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Posts tagged ‘CAMH’

In Conversation with Dr. Suvendrini Lena, playwright of “The Enchanted Loom”

by Bailey Green

The story of The Enchanted Loom, written by Dr. Suvendrini Lena, begins in Toronto, where demonstrations against the Sri Lankan civil war have taken over the Gardiner expressway. The protests take place during the final weeks of the war and trigger memories of trauma for a Tamil family. The family had come to Canada to escape the violence in Sri Lanka. The father, Thangan, was imprisoned and tortured during the war. He struggles to cope with epilepsy brought on by scars in his head from the beatings he endured. As Thangan’s seizures worsen, his family begins to unravel. In order to have a chance to heal, Thangan must decide whether to undergo a surgery that would cut out his scars but could erase pieces of his memory. One memory in particular, a memory of his oldest son who died during the war, Thangan doesn’t know if he can bear to lose. “The surgery is a metaphor for how societies and communities can move through trauma, will it fix things or won’t it? How deeply are these traumas embedded in us and in our communities?” says Dr. Suvendrini Lena, neurologist and playwright of The Enchanted Loom, produced by Factory Theatre and Cahoots Theatre, on stage now to November 27th.

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The Enchanted Loom is the product of years of hard work that took place while Dr. Lena worked full-time as a neurologist and raised her child as a single mother. The play was first developed as a research project about epilepsy. Subsequently, the play has grown to explore the dynamics of family. “I chose epilepsy because seizures are a huge disruption of consciousness. It arrests everything and you don’t know what is going to happen next,” Dr. Lena explains. “There’s a potential of being paralyzed so you’re very vulnerable. And that is what happens in war, the kind of disruptions and the way daily life becomes unlivable.” The play focuses on the question of whether or not Thangan will chose to have a surgery that Dr. Lena describes as a unique procedure: “The patients are often awake so that when the parts of the brain are being removed the doctors can preserve everything around them, as much as possible. It is one of the penultimate scenes, this awake craniotomy, and it is very evocative – you can see consciousness right in front of you.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Working on her first play has helped illuminate Dr. Lena’s work at CAMH. “I have learned a huge amount from watching the actors play these characters,” Dr Lena says. “The family life [in the play] is structured by [Thangan’s] illness and every aspect is affected[…] I teach a course on theatre and medicine to medical residents and I do that because theatre allows us to inhabit alternate lives. As doctors you need to be in a patient’s position and understand what that means.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The play’s title is drawn from a quote written by pioneer neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington. Sherrington used ‘the enchanted loom’ as a metaphor for the mystery of the brain. “Memory, to me, is this intricate fabric that is being reworked by everything that happens. It is the key to the future but is constantly changing, being influenced by what other people remember and by the present,” Dr. Lena says. “The whole play is about the family’s memory of trauma and how it informs their future and the difficulty of remembering traumatic things but also the necessity to remember them in order to heal from them.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Marjorie Chan, Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre, is the director of The Enchanted Loom. Dr. Lena expresses her gratitude and admiration for Chan’s patience and expertise: “I don’t have a playwright’s training, but she championed this play with 6 actors and poetic medical language and has woven it together in this beautiful way. I couldn’t be in better hands. It has been spectacular, like nothing else.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

For Dr. Lena, the greatest joy of working on this play may be seeing it on stage now during its run, when the play has come together fully. “It has been so meaningful to know this is a story worth telling,” says Dr. Lena. “Epilepsy is a stigmatized illness and a difficult illness. To have people take risks to portray it and the Sri Lankan story…to remember what happened and how the future could be different… it’s quite something to see it fully realized on stage at Factory.”

Photo by Dahlia Katz

Photo by Dahlia Katz

The Enchanted Loom


Written by Suvendrini Lena
Directed by Marjorie Chan
A Cahoots Theatre production in association with Factory Theatre

The Sri Lankan civil war has left many scars on Thangan and his family, most noticeably the loss of his eldest son and crippling epileptic seizures brought on by his torture during the war. As the final days of the war play out; the family watches from Toronto, where a neurological procedure provides them with a chance to heal. This poetic play, part medical, part mystical is a harrowing tale of loss and hope that reminds us of the joys and pain of unconditional love for family, and freedom.

ASL Interpreted Performance, followed by a Post-Show Q&A, Sunday, November 20

Factory Theatre Studio Theatre
125 Bathurst St.

