(photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)
A Passion for Story-Telling
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Ravi Jain is an actor/creator and award-winning director whose work has been produced extensively around the world. Over the past six years, as artistic director and founder of his international theatre company Why Not Theatre, Mr. Jain has created over 14 productions, performing in 15 different cities on four continents. His devised creations include his own adaptation of Hamlet entitled The Prince, the Dora Award winning Spent (created with Theatre Smith Gilmour and Adam Paolozza), the smash hit A Brimful of Asha - starring his real life mother Asha Jain. His directorial credits include Nicolas Billon’s Governor General’s Award nominated triptych Fault Lines, which include the plays Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands. Mr. Jain's varied body of work has established him as a multifaceted artist continually pushing the boundaries. He was the Urjo Kareda Artist in Residence at Tarragon Theatre (2010), is a Resident Artist at Soulpepper Theatre Company and is the inaugural Artistic Director in Residence at the Theatre Centre. He is also on the roster of clowns for Cirque du Soleil, and was awarded the Ken MacDougal and Ontario Arts Council’s Pauline McGibbon Award for Emerging Director.
CHARPO: In the last years, and inasmuch as you have remained active behind the scenes, your name is inextricably linked to Brimful of Asha as a performer with your mother. Has this been an unmitigated joy or does it come with its difficulties both personal and professional and which of those would you be willing to reveal?
JAIN: I often call myself a theatre maker- and that can mean many things. Actor, director, producer- it’s all part of a passion I have for storytelling. The success of Brimful of Asha has been so wonderfully surprising. I love performing in the show, because it’s really the only opportunity I have to spend quality time with my mother. Also, I love that people have a great time at the show, their reactions to my mother make me feel happy and the experience brings joy to me as a theatre maker. The show is people coming together to share in a good time. The challenge it presents professionally is that people sometimes expect all my work to look and feel like that show. With my company Why Not Theatre, no two shows look the same- the form and content of the story changes with the material we are working with and the people involved in the creative process. It’s always a surprise. I like having the freedom as an artist to do many different things and take risks that push me to discover new forms and new stories.
The cast of Lion in the Streets (photo by Stephen Tracey)
CHARPO: You have also been key in the development of new writers - I think specifically of Nicolas Billon's trilogy - is this the direction you think the entire art-form should be taking - encouragement of new artists.
JAIN: Working with him is a rare collaboration in which I feel both challenged and supported and in that process I come out a better artist. I don’t consider Nicolas to be an emerging artist- but yes, I do believe whole heartedly in supporting emerging artists- they need opportunity to take risks; to fail and to succeed. They need leadership opportunity in order to forge new paths, provide reckless abandon. Should the “entire art form” go in this direction?- NO. There always needs to be a balance. I believe in the necessary conversation that happens in mentorship and collaborations between senior and emerging artists or even between peer to peer relationships. The exchange and evolution of ideas is what keeps artists alive and relevant. We need to continually challenge ourselves to embrace new ideas, new perspectives and new voices... and they will forever be in dialogue with those who came before. Either in defiance or in the tradition of- regardless there is always a relationship.
CHARPO: Before we move on, is there an emerging writer we should be paying particular attention to?
JAIN: I am a huge fan of Jordan Tannahill, who is based in Toronto. He is an incredibly gifted writer and director. His work is rigorous, intelligent and extremely accessible. Keep an eye out for him- his company is called Suburban Beast. I am co-producing his next play Concord Floral at The Theatre Centre in Toronto March 3-24, 2014. He will also be creating a long term project over the next three years with the NTS students.
CHARPO: This all leads quite nicely to Lion in the Streets. I think it's a truly great ensemble piece, but are re-examinations of our veteran writers' works becoming lost in the fetish for emerging talent?
JAIN: I don’t think that’s true. In fact in Toronto this year, major companies are premiering works by Judith Thompson, George F. Walker AND Daniel MacIvor to name a few. I feel the veteran voice is as strong and present as ever. Moreover, I don’t think the situation is emerging vs. veteran artist, or at least it shouldn’t be. The question is about relevance - does the story being told relate to the people in this time now. If the answer is yes, then the play should be done, regardless of veteran or emerging.
CHARPO: Lion is a raw piece. Just how blunt can you be with young actors both in discussing such a piece and in the delivery to the audience?
JAIN: The 3rd year National Theatre School acting class that I have the pleasure of working with is incredibly talented and intelligent. They are able to go to the places that this play invites them to. They are doing fantastic work.
CHARPO: Finally, what can an uninformed audience expect to see in this production? What is the takeaway?
JAIN: This play is about the transformative powers of both violence and forgiveness. It exposes the dark sides of the desires, fears and anger in all of us. It also shows us the incredible power that is in us to forgive. It is a roller coaster of emotion - it tosses you around, thrills you, makes you feel like you will fall out of your chair- and when its all over- you'll want to ride again.
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