"I would like to see the walls isolating diversity in the theatre to come down, really come down." The director Soheil Parsa is speaking about the long-running Modern Times Stage Company and its approach to interculturalism. The Iranian-Canadian theatre veteran is currently directing a remount of the Dora-winning tragedy Blood Wedding. In April, he takes part in a symposium on how to transition cultural diversity from exercises in identity politics into a form of contemporary theatrical practice. The Globe and Mail spoke with Parsa about the ageless appeal of theatre.
You first mounted this production of Blood Wedding in 2015. With its themes of violence and tribal mentality, can we say the play is even more relevant now?
Things are not getting better. At this moment in history, a play dealing with social conventions that stand in the way of individuals being themselves or being able to freely express themselves is more meaningful and more relevant now than two years ago.
The play was written in 1933, but I imagine you see it as ageless, yes?
It is a timeless mirror. And what I've done is accented the timelessness and placelessness of the event of the play. I don't want to say I've made it universal, but it's broader. The whole concept of the play to me is humanity.
That's pretty broad.
Well, the characters, to my point of view, are archetypal beings and the very essence of human hope and human struggle and human failure. So, I've opened up the play, in terms of diversity of the cast. And I've tried to say that this is the human race, with all its beauty and vulnerability. I think the whole concept of the play is bigger than being associated with one specific culture or one specific race.
Which brings me to my next question. Can you talk about what you and the Modern Times company have been attempting to achieve, in terms of diversity?
We want to take culture as a practice rather than an identity. We are interested in the concept of what people do, rather than who they are. And what creative opportunity they might bring to the theatre.
Diversity on theatre stages is a contentious issue. What's your take?
What bothers me right now is that it's all associated with the political thing, with people having some agenda. People think that I, as a theatre director, being an immigrant, have an agenda. That because I'm an immigrant, I have an agenda to diversify the cast. But what we're trying to do is beyond that. We are interested in how the world's art can associate us as a human race, as opposed to a system of unconnected cultures. In these modern times, we as human beings can all simultaneously represent several different identities.
What a perfectly reasonable and radical idea.
Well, as a theatre artist, I oppose the presumption that people can be categorized based solely on their religion or culture. Our company has been exploring to demonstrate the multiplicity of the human spirit and value systems in our work. We're trying to connect this philosophy, this vision with a real practice on stage.
How does that vision play itself out, in terms of what theatregoers will experience?
For example, if we have an actor or a theatre director from India or from Somalia, it's interesting to see what they can bring in the style or tradition of the theatre world that he or she is coming from. How can that influence and how can that enrich what we do on stage and how we shape things in trying to create a theatre vocabulary? We're interested in seeing how we can connect and how we can combine these different practices and create something deeper and more valuable as a theatre practice on stage.
Blood Wedding runs to March 19. $15 to $30. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St., 416-975-8555 or http://buddiesinbadtimes.com/show/blood-weddings.
Postmarginal: Cultural Diversity as Theatrical Practice takes place April 9 to 11, at Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., postmarginal.ca.