Write what you know is the old adage. So Jiv Parasram has invited us to the theatre to talk about himself. Such plays about formative life circumstances, particularly in a minority context, are commonly known as identity plays. They tend to reflect how a particular culture or circumstance made the performer who they are today, and often serve to accentuate the differences between the artist and the majority culture usually making up the audience.
Identity plays have played an important role in the development of more culturally varied programming Canada-wide, including here at NAC English Theatre. One example was our most recent show in the studio, Jeff Ho’s trace, which brought us through his matrilineal line all the way back to Kowloon. Another was Tetsuro Shigumatsu’s Empire of the Son, which explored Tetsuro’s relationship with his father. A third example was Robert LePage’s 887, a masterpiece about himself, his father and class marginalization and alienation in 1960s Quebec.
In this next identity play, Jiv will explain how Take d Milk, Nah?, which is all about Jiv and his cultural context, actually isn’t an identity play. I will leave it to him to reveal his true identity to you – and although you might not be a Hindu-Indo-Carribean-Canadian, you might just find you identify a bit with Jiv yourself.
I used to host a storytelling show. Each month, I’d pick a theme and have artists perform stories on that theme. A few years back, I asked Jiv to give me a five- to six-minute anecdote on identity. I wanted something short and punchy, funny if it was possible. For the weeks leading up to the show, I’d ask Jiv about when I could see the text. How was it coming along? What was he going to talk about? Was it ready? Jiv would give me some half-hearted excuse, then assured me I’d get the story soon. I felt like I was being blown off, but the truth was Jiv hadn’t written it yet. He was having trouble. How do you sum up identity in a five- to six-minute anecdote? And how do you make that something somebody wants to actually, you know, listen to?
Most of the stories that night were kind of hack. My own included. There was stuff about grade school recitals and terrible haircuts. Somebody talked about their aunt. It was all pretty broad, pretty benign. Then Jiv got on stage and started talking about birthing a cow. Interwoven throughout the story were ideas about growing up on the east coast, connections to Trinidad, and Hindu culture. It was a good set, thoughtful and well performed.
When we started working on Take d Milk, Nah?, I figured we’d just expand the cow thing. Use the birth as a beginning/middle/end, talk about identity some more, and throw in a couple of one-liners. But Jiv wasn’t interested in that. When I asked why, he had two answers: 1) some version of THAT show had been done a dozen times before, and 2) the whole beginning/middle/end thing wasn’t even how, culturally, he understood stories.
From there, Jiv, Tom, and I talked about what this whole show was going to be. We talked about Puja Rooms and the Ramayana. Jiv walked us through a broad strokes set-up of Hindu storytelling, which loosely summarized is this: there would be a recounting of a religious text followed by a lecture on that text. This was the jumping off point for the form of the piece: cultural stories, then an examination of those stories. The cow story is still in there, kinda. But it’s more than that. I think that’s a good thing to keep in mind before watching the show tonight.
Jiv is “Canadian.” And “Indian.” And “Hindu.” And “West Indian.” “Trinidadian” too. Or maybe he’s just colonized. In Take d Milk, Nah?, Parasram blends personal storytelling and ritual to walk an audience through the Hin-do’s and Hin-don’ts at the intersections of these cultures. The show is a refreshingly candid and delightfully funny look at race, religion, and nationalism(s): what divides us – and what we’re willing to accept in the desire to belong. Oh, and there’s a cow.
Thank you to
Pdt. Ramsoondar Parasram, Pdt. Dr. Rampersad Parasram, Ajay Parasram, Fazeela Jiwa, the Parasram Family, Bhadase Maraj, the Sanatan Dharma Mahasabah Pundit Parasram School of Hinduism, Richard Lee and the Wuchien Michael Than Foundation, Catherine Hernandez, b current performing arts, Bea Pizano, Trevor Schwellnus, Jajube Mandiela, ahdri zhina mandiela, Allison Wong, Beth Wong, En Lai Mah, Christine Quintana, Katrina Darychuk, Heather Redfern, Cindy Reid, Andrew McCaw, Lisa Mennell, the staff and volunteers at the Cultch, Marcus Youssef, Chelsea Haberlin, Matt Moreau, Sandra Henderson, Corrina Hagel, Shanae Sodhi, Rohit Chokhani, Molly MacKinnon, Andy McKim, Régine Cadet, Marjorie Chan, Theatre Passe Muraille, Obsidian Theatre, the Monsoon Festival, Michael Toppings and the MAI, Jillian Keiley, Andy Lunney, Sarah Garton Stanley, Sean Fitzpatrick, Judi Pearl, Samira Rose, and the staff and volunteers at the National Arts Centre, Caribbean Solidarity Network, Pressgang Theatre, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, Christopher Ross, Eric Reid, Jenn Sartor, Chris Brower, Kim Brower, Tamyka Bullen, Tala Jalali, the Rumble Board and Donors, Progress Lab 1422, Playwrights Theatre Centre, Munish Sharma, Rhiannon Collett, Sabah Haque. Mike Conley, Emily Derr, Jessica Rose, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Apache Indian, MC Yogi, Cream, Mohammed Rafi, REM, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra, Cows, You!
The British Empire, Narendra Modi, Winston Churchill.
Take d Milk, Nah? was originally produced by Pandemic Theatre and b current performing arts, with the support of Theatre Passe Muraille.