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Posts tagged ‘Andy McKim’

Artist Profile: Bilal Baig, Playwright

Interview by Hallie Seline.

It is an absolute pleasure to feature playwright Bilal Baig, chatting about what inspires him as an artist, the development of his current piece Acha Bacha, on stage this month with Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and on writing “the story you need to tell”.

HS: What inspired Acha Bacha and how did the piece develop?

Bilal Baig: I was sexually assaulted when I was seventeen. One of the first things that was irrevocably changed after my assault was my relationship with my mother. I began to think: I’m queer, I’m not very religious, I like to fuck with gender sometimes and now I’m a survivor of sexual assault – will my mother EVER think I’m good?

I sat on this thought for about a year before I took a playwriting class with Judith Thompson at the University of Guelph and under her guidance, the first draft of the play exploded out of me in a few weeks in April 2013. That summer, I was connected to Damien Atkins, who worked as a dramaturge on the play (and is still a current mentor in my life). Through the Paprika Festival‘s playwright residency program, I met, worked with and fell in love with Djanet Sears, which resulted in an excerpt sharing of the play at the festival in April 2014, where Andy McKim was present. From that point on in the play’s developmental journey, I worked predominantly with Andy, Jiv Parasram and Brendan Healy as dramaturges.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Tanja Tiziana

HS: I am very excited about the team working on the show. What has it been like working with these artists bringing your show to life?

BB: I am very excited about this group of artists coming together as well! There has been so much love in the room and a fiercely deep commitment to understanding the story and honoring it with such care, curiosity and empathy. I am in sincere awe of all the artists I get to work and play with every day throughout this process! So much love.

HS: What are you most looking forward to about sharing this show with audiences now?

BB: I’m really curious about what the conversations around power, sex and shame will be surrounding this play.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Graham Isador

HS: I know that you’ve both developed work with the Paprika Festival and worked with them. What has been the impact of this outlet on your growth as an artist?

BB: Paprika has been instrumental in my growth as an artist. It was a playground for me (for five years!) to explore my artistic obsessions and learn from what it feels like to put your work out there when it’s not ‘ready’. Artists who I met through Paprika five years ago have become friends I collaborate with today.

HS: What is best piece of advice you’ve received either in life or in art?

BB: “Write the story you need to tell”. That was actually the prompt given by Judith, which lead to the first draft of Acha Bacha. I think I use this advice in my life as well!

HS: What inspires you?

BB: I’m inspired by genderqueer Indigenous, black, people of colour living their truth. I feel like my art is probably inspired by shitty events happening in the world that devastate/confuse/terrify/arouse me to the point where I can’t talk about it anymore and I must write it.

Bilal Baig. Photo Credit: Graham Isador

Rapid Fire Questions:

What are you watching right now? America’s Next Top Model.

If you could travel anywhere, where would it be? Fiji or New Zealand. Or Vancouver.

Favourite food: Mom’s chicken fried rice or biryani. Or pizza.

What other show are you most looking forward to this year? Trying everything in my power to catch Calpurnia before it closes. Looking forward to Prairie Nurse at Factory Theatre.

Current mantra or goal for yourself as an artist this year: You’re allowed to feel ambivalent about your work and this career you are pursuing. That is okay.

Acha Bacha

Co-Produced by Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Written by: Bilal Baig
Directed by: Brendan Healy
Featuring: Shelly Antony, Qasim Khan, Omar Alex Khan, Matt Nethersole,
and Ellora Patnaik
Set and Costume Design by: Joanna Yu
Lighting by: C.J Astronomo
Sound Design and Music by Richard Feren
Stage managed by Kat Chin

For years Zaya has balanced his relationships with his religion and his queer identity. But as secrets from the past reveal themselves, and crisis strikes his family, he is torn between loyalties, culture, and time. Written by Bilal Baig, and directed by Brendan Healy, Acha Bacha boldly explores the intersections between queerness, gender identity and Islamic culture in the Pakistani diaspora. The show uses both English and Urdu to tell a story about the way we love, the way we are loved, and how sometimes love is not enough.

Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

February 1-18, 2018



Artist Profile: Jordi Mand – Playwright of CAUGHT, on stage now at TPM

Interview by Brittany Kay

I had the utmost pleasure of talking with the incredible Jordi Mand, playwright of CAUGHT, which opened this week at Theatre Passe Muraille in their Backspace. We spoke about creating your own work, the inner struggles you face when graduating university, and the differences between doing the job and getting the job.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your new play? 

Jordi Mand: Caught takes place in the security holding room of a major department store in Toronto. It focuses on a female security guard and a teenage guy who she has caught shoplifting and how the situation unfolds between them. A police officer arrives to process him and the tables are sort of turned on this security guard. She thinks she has caught this shoplifter but everything starts to go awry for her. That’s focusing more on the events of the actual play, but the piece, itself, has changed a lot over time. To me, it’s really about justice and interpersonal justice – justice between people and their steep inner personal justices that they feel. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how some people in this world for lesser reasons seem to be able to get away with things and other people can’t. How does that come to be? What are the ingredients of our lives that bring us to that place? What is our moral code that allows us to actually break the rules or make the rules? That was a really big launching point for the show.

Photo of Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother, Sabryn Rock by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother, Sabryn Rock by Michael Cooper.

BK: There was a lot of development that went into this play. How did it come to be?

JM: It’s actually had a bit of a long life. So in 2009/2010 I was part of Nightwood Theatre’s Write from the Hip Unit, which is their emerging writer’s unit for emerging female playwrights. Write from the Hip has changed considerably in terms of its format, but at that time the objective was to write a 15-minute piece and so I wrote the first 15 minutes of Caught. Andy McKim at Theatre Passe Muraille asked me if I wanted to present something or hear something read at their Buzz festival. I hadn’t touched the piece in about a year and then decided I wanted to hear it again. I had been a resident artist at TPM for a number of years and both Andy and I knew we wanted to work on a project together. We were circling around different ideas and at the same time we both came back to that piece and the themes of justice and injustice, entitlement and consequences that are found in the play. We both agreed that there was a longer life for this piece than just a few minutes and started exploring it. I had been working with Andy dramaturgically and further developing it. There was a workshop of a earlier full draft in September and now we’re sharing it with the city.

BK: Why TPM? 

JM: When I graduated theatre school, I had been working for Obsidian Theatre in an administrative capacity. I was their Director of Development and Obsidian had done a co-production with Roseneath Theatre and TPM and it was just as Andy was moving into the theatre as Artistic Director. I first got to know him then and the philosophy of TPM, which I just sort of fell in love with. I just found their attitude towards storytelling and their artists and emerging artists really real and wonderful. They had put a call out around that time for Elephants in the Room, which was their emerging artist program, and they were looking for people to help launch that. So I approached them and said it was something I was really interested in doing. I became one of the four co-founders of Elephants in the Room. We also started Crapshoot, which still happens and so I’ve had a long relationship with TPM. I think a lot of artists, especially in this season who are sharing stories and are part of TPM, have similar connections with the TPM. The company has been an integral part of their journeys as they have been moving forward in this crazy theatre world. Then I became a resident artist with TPM and Andy and I really wanted to tell a story together and I wanted to tell a story with that company and Caught just seemed like the right fit.

BK: What a lovely journey.

JM: Yeah! Sort of a natural evolution over many, many years.

BK: Why the title Caught?

JM: The action is certainly a big part of it. I love how it has to do with how we find ourselves caught, either by our own doing, people catching us, us being caught by our own habits and our own hang-ups that we can’t get past, us being caught within society’s rules and regulations of what we can and cannot do – how that sometimes can work in our favor and sometimes it can work against us. We’ve really been spending a lot of time in rehearsals talking about how we can get these characters caught as much as possible. It’s also part of the ride for the audience and part of the fun of it – how can we get into as much trouble as possible?

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Jakob Ehman and Meegwun Fairbrother by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Jakob Ehman and Meegwun Fairbrother by Michael Cooper.

BK: Tell me about your team?

JM: I’ve known Sabryn Rock (who plays Trisha) for a decade now. We went to the National Theatre School together. She’s amazing. I’m really spoiled, it’s a really incredible team. Jacob Ehman is playing our kid, James.

BK: I saw him in Sophia Fabiilli’s play “The Philanderess” in the Toronto Fringe and just thought “Who are you? You’re amazing!”

JM: I am really thrilled for him that he is getting the attention that I think he really deserves. He’s such a talented actor and he gives so much. I love watching him work on this piece because James is a confusing character, Jakob is such a spontaneous actor. It’s wonderful watching him process the play, moment by moment. I know what the character is going to do next but I don’t know what Jakob is going to do next. It’s really an actor’s play. The joy and pleasure of this world is really the moment-by-moment, tiny details that each character either brings to the other and the journey that the actors take their characters on. An actor named Meegwun Fairbrother plays our police officer and he’s a real presence in the room. As soon as the character walks in, everything changes. I feel that way with who Meegwun is as a person as well, so that’s just really amazing that those two line up. Sarah Garton Stanley who is the Associate Artistic Director of English Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre is our director. She is so focused in her storytelling. Each moment is so fresh and calculated. She has a really great brain and heart for this world. Our design team is fabulous. It feels like the right ingredients in the room for our world.

BK: Tell me about the design concept?

JM: It’s one room, one location, almost like a holding deck. There’s only a table and chairs. It’s very neutral. It has very little personality and it’s almost as if there’s the forth wall and part of it has just been cut out so you can see through it. Not like a two-way mirror… someone has just taken a knife and removed a chunk of it. So the audience will feel like a fly on the wall, like they shouldn’t be there or they’re intruding. It should feel a little bit like a scene of car accident on the street, where people are driving by and they can’t turn their eyes away from it. Hopefully we can do the same thing for our audiences. Fingers crossed!

Photo of Sabryn Rock and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: I’m going to put a hold on the play and ask about you. Tell me a little bit about your journey to where you are now.

JM: I’ve been involved in theatre for a long time. I was one of those theatre kids, where babysitters loved me because I would coordinate plays for parents to watch and they would sit upstairs and do nothing. I had been involved in productions as an actor as a kid for a very long time. I grew up in Richmond Hill and I was part of CharActors Theatre Troupe, where they had just auditioned to be one of the choirs in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. They asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and that was a big thing for me as it was my first professional show. I missed school for a year. It really changed a lot for me. There was never a moment where I said, “I don’t want to do this.” At that point I thought I still wanted to act and so I went to Unionville High School, which is a performing arts school. Then I went to York for their theatre program for a year.

I’m not a particularly impulsive person, but there are these few markers in my life where I’m like, “I’m going to make this decision!” and I have no basis for it or even an understanding if it’s going to work out. York is great because it’s a generalized theatre program where in your second year you specialize. This might have just been the really bad student in me because school and I have had a bit of a complicated relationship, but I just remember hearing this voice being like “you need to be in a more of a conservatory program”. Someone I went to high school with who I considered to be the best actor was at the National Theatre School and I just remember saying, “I have to go there.” I started looking at all of the artists that really inspired me and a lot of them had graduated from NTS.

BK: So you left York before specializing?

JM: Yes. I auditioned for the acting program at NTS and got in. I went there really thinking I was going to focus on classical theatre, with my ultimate intention of acting at Stratford or Shaw. I was very focused on that being my trajectory. What I didn’t anticipate was that when I was there I would find this unexpected joy in creating my own work. The curriculum in our second year was focused more on creating your own work and largely for yourself. I ended up finding that work really enjoyable and craving it more, which was a big surprise for me because I thought I had really defined for myself what I thought I was going to do.

I graduated and moved to Toronto and started auditioning. I had applied to SummerWorks the year after I had graduated with this solo show that I had written in school. It was about my family and me. I used my own name. It was a very personal story. I applied and they said that they were interested in my voice but they were not offering me a slot in the festival. They had offered me a spot in the Under-25 Reading Series instead, which provided the opportunity to develop my piece with a mentor, followed by a live reading. They partnered me with Hannah Moscovitch.

BK: Wow! What an amazing person to be paired up with.

JM: Right?!

BK: Could you ask for a better mentor?

JM: No. It was crazy. That was sort of one of two path-changing moments, I think. Even when I was at school and we were graduating, I was still conflicted about whether I wanted to be an actor. My parents are pretty academic and they are huge supporters and lovers of the arts but they are not artists. I don’t come from an artist family. I really felt that after going to a conservatory, where you don’t get a degree and you don’t get a diploma, the idea of me saying that I don’t know if I want to act anymore, felt like such a slap in the face for them and that I was letting myself down. It sounds so silly saying it out loud, but I actually felt so ashamed that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep acting. So in meeting Hannah, who had gone to NTS and who had been in the acting program, who had really started very seriously on her trajectory as a writer at that point, was the first person I could actually talk to about writer things. She was the first dramaturge I had in my life. She was the first mentor I ever had. Sometimes when you find the right person at the right time it just makes all the difference. She answered every question that I had. We worked really closely together. There was something about it that, as I was working on that piece, and as I was working with her, something just started to feel right.

BK: So that was it for your actor days?

JM: I just wasn’t always prepared to do the work as an actor that I should have been. I liked the idea of getting the part but once I got the part I was like, “well I guess I gotta do this now.” Actors have to have such a commitment and dedication to the process. I just don’t think I have that as an actor. Whereas, as a writer, I can see the difference in my process now, in that case. Meeting Hannah and working with her was a huge game-changer for me.

BK: So what happened with Summerworks and your play?

JM: I ran into Michael Rubenfeld on the street and he said, “Just to let you know, we’re going to hire an actor to read your piece for you.” I was confused because the play was about my family and me. I was writing it for me. I was supposed to be in it.

His response was, “That’s fine and you can pick it up and take it wherever you go afterwards, but I think it would be really helpful for you to just hear it.”

BK: How did that change things for you as a writer?

JM: As I started writing, knowing that in mind, I decided to change the character’s name from my name because I thought it was bit silly for somebody else to say it. Then I stared changing other details and this solo show went from being one actor on stage to there be being three actors on stage, with multiple characters. What seemed like such an inconvenience at the time, turned out to be one of the biggest gifts. I was really only writing for as well as I could act as opposed to telling a story fully. If I started writing in territory that really scared me as actor, then I would stop writing it, because it was just for me. Somebody else having to do that work meant that I could go anywhere. It never occurred to me to write for other people. So the combination of working with Hannah, somebody who was really at the rising point of her process as a writer, and this large shift writing for other people made everything click. That was the key moment I unlocked everything. From there, I’ve been writing pretty seriously ever since.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Sabryn Rock, Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

JM: My life. There is a lot of me in every world that I touch. People may see it and not know anything about that. I’m really inspired by my family. I’m very inspired by the world that we are living in, this city and beyond. What is it that is defining and challenging and turning our world right now? I’m really worried about the state of our world right now. There’s just chaos in so many areas of our lives. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but in the last 10 years even, things have changed so much. Our connections to each other have changed so much. I find inspiration in how troubling I find that. So that’s a large part of Caught, too. Who are we as people today? Who are we raising? Who is this next generation? Do we have any accountability to each other anymore? Do we mean anything to each other?

I have a lot of those questions. I find inspiration in fear, in anger and in not knowing. For me and for a lot of writers these plays sort of become our venues to try to work out a problem or a query.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

BK: Is there a way you stay motivated to write? What are ways you keep the motivation alive and dedicate yourself to the work?

JM: The last two years I’ve found it really helpful to work on multiple projects. That’s the way it’s sort of panned out. If I feel like inspiration is resting a little bit, I find myself cheating on my plays with other plays that I’m working on. It’s not that I’m not working, I’m just working on something else. So that helps.

Thinking about an audience, I find, is the thing that always keeps it going for me. Continuing to come back to what’s at the heart of it. What is it that I’m trying to say? What is that I want audiences taking away? Writing is such a solitary process. You spend so much time here in your head. I mean, you have your team which is amazing, but then you’re in a rehearsal hall and it’s still pretty contained. Thinking about the people who are going to be receiving it; who you may never have any contact with, you never know how they are going to experience it and you can only hope that it’s the way that you intend. Thinking about them, that magical audience, is the biggest thing for me.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JM: Right now, today, I would really like audiences to walk away and think about how they are treating other people and how they are treating themselves in relation to other people in this crazy world.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Photo of Meegwun Fairbrother and Jakob Ehman by Michael Cooper.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Book: Today, I will chose The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

Favourite Play: Shape of Girl by Joan MacLeod

Favourite place in Toronto: My bed.

Favourite Food: Berries.

Favourite Movie: Toy Story.

Last play you saw: The Public Servant.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten or words to live by: Do the work. Focus on the work.

Advice for emerging artists: Do what works for you. The amount of work you get might mean you might not be able to sustain yourself in any capacity. I’ve talked to a lot of artists recently and they’ve expressed a shame or trepidation about having part-time jobs or full-time jobs to support themselves. They think they have failed or they’re dishonouring their craft in some capacity, but I don’t think there’s one way to make something happen for yourself. I think everyone’s life and reality is different. You have to shape your life in a way that you can do the work and do it with a full heart and not have to feel guilty for making excuses for yourself. Don’t ask yourself, why you’re not doing it like this person or that person. You have do it the way you do it. I wish someone told me that early on. It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights. It’s so hard. It’s hard for everyone, even the people it doesn’t seem hard for. Look for mentors and make connections. Treat those connections like gold. Find people that help you do what you want to do. 


A Theatre Passe Muraille Production. On stage now until April 24th.

Written by Jordi Mand
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley
Dramaturgy by Andy McKim
Starring Jakob Ehman, Meegwun Fairbrother & Sabryn Rock
Production Design by John Thompson
Sound Design by Debashis Sinha
Assistant Director: Donna Michelle St. Bernard

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto.

When: March 31 – April 24, 2016

Tickets: Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees, $17 Under-30, $20 Artsworkers, $28 Senior, $33 General Admission

Connect with us

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Spread the word: #CaughtTO

Theatre Passe Muraille – @beyondwallsTPM

In the Greenroom –  @intheGreenRoom_

Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay



Artist Profile: Anusree Roy – Playwright & Performer of “PYAASA” at Theatre Passe Muraille until March 27th

Interview by Brittany Kay

I was lucky enough to sit down with my own personal mentor and friend, Anusree Roy, to talk about her upcoming production of Pyaasa opening today at Theatre Passe Muraille. In her dressing room, we spoke about the discipline it takes to be an artist in this business, the challenges of a remount, and her deep gratitude for Theatre Passe Muraille.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Tell me a little bit about your show?

AR: Pyaasa is set in present time in Calcutta, India and it’s a play I wrote starting in 2006… so 10 years ago. It’s something that I’m coming back to, which I’m really excited about.

Untouchability is something that is constitutionally banned. Doctor B. R. Ambedkar, who was an untouchable himself, put forth this constitutional change. You can’t practice untouchabililty, but in India it’s very widely practiced. It’s changing, absolutely, but the caste system still very much exists.

When I wanted to write a play, I wanted to look at the world, that world, the caste system world, acknowledging my social location in the system, which is a higher caste person. We had untouchable people clean our toilets all the time and we treated them really badly and I treated them really badly because that’s the environment of the society you were raised in. Pyaasa is a journey about this beautiful young girl named Chaya and her life story in ten days, beginning to end of the show. She’s a girl who’s young, bright and wants to go to school desperately. That’s all she wants. It’s a fun show and it’s a heartfelt show. It’s also a sad show and a truthful show.

BK: It’s just you on stage. Is this is a one character show, or a show with many characters?

AR: I play four characters. Chaya, Chaya’s mother Meera, this other servant lady named Kamala, who both work for Mr. Bikash. So it’s 2 women, 1 man and 1 girl.

BK: Why the title Pyaasa?

AR: Pyassa means thirsty. There’s a lot of water and water nuances all through the play. The name came to me. It wasn’t something, where I was sitting there going what should I name my play? I just thought of it because subconsciously I was aware of the amount of water in the show. I think if I were to analyze why the way it works in the caste system, in the villages that are in the rural areas, our water tank is sacred because I’m from the higher caste and your not and you can’t get water from mine. There are a lot of disputes about water, which is a necessity in life. So when you cut something off that’s a necessity in life, it becomes even more important. The name came to me and I stuck with it. It’s allowed us to kind of really look at the play through that lens.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: There was a lot of development with this play in its first edition. What were the steps and processes it went through? Before this remount, how did it come about?

AR: In 2006, Thomas (my director), David (the designer of the show) and I were doing our masters together. I was having sushi with Thom and I was telling him about my life story back in India and telling him story after story about my past.

At one point I was talking about the untouchables, the caste system, and how it’s abolished but how it still exists and he stopped me and said, “There’s a play there. You know there’s a play there right?” I was like “yeah, okay.” And he insisted on saying, “No, there’s a play there and you have a three week deadline to get me a first draft.” I’m doing my masters and I have sixteen papers due, but he just kept on saying, “Get me a first draft in three weeks.” So in three weeks, I gave him the first draft and ironically, 90% of that first draft is what’s in the show today.

BK: If anyone can work under pressure, it’s you.

AR: It just came together. I felt so passionate about it. When you play a solo show, it’s not about how good your storytelling is, it’s all about how distinct each character is. Thom and I, while creating the show, did a lot of that character work. David, Thomas and I created a company together and we did our first one-night-only here at Theatre Passe Muraille. TPM was in a financial strain at the time and whatever money we raised, we gave it to them. We wanted a production space, so it seemed like a fair trade.

BK: That’s amazing. And ballsy.

AR: We just did it. We did it fearlessly and we did furiously and we did it in good faith. The universe was there. The play won 2 Doras for Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Writer and as a result of that, it just escalated. Suddenly we had a touring agent. TPM, beautiful Andy McKim, contacted us and said he wanted to produce the play and put in his very next season. That was his first season programming as an Artistic Director here. It just grew and grew. Our touring agent took us to many places: Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria, and many others. It became our golden child. Honestly, it wasn’t something that we spent years labouring over. We just did it in good faith, really hoping it would bite and it did. And of course our awards helped us marketing-wise. That was the trajectory of the show.

For the last five years, the company is no longer together, but we’re all very good friends. Our lives have taken us very different places. David is doing a PhD, I’m more into film/television and theatre, and Thomas is the AD of Theatre New Brunswick. We’ve split as people but our core is the same. So when TPM contacted us to do the show again, we said of course, of course.

BK: What are the challenges and excitements of remounting a show?