November 10-27, 2016


Factory Theatre –
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t: @factorytoronto
Cahoots Theatre –
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t: @cahootstheatre
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A Chat with Heather Braaten – Director of Next to Normal at the LOT in Support of CAMH

Interview by Ryan Quinn

RQ: So, I’m here with Heather Braaten, who is directing Next To Normal, running from Thursday August 29th to Sunday September 29th at The Lower Ossington Theatre. Would you like to tell me a bit about the show?

HB: Sure, it’s a completely sung-through rock musical that addresses mental health issues and the families struggling with them. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning piece. It’s not your typical musical at all. Small cast, very intimate. This is my first time working with the Lower Ossington Theatre, and it’s really interesting, what they’re doing. We’ve got a team of super-talented, professional, upcoming artists that are so fantastic and so ready to explode onto the scene. For me, as a director, I get to see all the amazing work that’s happening in this space at the LOT, and it’s an incredible opportunity for everyone involved. I mean, these huge shows, only a select few will get to do them on a Broadway scale, you don’t often see them happening on an independent level.

RQ: I mean, the logistics of putting up a show like this must be intense.

HB: Exactly! I mean, the rights for the show alone are expensive. I’ve been directing independent theatre for ten to fifteen years now, and I don’t normally get to tackle material like this.

RQ: You mentioned earlier how this was a Pulitzer Prize-winning show that’s won Tony Awards as well. What do you think makes it such a remarkable show?

HB: Well, I think that musicals just don’t approach material like this. Generally, a topic like mental illness isn’t addressed on such a massive scale. I mean, we see films, television shows, and of course books about mental illness, but theatre has a different way of reaching people. The live experience is so different than any other artistic medium. I think one of the reasons this show is so successful is that people are blown away by the honesty of it. This is family life. This is real. I think that’s the main thing about it. It’s very honest and very poignant. It really doesn’t let you off the hook, in terms of material. It doesn’t have a classic Broadway happy ending. It doesn’t resolve everything for everyone. I feel like people took notice because it’s not afraid to tackle this issue, which everyone in some way has been touched by. Before directing this piece, I had never seen it as a production, I had read it and heard it, but I had never seen it in performance. That’s why it’s been amazing to work on, because as it comes together, I start to get hit harder and harder with what it’s trying to do and how honestly it’s doing it. And we’re not going to cut it, we’re going to put the whole thing onstage for a large audience to see and have an experience together. I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at, when people go to see a show, they have a collective experience, and with this piece, that means having a massive dialogue about mental illness all at once.

RQ: So, this show requires a lot of vulnerability. It’s an emotionally, physically, and mentally violent show. How do you approach something like that as a director?

HB: I have done material like this before, but not that often. I relate it to another piece I did about the Dionne quintuplets and their struggle. It’s all about struggle, and understanding the specifics of it. In both cases, of having your family rocked by a bipolar, delusional mother who is trying to live in a separate world. So it’s interesting to approach it for a second time. I think the most important thing is creating a safe place for the actors to work in, and to indulge and experiment with where that lives in their own minds and bodies. They need to be able to experience it, then work back from there. We can’t literally have people breaking down onstage, it has to be a controlled scenario. But it has been really interesting to see these actors experience extreme emotion for what it really is, then pull it back from there to tell the story. I mean, they have a huge vocal task in this piece. You can’t perform this piece without having full control over your instrument, but at the same time, it has to be fully emotionally connected to the material. As a director, how do you make that happen? I’ve learned that early in the process, you allow it to happen in a way where it’s just let go, then you bring it back to the storytelling and the technique. This cast has been amazing to see connect to the material and to each other. It’s one of those pieces that gets more meaningful every time you see or listen to it, and I think that’s why it’s kind of developed a following. Every time you listen to it, it hits you somewhere deeper. There are a lot of layers to it.

RQ: And the LOT is working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath on this piece, correct?

HB: Yes, part of the proceeds are going to CAMH, and they’re helping us get the word out that we’re doing the piece.

RQ: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, and break a leg on your run!

HB: Thanks!

Next to Normal

At the LOT in support of CAMH

Pulitzer-Prize winning rock musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness.

Where: Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Avenue

When: August 29th – September 29th, 2013


For more information, check out the Lower Ossington Website:

Read out more about the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on their website: