Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
The lights at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts will shine especially bright this week when Soulpepper celebrates Diwali. In partnership with Why Not Theatre, Soulpepper is presenting a South-Asian inspired mini-theatre festival to coincide with one of the biggest holidays on the Hindu calendar. Ravi Jain, who is a Baillie Fellow, an Associate Artistic Director of Soulpepper, and the Founding Director of Why Not Theatre Company, has selected 2 plays for this inaugural presentation:
How did Soulpepper Celebrates Diwali come about? Jain explains that Why Not Theatre has developed an exchange of work with India over the past 6 years: “We have toured shows to Mumbai (Spent, Iceland, Sea Sick) and have brought numerous shows to Toronto: Ismat Apa Ke Naam and Dear Liar (starring Naseeruddin Shah) and this year, Piya Behrupiya.” Presenting an enormous project like Piya Behrupiya–with its 15 actors–posed unique challenges. Their solution arrived through Jain’s partnership with Soulpepper: “I spoke with the Artistic Director (Albert Schultz) who suggested a Diwali festival as a way of creating more buzz around the event. And the dates all lined up!” Jain beams. “It’s really exciting!”
Exciting though the event is, it’s clear that the enormity of its scope is still on Jain’s mind. When asked about nascent plans for next year, he diplomatically deflects the question: “To be honest, we’re in the middle of this year’s event, so once we get through this, we can have a think about it!” And as far as this year’s festival goes, Jain has lots to celebrate. To start, he is “having a blast” working with his mother on A Brimful of Asha, the play they co-wrote and in which they also co-star. “She is a really good sport and we have fun together–even when we’re annoyed with each other!” he quips. The play is centred on cross-generational and cross-cultural views on marriage embodied on stage by the Canadian-raised Jain and his Indian-born immigrant mother. The project has brought them closer together, he reflects, and has helped him to understand his mother’s perspective. “A lot of my attention in the writing of the show was to give her the space to shine and speak to people, as only she can,” he smiles. ”I think what makes the layers of the play so deep is her honest perspective in contrast with mine (which is also an honest perspective!).”
As if helming this inaugural project weren’t heady enough, Jain is also one of 5 directors from across Canada recently shortlisted for this year’s prestigious Simanovich Prize, awarded to a visionary leader in Canadian theatre. The winner will be announced on October 28. As personable as he is modest, Jain acknowledges the “huge honour” to be among such an esteemed group of people. He feels both “incredible and humbled that my work has been acknowledged at this level.” And he hopes that the nomination opens more doors for him on a leadership level in the arts in Canada — and that “people can see, through my work, how I am trying to impact change on the Canadian arts scene. I’m truly grateful for the recognition.”
Win or lose, his maverick vision for Canadian theatre is evident in the vast and innovative range of his directorial work and international partnerships. Still, he’s conscious of what a culturally-themed series might imply about its “special” place within the theatre of the dominant culture, scheduled to coincide with milestone holidays. Admittedly struggling with that possibility, he believes that “these two shows will help to shift the dialogue on South Asian performance–because I think the voices represented are authentic, innovative and independent.” And he remains optimistic that a “‘non-festival’ format” is within close reach. He encourages theatregoers to “keep pushing for it”, while continuing to “work within the structures that are there.”
In the meantime, thanks to Soulpepper Celebrates Diwali, Toronto has this wonderful opportunity to see Piya Behrupiya and A Brimful of Asha. Marvelous about Piya Behrupiya is that it is the original Shakespearean text of Twelfth Night adapted into Hindi–with music. If it sounds quirky and clever, it is both–and audiences worldwide have loved it since its premier at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Aside from being a lively good time, it also allows people to realize that “language is only one way in which we understand a show.” As far as A Brimful of Asha is concerned, Jain must be elated to learn that it has been extended even before it’s started, due to audience demand. Through both plays, Toronto audiences can see and appreciate the exciting and vibrant state of Indian theatre: “It’s really an incredible performing-arts scene, and we often don’t think of it that way.”
Bottom line? This is a “wonderful celebration of theatre. Everyone should really see it,” he insists. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing!” Though hopefully, it’s not! Ideally, it instead marks the start of a recurring and anticipated event, like the holiday of lights and joy alongside which it’s debuting this year.
Just don’t mention those wishes to Jain until the end of this year’s festival, ok?
News You Can Use
What: Soulpepper Celebrates Diwali, a Soulpepper-Why Not Theatre Company co-presentation, featuring
When: October 27 to 29, 2016
When: November 1-12, 2016
Who: Audiences 10 and up
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, 50 Tankhouse Lane, Toronto, ON
For Information and Tickets: soulpepper.ca or 416.866.8666
© 2016 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya