Ma­jum­dar wrote, stars in TNW dou­ble-bill

The Prince George Citizen - - Local | Today's Weather Details - Frank PEE­BLES Cit­i­zen staff fpee­bles@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

Theatre North­west’s new sea­son is star­ing us in the fish eyes. The city’s popular pro­fes­sional theatre com­pany be­gins the new cam­paign of drama with an award­win­ning flour­ish. The dou­ble-bill of Fish Eyes and Let Me Bor­row That Top has scored high ap­plause across Canada. Th­ese in­ter­lock­ing plays (there is also a third one in this tril­ogy) were writ­ten by Anita Ma­jum­dar and she is the star in Prince George start­ing Thurs­day night.

It is a look into her own youth as an Indo-Cana­dian grow­ing up in the Cana­dian sub­urbs. It has a lot of ban­gra danc­ing, a lot of laughs, and looks hard, in a comedic way, at the ways two cul­tures come to­gether in the ev­ery­day Cana­dian high school.

She ex­plained to The Cit­i­zen the re­al­life truths that ended up com­pos­ing th­ese char­ac­ters.

Cit­i­zen: Th­ese plays are cen­tred on com­ing of age, and the angsts of youth. Please talk about why you cen­tred on at that pe­riod of time in a per­son’s life. Who were the real peo­ple and real sit­u­a­tions in your own youth that found their way onto th­ese pages?

Ma­jum­dar: When I was in high school, I re­mem­ber think­ing, “I can’t wait till I’m out of here and be treated like an adult!” I had this felt ex­pe­ri­ence of dou­ble stan­dards as a woman of colour, but I as­sumed that was a high school is­sue and that ev­ery­thing would change af­ter the age of 18. When I fi­nally be­came an adult, I re­al­ized that high school had ac­tu­ally been a primer for what to ex­pect when I grew up.

When I started writ­ing Fish Eyes, I was in my early twen­ties and one of the only peo­ple of colour in my theatre school act­ing class. My first day of school was 9/11.

I watched a di­ver­sity-driven city like Mon­treal change into a peo­ple who moved to the other side of the sub­way car when

I or any­one who looked like me got on. As well, for three years I wit­nessed a few teach­ers tak­ing ad­van­tage of or bul­ly­ing young stu­dents un­der the pre­tense, “that’s just how it goes.”

Plac­ing Fish Eyes in a high school setting redi­rected the rage I felt and did that thing that high school plays do: it made it funny. The nos­tal­gia we have when we re­visit high school as adults gives us the op­por­tu­nity to cringe and laugh at what seemed so im­por­tant in those early years. But it also of­fers a fresh per­spec­tive on the ev­ery­day in­equities we read­ily ac­cept as adults.

Fish Eyes also came out of lone­li­ness. I’m an only child and learned to talk to my­self to keep my­self com­pany and never stopped. Be­ing the only South Asian-Cana­dian kid in ele­men­tary school who didn’t speak English till she was six also iso­lated me. So it made sense that I grav­i­tated to­wards the solo show for­mat. And per­haps that’s why Fish Eyes has had so much ap­peal for so many years. Given how vast this coun­try is, I think there’s a rea­son we’re at­tracted to sto­ries about iso­la­tion and “oth­er­ness” in Canada. Fish Eyes both ad­dresses that iso­la­tion and tries to fill its void.

Cit­i­zen: When you move the per­for­mances from place to place, how do the themes of the play res­onate in dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties?

Ma­jum­dar: That’s hard to say given that I’m only ever in each com­mu­nity for the du­ra­tion of the per­for­mance, which is too short a time to ac­cu­rately as­sess the so­cial cli­mate be­fore­hand.

And it also de­pends from per­for­mance to per­for­mance. A stu­dent mati­nee res­onates in a dif­fer­ent way than an adult/evening per­for­mance does. But sure, com­mu­ni­ties with larger con­cen­tra­tions of South Asian-Cana­di­ans usu­ally means there are more au­di­ence mem­bers who catch the Bol­ly­wood and other cul­tural ref­er­ences that are laced through­out the plays, but for some com­mu­ni­ties the sto­ries act as a gen­tle in­tro­duc­tion to a cul­ture that can seem com­plex. Ei­ther way, the premise of high school seems to unify those col­lec­tive au­di­ence ex­pe­ri­ences while at the same time re­mind­ing us that Cana­dian teenagers come in all shapes and colours.

Cit­i­zen: What were the things that ad­vanced your ca­reer and ig­nited you to stay on in the per­form­ing arts when so many other pro­fes­sions are avail­able to you?

Ma­jum­dar: I al­ways knew I wanted to be an ac­tor, but what I didn’t an­tic­i­pate was be­com­ing a play­wright, a chore­og­ra­pher, or a pro­ducer. If I’m hon­est, I wouldn’t have stayed in the per­form­ing arts if I had only been an ac­tor. It wouldn’t have been fea­si­ble to make a liv­ing on only that. But more than hap­pen­ing upon a mul­ti­ple rev­enue source, act­ing alone wasn’t enough to keep me happy. I need change-ups to my work to keep me on my toes and each time I wear a new hat, I un­der­stand my first love of act­ing in a new way.

As an ac­tor, my first film, CBC’s Mur­der Un­veiled, was pretty life-chang­ing and helped me fig­ure out my process and what I needed (and didn’t need) to pre­pare for a role that I didn’t write my­self. It was also the first time I trav­elled for work and got to go to film fes­ti­vals and win my first award. But I re­mem­ber shoot­ing that film and then hav­ing to fly back to Toronto to pro­duce and per­form a workshop pro­duc­tion of Fish Eyes at Har­boufront Theatre. Tina Ras­mussen at Har­boufront taught me the fun­da­men­tals of pro­duc­ing and marketing theatre, for which I’ll be for­ever grate­ful. Just like writ­ing, it was an­other set of tools to en­sure I didn’t need to wait for the phone to ring in or­der to get work in the arts.

I would also say be­ing ac­cepted into the Na­tional Theatre School of Canada was a piv­otal mo­ment. That was where I was able to un­der­stand that all of th­ese arts tra­di­tions that I knew how to do or was in­ter­ested in could have a place in the theatre. It was three years of fig­ur­ing out that it was pos­si­ble to shape Cana­dian theatre and add my voice into the mix and not just as an ac­tor ful­fill­ing some­one else’s vi­sion. It em­pow­ered me to make a greater con­tri­bu­tion and changed my sense of worth.

Tick­ets on sale now

This is Ma­jum­dar’s first visit to Prince George. She and her dou­ble-feature launch Theatre North­west’s 25th an­niver­sary sea­son with a lot of laughs and a lot of truths, no mat­ter which root cul­ture you might come from.

Fish Eyes and Let Me Bor­row That Top run to­gether un­til Oct. 7.

Tick­ets are on sale now online at the Theatre North­west web­site or at Books & Com­pany.

The book form of the Fish Eyes Tril­ogy can be pur­chased online at www.play­wrightscanada.com, co-pub­lished by Banff Cen­tre Press and il­lus­trated by Maria Nguyen.

HANDOUT PHOTO BY DAHLIA KATZ

Anita Ma­jum­dar wrote and stars in Theatre North­west’s pro­duc­tion of Fish Eyes and Let Me Bor­row That Top.

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