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Posts tagged ‘Jiv Parasram’

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

Who:
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

What:
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.

Where:
Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace
16 Ryerson Ave. Toronto

When:
February 1-18, 2018

Tickets:
artsboxoffice.ca

Connect:
@beyondwallsTPM
@buddiesTO
#AchaBachaTO

“Universalism vs Pluralversalism and Exploring Voice” In Conversation with Jivesh Parasram & Tom Arthur Davis on THE ONLY GOOD INDIAN at SummerWorks

Interview by Brittany Kay

Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard are three incredibly talented theatre creators and performers. Each have their own unique and important voice, which they bring to The Only Good Indian running at this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival. We sat down with Jiv and Tom to discuss the major narratives and ideas explored in this piece: identity, occupation and personal history.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a little bit about your show.

Tom Arthur Davis: It’s hard to talk about without giving things away about it.

Jiv Parasram: Uh… fuck. Our tagline is “part lecture, part meditation, part threat.”

BK: Yes and what does that mean?

JP: Can’t tell you too much about it.

(Laughter) 

JP: It’s roughly half pre-written material that deals with issues of occupation, colonization (and decolonization, depending on your angle of it) and some pretty dense political theory, but told in a pretty interesting way. It’s specifically about the lives that we value and the lives that we don’t. The other half of it is written by the performer who’s doing it that night through a series of guided prompt questions that ask them to mine parts of their own living experience and identity. People play a version of themselves, I would say, and there is a spectrum of that depending on who is doing it, some of it is a little bit more autobiographical, some is less. If that makes sense?

BK: That makes sense. Do you want to add anything Tom?

TAD: Yeah, it’s also a pluralversal exercise, to show that many parts make the whole, specifically in regards to, I guess, what we are calling “Indianhood” and what that means. Where are we indigenous to who are the Indigenous people where we are now and how do we try to find some sort of empathy or connection.

JP: It’s kind of how you find your way into the story. A lot of it has to do with how you experience homogenous otherness, or that you witness it, or that you’ve felt it on yourself. Tribalism is part of that, where you associate with and where you don’t.

Pluralversal is not a term many people are waxin’ around with.

BK: No…

JP: It’s a bit of an antithesis to universality.

BK: Expand on that.

JP: The principal of universalism means that there is one universal truth and often that tends to just be the dominant way of thinking about that. Often it’s a Eurocentric kind of truth related to structures of power that have been there a long time. But Pluralversal thinking comes from like Zapatista philosophy […] there are multiple universes and multiple universal truths all informed by different cosmologies too, so different ways of thinking about the world. Those all come together to make up a whole truth and they don’t always have to agree, so it’s not binary.

BK: Very interesting.

JP: So that’s why we are getting different people to do it and look through it. Hopefully through that we will, maybe, find some commonalities with it. I don’t know. We’ll find out!

BK: Where did this idea first come from to create this show? What was the inspiration behind this work?

JP: Basically, I spent five years researching the politics of death… and that kind of fucked me up, like real bad. Then I started writing a couple of different pieces all dealing with it […] I wrote this piece, a piece called The Only Good Indian, which got published by Playwrights Canada Press in a ten-minute anthology. Which was different from what we are doing. That’s a two-hander play where some of the themes are still there.

It was based on an article about liquidity and identity in South Asian males in the U.K during the War on Terror, where it was saying that there are fewer options and representation for them. The twist of it was that they were identifying with these terrorists back ‘home’, talking about Pakistan and India but one is from Guyana and one is from Trinidad, so they are not actually from there but they have still internalized it. Then we got accepted to the Rhubarb Festival to expand it, which was the original idea. We were trying to figure out an interesting way to do that. There was so much going on at that time in the world.

TAD: That Turkish ambassador was assassinated in Russia and we just thought that the piece would be about a standoff between two brown guys wearing vests, one being a cop wearing a bullet proof vest and the other with a suicide vest on and he’s trying to talk him out of it. We didn’t know if it would make sense to have a South Asian body wearing a suicide vest in a naturalistic context for this Rhubarb performance after that had happened.

JP: It just seemed like it was supporting the mainstream narrative to a certain point. The central theme that I had trouble with, was saying that I can’t ever represent one voice on this. I asked Tom to do it with me and we came up with a process for writing somewhat different but related pieces. I think it was super brave of Tom to do it…

TAD: Oh shucks.

JP: …because, you know, if I’m in a piece that’s called The Only Good Indian versus if Tom is, it’s going to be differently received just off the bat.

BK: Totally. Let’s talk about the different voices in this piece. You have Donna Michelle St. Bernard also speaking the same text?

TAD: Some of it. The pre-written part yes and the other half depends on the performer and what they write based off of the given prompts. It’s quite different hearing different bodies saying the text that each of us share in the show. You will get a different reaction to what Jiv is saying than if I’m saying it, whatever that reaction might be, positive or negative, for either of us.