AR: Challenges? It’s one person. I haven’t done a solo show in five years. It’s a lot of work. It’s A LOT of work. It’s kind of keeping your body in shape and your mind in shape. I feel like an athlete, you know what I mean?

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Oh for sure! It’s a whole marathon from beginning to end.

AR: Exactly. My meals are planned. My workouts are planned. Everything is very scheduled to save energy for those 5 hours of rehearsal and those 45 minutes of show. It’s a very intense show.

BK: What about the excitements? Anything you are looking forward to this time around?

AR: The excitements? It’s coming home to the boys. That’s what it feels like. TPM feels like home and the three of us are coming home.

BK: Why TPM initially?

AR: At the time, we knew it wasn’t doing well financially and we needed a space. So our proposal to them was, if you give us a space for one night, we’ll give you all the money we make. We didn’t know that it would grow. People stayed that night and said, “No no no no! This can’t just be one night. You have to do this show many, many, more times.”

TPM has always felt like home. It has supported me so much in my career, especially Andy McKim, huge shout out to him! My father calls him my theatre dad, because it’s true. He gave me that initial push you need as a creator when you’re 25. He gave me that. He really gave me that.

BK: That’s a lovely answer.

AR: It’s true.

BK: Because it was created in 2006, why does this story need to be told to audiences today?

AR: Because it’s still relevant. Judith Thompson, in one of the earlier versions, came to see the show and she asked me “Why is it relevant for a Canadian audience?” I found that really fascinating and at the time I didn’t have an answer for her. She told me to look at the homelessness in Toronto – look at the way we treat street people here, as if they don’t exist. People with mental health issues, they’re doing their thing and we’re just walking by.

We, as a society, practice classicism in the most heinous way. We do it. All of us do it. I’ve done it. I do it constantly because when you’re in a rush, you’re going, and you don’t want to give a panhandler money. There is a division in class that we practice. How is that different from the play I’m doing that’s set in India? It’s not really. I am segregating you and someone is segregating someone in India. It’s the exact same thing.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

AR: The truthful answer to that would be prayer. I have a very good, solid relationship with prayer and meditation. I really quiet myself when I need to think as to where the character is going and what their journey is or what the story will be. I’m writing a play for Nightwood Theatre right now called Trident Moon. It’s a ten person show and so I have to come up with characters for that and their journey. How do you sustain yourself for a three-year mark as it’s taken me three years to write the play. It’s prayer. It’s quieting yourself. Finding it inside of you, versus outside. Those things are true and I know that because I practice it.

BK: How do you commit to this kind of work?

AR: Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. There is no shortcut to success. I truly believe it. My mom always tells me that. It’s with everything. You wake up and you do the work. You don’t think about it. You don’t whine about it. You don’t wait for the inspiration to hit you. You don’t wait for Monday. You don’t wait for your soul to be ready. It is ready. Get up. Write. That’s it. I really practice it. You set your times, for me it’s four hours. Whatever it is in the day you decide to write, you turn everything off; your phone, the internet. You sit wherever you’re sitting, and you write. Do the job. Do not whine. Because the more you sit and wait for the clock to strike 12 and the inspiration to hit, it’s never going to happen. That’s not reality. You live in a state to be inspired. You’re not sitting there, waiting for inspiration to show up to write. That’s bullshit. That is bullshit. What I learned as a young writer, and I’m really grateful for it, is that discipline and inspiration are two separate things.

Success comes to people that work hard and opportunity arrives. That’s it. They work hard. You just do your job and let the world take care of itself. There’s a lot of glamorizing of what it is to be inspired in order to write. I do not prescribe to that. I prescribe to the discipline route. You will write shit, don’t get me wrong on that. There are days when everything you’re writing is shit. That’s the process. And then when you get there and it’s not shit. If you write everyday, something will be good. One day something is good and whatever is not, you throw away. But you wrote, versus sitting and waiting.

BK: You are absolutely right.

AR: You have to train like an athlete.

BK: Do you have a definition for success or what it means to be successful for you?

AR: That my parents are proud of me? I don’t know… (she laughs) I think my nine-year-old self wants me to make my parents happy. I don’t think that will ever go away. But my adult self is very goal orientated, in everything in my life. I strive to achieve them. But how do I define success? Going to bed in gratitude, knowing that I achieved my goals… but mainly to make my parents happy.

BK: How do you wear so many different hats, especially in this production? How do you divide your time?

