Pamela Mala Sinha
“It’s challenging as a playwright, but I love acting so much. I think the hard part is done and now I have to step into the harder part which is the role and surrender to the story..."
It has been a busy few weeks speaking with a number of artists who have show openings in the next several weeks. I’m rigorously trying to get caught up and post their articles but will always remain grateful and thankful for every opportunity to speak with them.
Recently, I received a press release detailing background information about Pamela Mala Sinha and her play ‘NEW’ which is now playing at Canadian Stage's Berkeley Street Theatre.
She is an award-winning Canadian actress and writer working internationally in theatre, television, and film. She was Necessary Angel’s inaugural Playwright in Residence. Pamela was the recipient of Dora Awards for Outstanding New Play (playwright) and Outstanding Lead Actress for her solo debut play, CRASH. Her second play, Happy Place, premiered in Toronto in 2015 at Soulpepper. CRASH’s US debut was at New York’s Signature Theatre in 2017. The film version of CRASH is currently in development with Necessary Angel and Riddle Films.
She completed her training at Montréal’s National Theatre School in the 1990s. Does she miss the city:
“I love Montréal. If I could have made a living as an English-speaking actor in the city I would have stayed. I have close friends who live in the city, so when I can I’m on a train.”
Pamela slightly paused and then sighed when I asked her how she was feeling even though we are still in Covid’s throes.
She felt it was ‘touch and go’ there as ‘NEW’ was supposed to premiere at Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in 2020. There was hope the production would open in 2021, but alas we know what occurred. 2022 was two years waiting for the premiere and it was a huge relief and privilege when the production was finally mounted at RMTC. Winnipeg is Pamela’s original hometown and 'NEW' is set here, so this is another inspiration of sentimental reason to premiere the play here.
Now that Toronto is her home, the opening of ‘NEW’ is equally as significant as the Western premiere. For Sinha, this week’s Toronto opening still feels like the premiere of the play yet again. Sinha is ecstatic to be back in the theatre again telling stories that all theatre artists have been longing to do. It is their centre, purpose, and desire in their actor’s training to do so.
On its website, Necessary Angel describes the plot: “The year is 1970 and the arrival of a Bengali bride to a small university town shakes up a tight-knit group of Indian immigrants, including the husband she's never met. Tradition and counterculture collide for three women and their husbands as their perceptions of identity, sexuality, and the meaning of freedom are challenged by the spirit - and actions - of this fearless young woman.”
With this plot focus, Sinha tries to capture the things that were important in the story and that needed to be told in a deep and complex way.
Pamela was one of the few artists selected nationally to receive a prestigious Project Imagination commission from Soulpepper Theatre Company to write a play of any choice. Thus, the genesis and germination of ‘NEW’ began.
What she wanted to do was tell the story of her parent’s generation as young people. There is a whole world of her parents and their chosen extended family as young people, and a huge gap in the popular culture in terms of South Asian immigrants and their stories:
“I remember looking at photographs in preparation for a funeral of a very close member of my family and seeing all these people young, vibrant, and sexy as hell, without children and figuring it all out and looking like a million bucks while they’re doing it.”
Sinha wanted to know the truth of the situation, so she returned to Winnipeg to research and speak to extended members of her family. She asked a lot of questions. In all her research, she wanted to get to the truth about these individuals who were part of her years growing up. She established such trust and respect with these extended family members and the stories just came forward.
As an actor, Sinha sometimes gets frustrated about the roles she is often offered. These roles are sometimes of those who are intimidated, vulnerable and afraid, and not the bold, brave, and adventurous people whom she saw in the photographs at the funeral. This drives Pamela bananas and why she often doesn’t work.
Why not write what Pamela knows to be true as opposed to waiting for someone else to write it and being frustrated by it? She wanted to just tell the story not necessarily about the joys and triumphs. What were some of the struggles these extended family members felt? Did they feel lost? alone? Did they fight as a married couple? How were these conflicts resolved?
These ‘new’ individuals to Canada/Winnipeg were young here. They came of age here. Pamela and her extended chosen family of aunts, uncles and cousins were all beneficiaries of the gifts of love and knowledge from those who came to Canada to build a life. This understanding makes the messages of ‘NEW’ so universal.
Pamela also adds the play is based on fictional characters. No one from her extended family would recognize themselves on stage.
How does she feel about being an actor this time and being directed by Necessary Angel’s Artistic Director Alan Dilworth?
This is her fourth collaboration with Alan, and she agrees he is a gifted director. She’s learned that it’s important to write the play first and then hopefully not have to do any re-writes during rehearsal. With ‘New’, Sinha wrote the play and then made adjustments but, hopefully, they’re not cataclysmic so she can focus on her actor performance and journey in the play instead of the third eye point of view of the playwright:
“It’s challenging as a playwright, but I love acting so much. I think the hard part is done and now I have to step into the harder part which is the role and surrender to the story as opposed to hearing the story while I’m in a scene and trying not to judge the writing.”
As we concluded, I asked Pamela where she sees the future of Canadian theatre headed as an artist.
She’s really worried about the theatre because people’s attention spans have shrunk with streaming. We both agreed that we are guilty of fast-forwarding a lot.
She adds further:
“Art will always be relevant and I think theatre is essential to our humanity. The convenience of everything being at our fingertips is going to threaten the sacredness of what we do. There’s great potential in these new plays new playwrights and new approaches, but we’re up against a lot. We have to get people to come to the theatre and experience that group and audience energy of receiving story in community. You don’t get that on your couch watching a streaming network.”
Sinha’s final words: “Theatre keeps all of us connected in an important way that we were so robbed of during Covid.”
Necessary Angel in association with Canadian Stage and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre presents the Toronto premiere of ‘New’ running to May 14, 2023 at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street.
For tickets, visit www.canadianstage.com or call the Box Office at (416) 368-3110.
To learn more about Necessary Angel Theatre Company, visit www.necessaryangel.com.