JP: The first line of the play is “Can I say Indian?” which is quite different when I say it, versus when Tom says it. It’s an interesting thing to have to mitigate. We had a lot of discussions about how to do that, trying to figure out how to not make an audience shut off.

BK: What kind of reactions do you want from audiences? I heard there were some people walking out at the Rhubarb performance. Is that what you want?

TAD: No, we don’t want that. We want them to listen.

JP: And a negative reaction is valid too. We understand why people might want to walk out, but I think that if people can listen, the intention is to get them to rethink some of these perceptions towards identity. The SummerWorks performances will all be followed by long table discussions, which is one of the things that we didn’t have at Rhubarb, that ability to talk to the audience. We couldn’t talk to them beyond just chatting with them after if we saw them.

TAD: Also very few people at Rhubarb saw both performances to see the differences between them and see what that means.

BK: So it’s advantageous for audiences to see all three performances at SummerWorks?

JP: Absolutely, it’s a different show each time. I think it would be cool. Even if some of the text is the same, it’s radically different depending on what has preceded it and what follows it. The meaning can change.

BK: Why is it important for audiences right now to see this show?

JP: For me, it’s for the politics of representation right now. If there was going to be a central lecture in this piece it would be discussing the division of what we are calling a “Death World/Life World” perception. There are parts of the world where it’s expected that people live and parts of the world where it is expected that they die. Our tolerance for death is different depending on where you’re at. I think part of it is the debate of appropriation right now, which I think comes from not having any connection or knowledge of your own story. People have all sorts of histories that they need to mine.

TAD: My piece is about losing that sense of identity and being white washed quite literally.

BK: What about Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s?

JP: She’s talking about Grenada. She has a very different spin on occupation. She’s really running with the material and basing it a lot off of setting up the lectures. She doesn’t go directly for something, but has this articulate, subtle way of talking around it. A big factor of hers has to do with success and choice. Accepting and loving certain labels that have been colonially put on you, but then acknowledging how fucked up those labels might be.

BK: I want to see how all three collectively intersect!

TAD: Eventually the hope would be that we could have a different performer every night, not just three. Put it out into the ether and then people could just do their own.

JP: We would like to be able to tour and just show up somewhere and be like, “We would like to employ seven of your local artists.” It’s more interesting to me that way.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

JP: I want them to engage in the conversation. Maybe rethink some of their perceptions.

TAD: It’s hard to say, because we are three different performers. What do we want them coming out with from my piece or Jiv’s or DM’s? If they see all 3 then they are getting the pluralversal idea. Some pieces might make you angry and some might make you reflect and others might make you need to talk about something. It will really differ.

BK: Do you have other SummerWorks shows you’re excited to see?

TAD: Explosions for the 21st Century.

JP: I also want to check out The Chemical Valley Project. There is the Amy project Almeida (The Glorious).

TAD: Boys in Chairs.

JP: The Smile Off Your Face, very curious about that. The Archivist.

BK: It’s a very good year! Anything else we need to know?

JP: The only thing I would say is that some of the content we do can be pretty disturbing and we’re in discussions right now about what warnings we need to put up and also to let people know that they can leave and we won’t be offended. It can be pretty heavy. It also will be different for each show, so if people want to write to me and say I need to know what I’m walking into, I’m happy to write to them and give them a heads up and let them know what they are going to see.

The Only Good Indian

Who:
Company: Pandemic Theatre
Project Design by Jivesh Parasram
Co-Created by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard

The listed run time includes a 30 minute Long Table Discussion that will take place after every performance.

What:
Part lecture, part meditation, and part threat, The Only Good Indian takes a shockingly raw look at where our similarities begin and where they end. Each night a different performer straps themselves into an extreme situation – forcing the audience to ask – what would you die for?

Where:
Factory Theatre Studio
125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

When:
Friday August 11th 8:45pm – 10:00pm
Saturday August 12th 9:00pm – 10:15pm
Sunday August 13th 3:30pm – 4:45pm

Tickets:
summerworks.ca

“Punk Rock, Remounts & SITUATIONAL ANARCHY” In Conversation with storyteller Graham Isador

Interview by Brittany Kay

It’s always the best chatting with storyteller/artist Graham Isador so we were thrilled to catch back up with him about remounting Situational Anarchy, which was runner-up for outstanding production at the 2016 SummerWorks Festival. We spoke about Against Me, punk rock, remounts, and why it’s important to keep doing what means something to you.

Brittany Kay: Tell me a bit about the show?

Graham Isador: Situational Anarchy is a storytelling show about how punk rock is the most important thing in the world. It’s also a show about how punk rock is the stupidest thing in the world. The show is framed as an open letter to Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer and frontwoman of the band Against Me. It chronicles my times growing up in the Southern Ontario Music scene, my obsession with her band, and the frustration I felt when Against Me signed to major label Sire Records (a division of Warner Records). While the framing device has to do with music, the show is a series of stories about the compromises we make and the things we leave behind as we get older.

