“Exploring THE FISH EYES TRILOGY, Reflecting on High School & Anita’s Current Inspiration” In Conversation with Anita Majumdar, Playwright and Performer
Interview by Bailey Green
We spoke with Anita Majumdar about opening Factory Theatre’s 2017-2018 season with her play The Fish Eyes Trilogy. Majumdar is a multi-talented artist with a vibrant career in theatre, film and television and an extensive background in classical Indian dance. The Fish Eyes Trilogy follows three young girls through high school. Their intertwined stories reveal themes of bullying, consent, friendship and feminism.
Bailey Green: These plays began in 2004, can you tell me about what initially drove you to create the piece?
Anita Majumdar: I was in NTS at the time in my third year and for almost three years we would have these board reviews as part of our acting conservatory. Every single time I sat down they’d say “You’re a good actor, but you’re a great dancer.” So I keep thinking how do I blend the joy I find in Indian dance in my work as an actor. I was so tired of hearing that comment! We had a solo show coming up as part of our curriculum, and I wanted to show my teachers that I could do that with acting and dancing together. I just wanted to nail this comment. When I performed that solo show for the school, I was encouraged to take the show to Toronto, so I contacted Franco Boni (who was the AD of SummerWorks at that time) and I did a really basic version, which was part of a double bill called Tell Tale with Dian Marie Bridge, Karim Morgan and Djennie Laguerre.
BG: In the spring you adapted a large portion of the show for high school audiences. Can you tell me about that experience?
AM: What was really interesting about that version with Young People’s Theatre [where it was just] the first two stories, is that no one asked us to censor the show. There was no ask to adapt or take out the swear words. The only criteria was we had to cut it down for time. So I don’t think we understood the impact or the power of the show until we were in front of kids and teen audiences, and that was really powerful. They are really honest and they will let you know what they are thinking. I was expecting rowdy audiences but I actually experienced very little of that, which I was very shocked by. The questions during the talk backs were so smart and adult, conversations about feminism and what makes feminism and what makes two women in these stories do what they do. Why can’t they be friends? The response and the engagement really threw me.
BG: What did you learn from your young audience?
AM: I think really acknowledging the need for this conversation and the complexity. Whose fault is it? What is consent? Young people aren’t the only ones having these conversations and wanting answers. We live in a time, particularly in the last year and a half with what is happening in the US, where we are confronting why locker room talk is not acceptable anymore. Who does it hurt and why is the gender that it hurts [treated as] less important? It became very clear now that we’re adding the third story back, the focus on how each woman/protagonist endures a double standard and rails against that and challenges it in her own way. Each of them are doing the best they can and their circumstances are extreme within the context of their own lives. I remember being in high school and realizing men and women aren’t treated the same and railing against that, asking those questions, “Well, why is it this way?“
BG: How have these plays caused you to reflect on your own experience in high school?
AM: These parts are a reclamation of that time because there were very few people of colour in my high school. I have a lot of regret for not having enough courage due to circumstances and self-protection. I wish I had spoken up then but I know why I didn’t. A lot of doing these plays feels like doing the things I wish I had done or said or brought up in high school with those raging hormones running through me. Thinking that everyone was looking at me all the time, when you’re a brand new person, it feels like it’s happening to you for the first time in human history. And everyone thinks ‘I’m weird’ but then multiply that by 500 and you have a high school. When that stopped and into my twenties and beyond, I realized no one was looking at me and that was in my head. Reflection is part of the human experience. You can’t see it when you’re in it.
BG: What feedback has been invaluable to your process?
AM: Our core team is amazing. Brian Quirt has been my director and dramaturge for years and, on this version for the trilogy, we’re just able to get more specific and really look at the through line of each story. Now that the plays are together again, the women are together, and we’re really looking at how each woman picks up the baton from the other. They seem like very different stories but finding the thematic links of movement and dance, the coin of phrase, and how does that add to the overall story. That has asked me to break out of old habits and that has been difficult. This is part of my long-term memory, and now I have to re-record a new way. It keeps me really active and on my toes, and when you get to the third story, I really have to keep my mental alertness in check. It takes a new level of concerted effort.
BG: What advice do you have for emerging artists and women of colour?
AM: I actually just sat on a writing jury and I was really floored by the young writers and what they choose to write about. It is really really encouraging to me that many young people are angry and are not happy with the world we live in. The rights we took for granted, the right to choose, women’s rights in general are being called into question again. And no one is taking it lying down and no one is normalizing it. Young people want to write about it and they have something to say and so I would encourage them to keep having something to say. Don’t accept what the media tells us and what Trump tells us is normal.
BG: Who is inspiring you right now?
AM: I’m quite inspired by Rihanna right now!
AM: Fenty! I went to Sephora and it just floored me every single time, there are these throngs of women of colour huddled around the Fenty kiosk. A makeup line is saying that we’re thinking about you. We’re not excluding anyone, we’re being inclusive and keeping it at a price point at the middle of the range. It is incredible seeing these women of different shades and backgrounds wanting to try on the makeup. And there are larger societal ramifications and how that makes young women and older women and men, all of us feel included in a beauty practice.
And I’m very inspired by the NFL, which I never thought I would say in my life.
BG: So I have to ask, your twitter bio says you’re a Shoppers Drug Mart Expert Extraordinaire? How does one become a Shoppers Drug Mart Expert Extraordinaire?
AM: So it involves spending a lot of time in Shoppers, which I have done. My addiction started when I was doing a season at Stratford. And I don’t drink much, it’s just not my thing, so Shoppers was the only place open until midnight. I didn’t know anybody and I’m sort of an introvert so I would walk the aisles. And I made a friend, Asha, who would be my maid of honour, she would just join me and we’d walk the aisles and then she would drive me home. I came back to Toronto loving Shoppers. The Optimum personalized coupons… they get you every time!
The Fish Eyes Trilogy
Written by Anita Majumdar
Directed by Brian Quirt
A Nightswimming Theatre production presented by Factory
With razor sharp writing, a Dora Award-winning performance, and spellbinding dance, Anita Majumdar’s wildly successful The Fish Eyes Trilogy is a unique portrait of the intertwining lives of three teenage girls at one BC high school. Presented together in a single three-act play; The Fish Eyes Trilogy innovatively tackles coming of age, cultural heritage, empowerment, and consent with humour and elegance.
Factory Theatre Mainspace
125 Bathurst Street.
September 28 – October 15