There are some artists with whom I’ve wanted to converse during the pandemic and events did not allow us to chat.
Ravi Jain is one of them.
We’ve been playing email tag throughout the pandemic. He and his wife are parents of an adorable little guy, so I understood completely family responsibilities must come first.
Ravi is the Co-artistic Director and founder of Toronto’s Why Not Theatre. From his bio on Why Not’s website: “Ravi is a multi-award-winning artist known for making politically bold and accessible theatrical experiences in both small indie productions and large theatres. As the founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre, Ravi has established himself as an artistic leader for his inventive productions, international producing/collaborations and innovative producing models which are aimed to better support emerging artists to make money from their art.”
Ravi was twice shortlisted for the 2016 and 2019 Siminovitch Prize and won the 2012 Pauline McGibbon Award for Emerging Director and the 2016 Canada Council John Hirsch Prize for direction.
He is a graduate of the two-year program at École Jacques Lecoq. He was selected to be on the roster of clowns for Cirque du Soleil. Currently, Sea Sick which he co-directed will be on at the National Theatre in London, his adaptation of The Indian epic Mahabarata will premier at the Shaw Festival, and What You Won’t Do For Love, starring David Suzuki will premier in Vancouver in 2021.
I saw his production of ‘R &J’ this summer at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, and as a retired teacher of English Language and Literature I hope teachers will take advantage of showing the production to their classes when teaching ‘Romeo & Juliet’.
We conducted our conversation via Zoom this morning. Ravi was on a walk with his little guy while we chatted so I got a chance to see his beautiful little boy.
Thank you so much for your time, Ravi:
Since we’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, tell me about one teacher and one mentor in your life for whom you are thankful and who brought you to this point in your life as an artist.
Oh, well, a teacher for sure is Jim Calder who was a Graduate Movement professor at NYU. I took his course in Italy and we became quite close. He actually went to Lecoq School with Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith.
Jim was an amazing teacher – brilliant philosophically, brilliant practically – and just inspired me to go that one step further; that for my imagination there was always that one step further to go a little bit further, a little bit farther. I always think of Jim when I’m in a problem trying to go a little bit further. He always inspired me to do that.
A mentor, for sure, is Franco Boni, who was the Artistic Director of The Theatre Centre. He always empowered me to follow my voice and to be fearless and to not be afraid of saying ‘the thing’ or doing ‘the thing’ and taking the risk.
I’m trying to think positively that we have, fingers crossed, moved forward in our dealing with Covid. How have you been able to move forward from these last eighteen months on a personal level?
You know, I don’t think I have.
Well, first of all, I’ve had a baby with my wife so that has been a life changing event to have this new person to take care of, to laugh with, and not to sleep with. (and we share a quick laugh)
That, I feel, very different, older, more mature, and more responsible, for sure.
But in terms of coming out of Covid? I don’t feel we’re out of it. I feel like some people want desperately to be out of it and other people are still feeling the impact of it, especially with all of these conversations we’ve had about inequities. Those didn’t go away.
On a personal level, I still feel like we’re in Covid still and there are still a lot of unresolved things that I don’t yet know how to reconcile.
As an artist, how have these last eighteen months changed or transformed you as a professional artist?
It’s been great to be quiet for a little bit, and to just be reflective and to think about what role art can play to help people, especially in a time when so much help is needed.
It’s given me a time to think about what it is I really want to do and why.
It’s been a time of reflection which is good as an artist for me. It’s a time to go deeper and ask WHY. Why am I doing this?
In your professional opinion, do you see the global landscape of the Canadian professional live theatre scene changing as a result of these last eighteen months?
In some ways, Yes, but in a lot of ways, No.
In some ways yes because I think people are talking about inequities and there are some changes, but on the whole there’s not a lot of change. I don’t see a lot of change.
One has to always stay hopeful, but I don’t see it so I’m not sure about it. It’s a tricky one because I want to stay hopeful because I’ve been in some pretty dark places these last 18 months.
What excites/intrigues/fascinates/interests Ravi Jain post Covid?
I’m really excited about what is this all going to be (and Ravi and I share another quick laugh)
What is travel in a world of a climate emergency? What is gathering in a world of Covid?
I’m still very curious to see how this is all going to play out, and all these conversations about inequities and racial injustice. What is it all going to be? I still have yet to see it manifest, and it could be really exciting or it could not change.
I’m staying on the exciting side in hopefully seeing what the other side will be.
What disappoints/unnerves/upsets Ravi Jain post Covid?
This idea that we’re back, the desperate desire to be back. And I suffer from it as well. I equally have it inside me, and I have to check myself because we’re not.
I know we all want to do this but we gotta do it right. That was the real challenge I had this summer (in directing R&J at the Stratford Festival). We were in rehearsal and making a show.
It was a strange experience because on one hand we were making a show, and it was great to be working with the artists and making change, and to take the opportunity to do something, AND at the same time know that two thirds of the industry wasn’t working. It’s hard.
What’s unnerving to me is that some people will be back and some won’t. What are we going to be doing about that?
Where does Ravi Jain, the artist, see himself going next?
I’m still searching for exciting stories and exciting ways to tell them. I don’t know if I’ve ever chosen the direction I’ve ever gone. It always appeared and chose me, so I’m really waiting.
I’ve been playing with larger scale work. It’s been really exciting as it brings with it a whole bunch of challenges.
Maybe I’m itching to do something small? I don’t know.
I’m very open and maybe, for the first time in my life, I’m really patient.
Where does Ravi Jain, the person, see himself going next?
Obviously, with a baby, our lives have changed which has been great.
I’m someone who’s always been somewhere else whether I’m travelling or responsible to a rehearsal hall at night, and it’s been really great to have this time with my family and to make time for my family.
I’ve lost so much of my family time to the arts just with late nights and weekends, and all the demands the arts takes from you. I’ve really lost a good amount of family time over my lifetime.
To have this time is an important place for me to continue to grow.
Try to answer these questions in a single sentence. If you need more than one sentence, that’s not a problem. I give credit to the late James Lipton and The Actors’ Studio for this idea:
If you could say one thing to one of your teachers and/or mentors who encouraged you to get to this point in your life as an artist, what would it be?
Thank you for believing in me.
If you could say something to any of the naysayers who didn’t think you would make it as an artist, what would it be?
I told you so.
What is your favourite swear word?
It has to be Fuck.
What is a word you love to hear yourself say?
What is a word you don’t like to hear yourself say?
What would you tell your younger PERSONAL self with the knowledge and wisdom life experience has given you now?
Work isn’t everything.
With the professional life experience you’ve gained over the years, what would you now tell the upcoming Ravi Jain from years ago when he was just in the throes of beginning his career as a performing artist?
It’s a total contradiction to the other one. Work is everything. Just don’t stop moving and don’t let anyone say no.
Just keep going.
What is the one thing you still want to accomplish professionally and personally?
Personally and professionally, I think I would love to run a larger civic organization. It’s about a responsibility and a larger impacting conversation with the city.
Name one moment in your professional career as an artist that you wish you could re-visit for a short while.
Oh, man, my 30s. (and Ravi has a good laugh over that)
What will Ravi Jain never take for granted again post Covid?
The impact of blind decisions on other people.
Would Ravi Jain do it all again if given the same opportunities?
Oh, yeah, 100%.
Joe, did anyone ever say No to that question?