BK: What was your initial draw into Against Me!?

GI: I found Against Me in my adolescence. Like a lot of creative types, my teen years were spent in turmoil. I didn’t have a lot of friends. My creative inclinations – which mostly consisted of unreadable poetry and a penchant for eyeliner – made me stand out from my peers. Those differences often lead to violence both psychological and physical. Against Me’s music offered refuge. I could sing along with tracks that celebrated my outsider status. The band introduced me to punk rock and gave me a place to belong. They mattered to me in that overwhelming, heartbreaking way, things can matter to you as a teenager. But it was more than just that.

There is a saying that my friend Frank has: If you grow up and your favorite band was Oasis it means you liked a band called Oasis. If you grew up and your favorite band was Minor Threat, it means you liked a band called Minor Threat and had a certain opinion about how the world was supposed to function. To me, and to a lot of my friends, punk rock is more than just shitty music played very loud. It’s a set of ideologies and values. Those ideologies and values shaped the person I am today.

BK: Why do this again? What was successful about it the first time around?

GI: Theatre is such a ridiculous medium. Situational Anarchy has been celebrated as the most successful thing I’ve done in my career, we were awarded runner-up for outstanding production at the 2016 SummerWorks festival, but we only did three performances. A couple of hundred people saw the show. I’m grateful to everyone who bought a ticket. I’m also grateful for the praise we were given. But I’d like more people to see what I do. This is a chance to do that.

I don’t think it’s up to me to decide what was successful about the show. I just get up there and try to do the best job I can. Without giving too much away, people have told me they enjoyed the depictions of how awkward growing up can be, what depression can do to people, and the nature of the things we love. Also there are jokes.

BK: What was the creation process for this show? How do you rehearse/structure a show that is based in storytelling?

GI: I started writing this show because it was impossible not to. When Against Me signed to a major label it felt like a personal affront. It hurt my feelings. I was sad and I was pissed off and despite knowing that those emotions might seem laughable to others – why should a band being on the radio throw your life into a tailspin? – it’s still how I felt. I couldn’t not talk about it. I’d be at a house party and I’d talk about Against Me. I’d be at Thanksgiving dinner and I’d talk about Against Me. I’d be interviewing another band for my job and it’d turn into an interview about Against Me. It was all getting to be a bit much.

When I was at Soulpepper a first draft of the script was created as a part of the playwrights unit. I performed different versions of the story at smaller stages across Toronto and it kept getting longer. When we got into SummerWorks last year, I brought on longtime collaborators Tom Arthur Davis and Jiv Parasram to help me shape the story into an actual play. They’re both wizards with that type of thing. They were a crucial part of taking my anecdotes and making them into something palatable. If anyone enjoys the show that is as much to do with their work as it is to do with mine.

BK: Why is this story important for you? Why is this something that is close to your heart

GI: Growing up there are so many times when we have to question whether the things we believed in as youth still matter to us as adults. I devoted my life to mediums which people at best ignore and at worst actively dislike. But I do it because these things are important. They mean something to me and if I do my job then this show will make them mean something to other people. I need them to be important to other people because otherwise what’s the point?

BK: Why the title?  

GI: It is a clever play on words.

BK: What do you want audiences walking away with?

GI: That punk rock is the most important thing in the world. And that punk rock is the stupidest thing in the world. We are also donating the proceeds of the show to Trans life Line and Gender is Over. They are two organizations helping trans at risk youth and hopefully people will know we tried our best to help them.

 Situational Anarchy

Who:
Written & Performed by Graham Isador
Directed by Tom Arthur Davis & Jivesh Parasram

What:
Situational Anarchy is 100% true. Sort of.

For the past thirteen years Graham Isador has been in an on again/off again relationship with transgender rockstar Laura Jane Grace. The relationship is characterized by two main factors:

1. Laura Jane Grace is the lead singer, lyricist, and front woman for the punk rock band Against Me.
2. Laura Jane Grace does not know that Graham exists.

Framed as an open letter to the singer, Isador chronicles his teenage years spent in the Southern Ontario punk scene, sharing stories of Internet message boards, strip mall record stores, and concerts in basements and backrooms.

Situational Anarchy is a one-man storytelling show about the growing pains of adolescence and the inevitable heartbreak of teenage conviction.

Where: 
Stop, Drop, and Roll (Located Above Rancho Relaxo)
300 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 1R9

When:
May 24th-27th and May 31st-June 3rd
All shows at 8pm, with an additional performance June 3rd at 4pm

Tickets:
Door tickets are Pay What You Want
Advanced tickets are $15
Very limited seating. Only 25 seats per night.

All proceeds from the show (after expenses) will be donated to TRANS LIFE LINE/GENDER IS OVER.

Connect:
w: http://www.pandemictheatre.ca/situational-anarchy/
fb: /pandemictheatre
t: @presgang