Toronto’s multicultural Theatre Festival focusses on South Asia

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The Annual rock.paper.sistahz, a popular multicultural Theatre Festival which runs in Toronto until tomorrow for the first time strongly focuses on South Asian The Festival features two South Asian presentations by South Asian performers, and playwrights at Artscape Wychwood Barns in Toronto.
Mumbai born, artist Rohit Chokhani (current producer in resident at the National Arts Centre), will be directing Ouroborous by Indian/Canadian playwright and performer Emma Laishram. Ouroborous is a one woman show inspired by an ancient folk tale about a warrior queen, passed on only through oral tradition for hundreds of years in the valleys of Manipur, India. This fictional play, inspired by real events, explores an Indo Canadian woman’s personal struggle to reconnect with her Manipuri heritage, and her experiences growing up as a biracial Canadian.
Can-India caught up with Rohit Chokhani to talk about the art scene and his deep involvement in it.

You have been involved in the BC arts scene for quite a while now, what you have done to promote South Asian themed art and culture?
I am the Artistic Producer for South Asian Arts and Diwali Fest based out of Vancouver/Surrey, BC. Diwali Fest (formerly Vancouver Celebrates Diwali) is an annual South Asian arts & culture festival, produced by the Diwali Celebration Society. With multiculturalism and inclusiveness as two of our organization’s core values, our slogan “Light Your Spirit” is reflective of our mandate.
The South Asian Arts Society is active in promoting south Asian dance, music and theatre via professional performances and event production. We’ve been responsible for choreographing a performance at the 2009 JUNO Awards with Russell Peters, dozens of events during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and recently choreographing a troupe of 70 Bhangra dancers and 20 Dhol drummers for the TOIFA Bollywood Awards held at BC Place Stadium.

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Ouroborus has a very strong female in the role as well as presents the real struggle many South Asians, like other ethnic groups face while growing up in Canada. What is it that you find so compelling in this story?
I must say that the concept of Ouroborus came to me through my cocreator Emma Laishram who is half Manipuri and she told me about this project. In her voice I found a strong voice of a young south Asian Indo-Canadian woman who talks about a culture which is not only marginalized in Canada but also within India itself. In India, Manipuri and other North Eastern Indian people are being violently attacked, abused and killed because of their race.
Generally – we find that this struggle in India is similar to the struggle that the first nations community faces in Canada and world wide and also some of the struggles that South Asians and other ethnic groups face in Canada / North America.

Would you say there is something called Identity Poverty among ethnic youth growing up in Canada?
I think Identity Poverty is too strong of a term to describe it. I think Indo-Canadians or for that matter any Youth especially Ethnic Youth growing up in Canada would quite naturally feel disconnected to his/her cultural ancestral roots .
I think second generation or third generation immigrants face strong challenges as they are raised in a western environment with their specific ethnic values in the household and so as they go through Youth they have to struggle through a need to belong and find balance between two cultures.
I would like to Quote Emma here – Canada is a nation of many separate identities, and cultures that are often each identified as ‘the other’, each fighting for a voice. The fact that we all experience this separation in one way or another, may be the only thing that unifies us.

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What makes it so important for South Asians to see this production?
First and foremost – This is just a 30 minute short excerpt presentation of the overall production that we are currently developing. It has all the usual South Asian Elements in it – Singing, Dancing, Rituals, ceremonies, Spirituality and we even have warriors and its all performed by Emma Laishram. It is a one-woman show that fuses myth and reality, through weaving together an ancient story of the orient with an occidental story of a modern day Canadian. In an attempt to create a play that is representative of a generation of Canadians, and children of immigrants all over the world- in that we are connected to our present environment but disconnected from our roots, past and heritage. By embarking on a journey to find meaning and connection in the spaces between, Ouroboros investigates the chaos of the universe and the human struggle within it, to find purpose. Ouroboros questions whether it is possible to create a new mythology for Canadians that can unify us beyond our individual cultural heritage and identities. Must we cast aside the traditions and beliefs of our forefathers to create new ones with each other?

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Why did you decide to present your show at b current’s rock.paper.sistahz Festival?
South Asian Canadians are one of the largest visible minority group in Canada and yet we are heavily underrepresented in theatre and the mainstream performing arts community of this Country. Emma and I have embarked on a mission to change this through our work together. Further my body line of work in BC is moving towards launching a National and international touring network for South Asian Artists and so its important for me that we are telling stories of Indo-Canadians as a part of this initiative. In order to make this mission possible, This festival truly and surely represents the unrepresented and we are happy to make our small contribution to the same through our work.

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