AR: Priority and sacrifice. I have to make sacrifices for things that I want to do. I don’t socialize a lot, because I don’t have time. When I do socialize, I don’t do other things. It’s just knowing that whatever you’re doing is all you’re doing. Wearing so many hats has taught me that time becomes very valuable, so I have to make time for my partner. He is extremely important to me. I can’t have him feeling like I’m neglecting him because of work and I can’t neglect my work. It’s always a balance. One thing that I do fail miserably at is how to answer back to emails on time. I’m consistently behind. I get about thirty emails a day and I cannot get below the fifty-email mark. I feel like everyday my inbox goes up to a hundred and four emails and I get down to fifty but I can’t go past it. It just doesn’t happen.

BK: What about playwright versus actress in this show?

AR: When I’m a playwright in the show that’s all I’m doing, and I don’t care what actor Anusree feels. When I’m actor Anusree, I have to not care what playwright Anusree thinks. I have to do the job.

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Anusree Roy in PYAASA. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

BK: What are your goals and plans for the next five years?

AR: I would like to make a transition to television where I write for TV and produce. Here is why; write this down. DON’T skip this…

I want to see the stories of my people on screen. Television is an incredible medium and I am deeply inspired by what I’m watching, but I do not watch our stories of people of colour on the screen. It’s important that a medium that has such a wide reach, share our stories, that we are more than the secondary characters… We are more than that! That’s something I want to do. Of course, I want to keep doing theatre. There’s no question about that. I have to. It feeds my soul. But television is something I want to make a transition to simply because I want to, because the medium is good and the writing is so good for TV. I want it to have stories from my people.

BK: Do you have advice for emerging artists?

AR: I’ve talked about this before, but I really, really believe in discipline. Do the work! Don’t participate in Facebook debates. Don’t participate in this convoluted need to please. Don’t participate in bringing each other down. Do YOUR work and the rest will follow.

I have a red folder, which my mother told me to start in 2006 that houses all of my rejection letters and all of my acceptance letters. To this day, I get rejected from things constantly, as I get accepted to things constantly. That’s how our business works. But it houses all of it to keep me on track and keep me grounded and focused on the work, because if I just save the rejection letters that doesn’t serve. If I just saved the acceptance letters, that’s not true. Because I house all of them, it makes me realize how much it actually takes to be an artist.

My true advice, honestly, is do the work. If you’re an emerging artist, contact every senior artist that inspires you and ask him or her to meet and take them out for coffee. Have conversations with them. Ask them if you can help them. You’ll be amazed at how approachable they are. Fear gets you nowhere. Fear is boring. You have fear. We all have it. So if you’re scared, it’s not going to serve you. You think a senior artist is not scared? We’re all equally scared because we’re just people sitting on a rock spinning through the universe doing nothing really. My best friend Barbara came up with that and I thought that was the most profound thing I ever heard because it’s true.

The more you do the work, the more it cultivates work. Then you’re more interesting and people are more interested. Ask senior artists what their trajectory and transitions were because they’ve all done the work. Ask to work with them. You’re going to be amazed at how many say yes because they’ve been through it or they’re going through it in their career right now. I’ve been fortunate to be in the business for the last ten years but I’m a complete newbie in the television world. I don’t think you’re ever not emerging if you’re constantly in a state to learn.

Rapid Fire Question Round:

Favourite Food: Mom’s cooking

Favourite Movie: Oh no! I can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing. For Drama, it would have to be House of Sand and Fog. For ridiculousness, it would be Two Weeks Notice.

Favourite Book: Fall on your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald

Favourite Play:  Crackwalker by Judith Thompson

Favourite place in Toronto: Annex.

Best advice you’ve ever gotten: “Apply to everything”, from Thomas Morgan Jones. It even applies to life, not just career – Apply yourself. Or in terms of your career – Apply to everything. Best advice he ever gave me in 2006 and now we’re working together again.


A Theatre Passe Muraille Production

A Celebratory Remount of the 2008 sold-out TPM run, launching TPM’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Play Series, featuring the original creative team:

Written and Performed by Anusree Roy
Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones
Production Design by David DeGrow

What: “Life is not easy, Chaya… but you have to believe in it.”

Set in Calcutta, Pyaasa (meaning “thirsty” in Hindi) tells the story of Chaya, an eleven-year-old untouchable who dreams of nothing more than learning her times table. When Chaya’s mother begs a woman from a higher caste to give Chaya a job at a local tea stall, Chaya’s journey from childhood to adulthood begins and ends over ten days.

A moving and heartfelt play, Pyaasa illustrates with subtlety and nuanced truth the inequalities and injustices that persist through the Indian caste system. But it also speaks to us about the inequalities and injustices that are all around us here in our own community.

