan Boange
The Colombo of present is gaining a significant push towards expansion in upscale hotels and dining. One only need check the newspapers to see how many new establishments have come up as city hotels and what is in the offing. And, alongside the hotel scene is a notable growth in options for dining in our country’s economic capital.
The nexus between theatre and dining as an urban socio-cultural practice, especially, on weekends is nothing that needs elaborate explanation. And now since a few years it is not uncommon to see the admission ticket to a theatre show/stage play carry overleaf a discount coupon offering concessions at a dining establishment often connected to the show/production as an event sponsor/partner.
Thus, Colombo’s restaurant sector and English theatre find harmonious entwinement to promote going out for ‘dinner and a show’. ‘Dinner theatre’ is not something unknown to Colombo although we are yet to see an establishment that operates as a designated ‘dinner theatre’ come up in the city’s food and entertainment scene.
However, dinner theatre happens here mostly as niche events that are prearranged and publicised well in advance. It usually happens as an event meant as a fundraiser and organised by a non-profit body such as, a school’s alumni or an association oriented of a group of professionals or social service league contributing towards a charity.
Dinner theatre however, is not really a specialized prearranged (social) event as such in countries such as, the U.S, where this form of combining dining and theatre as entertainment is offered by establishments that operate as ‘dinner theatres’. Dinner theatre culture in the U.S it so happens, has its roots in the South of the U.S where the first formal dinner theatre is reported to have opened in 1953. Named ‘Barksdale Theatre’, it opened in Richmond, in the state of Virginia.
Dinner theatre which clearly is a specialized area of dining as well as theatre art, now thrives in countries such as the U.S where of course, theatre is a profession, and gourmets will spend good money to appreciate innovation in the ‘dining experience’.
On the website theculturetrip.com an article by Lani Seelinger titled, ‘America’s Top 10 Unmissable Dinner Theatres’ lists out dinner theatre venues that will surely tantalize theatregoers who also relish the aesthetics of good food and drink! Seelinger’s list includes what is now the oldest operating dinner theatre in the U.S, – The Barn Dinner Theatre which started in 1964.
Some of the dinner theatres feature Broadway musicals as well as popular comedy farces. Some have their menus themed to align with the motif of the play being staged that evening. A whole host of creativity that combines the insights of the hospitality industry and the art of theatre seem to craft a unique experience for patrons when they step into those venues for ‘dinner and a show’.
In light of how Colombo based tourism is also picking up at present, with the leisure sector expanding with innovative new city hotel setups, I wonder if we will see the growth of a dinner theatre establishment that will enhance the city’s cultural scene? One is given to wonder if an entrepreneurially savvy, visionary hotelier with taste for innovation, such as, Hiran Cooray for example, may consider the possibilities of offering something totally new as a restaurant designated as a ‘dinner theatre’ to the Colombo leisure / entertainment sector?
Synergizing talents with veterans in the domain of English theatre such as, Jith Peiris, Jerome de Silva, Tracy Holsinger, Mohomed Adamally, to name a few, as well as, upcoming young theatre practitioners of the new generation, I feel the rising city centric hotel sector may be able to give rise to dinner theatre operations that will surely enhance the reach of Sri Lankan theatre to new audiences, while diversifying the Colombo entertainment sphere.
Further, I believe a fully functional dinner theatre in Colombo will give rise to new stage plays suited for that setup and even possibly provide a climate conducive for foreign theatre groups to put on shows at that particular venue, since hotel accommodation can surely be provided as part of the package for the cast and crew. These kinds of ventures can surely open new avenues for theatre to gain new ground and also give salutary directionality to Colombo which is being crafted to sparkle as a jewel, and be celebrated in the vibrancy of Asia.