4 Corners - Himanshu Sitlani recounts working on a play in Toronto

TIME WELL ‘SPENT’

Many of our Script readers would be aware, a few months ago I shifted base to Toronto. But the thought of doing theatre until maybe after a year hadn’t crossed my mind. So when I got a chance to do some theatre for 2 months after being in Toronto for only 3 months, I leapt at the chance.

A little back story on how this came about: Deepa Punjani, editor of the Mumbai Theatre Guide website, mailed me a contact of Mr. Rahul Varma, who is the artistic director of ‘Teesri Duniya’, who in turn gave me the contact of 2 Toronto based theatre groups. 1 replied back promptly and the other still hasn’t (revenge will be mine!!) The 1 that replied was Ravi Jain, artistic director of ‘Why Not Theatre’. After an impromptu phone conversation, we met over lunch and asked me if I was free to be Assistant Stage Manager for the up coming shows of ‘Spent’. I emphatically said ‘YES!’

A couple of weeks later I entered a rehearsal room to be a part of my first international theatre experience. After a quick round of introductions with the other co-actor (Ravi being the other), 2 directors and stage manager, sat down to watch a run through of the play. After the run through I realised the play has no set, no major props (an empty suitcase, a can of beans and a lighter) and no costumes for me to worry about. This was going to be easy!!

The run of shows was being staged at Studio space of the ‘Factory Theatre’ – a small black box theatre with a capacity of 100 people.

The play deals with the stock market crash of 2008, but its more than text heavy, banking jargon. Instead it’s an hour of clowning, satire and absurdism. The 2 actors, students of Jacques Lecoq Theatre School, pulled off playing nearly 30 characters. Swinging from 2 stock traders who lose their jobs to the BBC newsroom, ‘Spent’ gives a low down on the economic crisis through a series of quick and witty scenes, including an interrogation former CEO of Lehmaan Brothers, Dick Fuld, to the fast and furious Rapid Fire round. But the main crux of the story follows the 2 traders who lose everything, decide to commit suicide but survive thus becoming holy men of sorts. The play follows the Lecoq school style of commedia dell’arte and buffon.

The real star of the play though is the script. The physicality and madness of the actors not withstanding, the play is really very funny at the script level - collaboration by the 2 actors and directors Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith.

The run of shows were pretty uneventful. As I mentioned no set and no major props to worry about. However did have to do something during the run of the show – had to be an off stage ATM Machine. Following the story of the 2 men who decide to commit suicide, one scene involves a montage where they are falling to their death and the scene breaks away into them passing through heaven and hell. During the heaven sequence, they eat the best of foods and at one time are supposed to pay the bill. Since they have no cash, they head to nearest ATM Machine and withdraw the money. At one point, the ATM Machine breaks down and starts spewing out more and more dollar bills. That was my job during the show, with a fan offstage. Was quite fun to be throwing lots of 100$ bills onto stage. Don’t worry – they were fake bills.

5 weeks of shows, 30 shows, the quickest to that number of shows I’ve ever done, and got to work with the one of best theatre companies and shows currently running in Toronto. I’m not just saying that cause I was there. ‘Spent’ was nominated for 3 Dora Awards in 2010 (an award presented annually by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts which honours theatre, dance, and opera productions in Toronto and is named after Dora Mavor Moore, who helped establish Canadian professional theatre) and won the award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble.

All in all was a very rewarding time for me. Got to make some new friends and met a lot of the theatre community post shows. I’d really like to thank Ravi, Adam, Dean, Michele and Heather (Stage Manager) for making me a part of the show and hope to be working with them soon.