Anusree Roy is a Resident Playwright with Theatre Passe Muraille.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto.

Tickets: Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees, $17 Under-30, $20 Artsworkers, $28 Senior, $33 General Admission

When: March 3-27, 2016
Tuesday to Saturday Evening – 7:30pm
Saturday & Sunday Matinee – 2:00pm

Connect with us!
Spread the word: #PyaasaTO
Anusree Roy – @i_write_plays
Theatre Passe Muraille – @beyondwallsTPM
In the Greenroom – @intheGreenRoom_
Brittany Kay – @brittanylkay

In Conversation with Severn Thompson, playwright and performer of ELLE, on stage now at TPM


by Bailey Green

When Severn Thompson read the novel Elle four years ago she had no idea that this story would capture her imagination for years to come. The Governor General’s Award-winning novel written by Douglas Glover is based on the true story of Marguerite de Roberval. Marguerite, along with her lover and nurse, were marooned by her uncle the Sieur de Roberval on the Isle of Demons in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Thompson spent the last three years adapting and workshopping Elle before bringing it to Theatre Passe Muraille. “It struck me as so refreshing to find a female voice from a time I had heard very little about, in the very early days of the explorers in the mid 1500’s,” says Thompson. “I felt very close to her [the character]. The story crossed 500 years very easily for me. It brought the past to the present.”

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Adapting a 200 page book into a 24 page script is no easy feat, and Thompson had to set deadlines to make the hard choices. From the beginning, Thompson knew that she wanted simple props and set, and that the staging would be essential in creating the world of the play. “You want to still make it as rich an experience as you can,” Thompson says, “and assume that the audience coming in may not have the same background with the story that you have.”

As the project grew, so did the team involved. Thompson participated in the Banff Playwrights Colony where she worked with dramaturg and Program Director Brian Quirt and then Andy McKim, Artistic Director and dramaturg of Theatre Passe Muraille, who “has been guiding me through from an early stage. He [McKim] brings a lot of experience to the work, so that has been so useful” says Thompson. Two and a half years ago, director Christine Brubaker joined the project and became Thompson’s main partner in developing Elle. “We see things in a very similar way, so it’s been great to have eyes from the outside. She’s been really invaluable in pointing to aspects that need more and areas that need less. It’s been a great discovery, seeing how the audience relates to the play.”

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Author Douglas Glover has connected with Thompson throughout the development process, but Thompson notes that he has been very supportive from a distance, recognizing the differences in form between a play and a novel. Glover has seen drafts throughout the process and a short workshop performance at the Lab Cab Festival, but TPM is his first experience of the fully realized production. When asked about the greatest joy Thompson has experienced working on Elle she says:

“To share this story. It’s one that gives a very strong female voice to a point in history where we have heard so little. And she’s not just strong, because bad things happen to her but she doesn’t play the victim and yet she isn’t the perfect hero either. She has faults and quirks and it’s wonderful and exciting to share this character that Douglas has created.”

Thompson also notes that Elle reminds us of the history of our land and how easy it is to forget about the ground we stand on. “Elle reminds us about the power of this land, and the complications that have evolved from colonialism,” Thompson says. “The nature of that history is still in play today, whether we are aware of it or not.”

Jonathan Fisher and Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

Jonathan Fisher and Severn Thompson in ELLE at TPM. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper


A Theatre Passe Muraille Production

Adapted by Severn Thompson from the Governor General’s Award-winning novel by Douglas Glover
Directed by Christine Brubaker
Starring Jonathan Fisher & Severn Thompson
Dramaturgy by Christine Brubaker & Andy McKim
Stage Manager: Laura Baxter
Production Design: Jennifer Goodman
Sound Design & Original Music: Lyon Smith
Movement: Viv Moore

“Headstrong. What do you do with a headstrong girl? Maroon her on a deserted island lest she spread the contagion of discontent. Forget her.”

It’s 1542 at the time of France’s ill-fated third attempt to colonize Canada. The Sieur de Roberval abandons his unruly young niece, her lover, and her nurse on the Isle of Demons just off the coast of Labrador. With real bears, spirit bears, and perhaps hallucinated bears, Elle brilliantly reinvents the beginnings of this country’s national narrative.

Where: Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When: January 14-31, 2016, Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm & Saturday & Sunday at 2pm.

ASL-Interpreted Performances: Thursday January 21 at 7:30pm & Saturday January 30th at 2pm.
Relaxed Performance: Saturday January 23rd at 2pm.

Tickets: $17 Under 30, $20 Artsworker, $33 Seniors, $38 General Admission, Pay-What-You-Can Saturday & Sunday 2pm Matinees. Purchase here.