Munish Sharma | Events/Blog
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Events/Blog

The Orchard ( After Chekhov)

When: Mar 21 to Apr 21

Where: The Stanley

Times: 7:30 Weekdays, 8 pm Weekends

Price: 29 and up

Molotov Caravan 8

When: May 4th

Where: The RickShaw

Price: $20

FUSE @ Vancouver Art Gallery

When: May 10th

Where: Vancouver Art Gallery

Price: $30

Bard on the Beach

All’s Well That Ends Well

When: June 28 to Aug 11

Where: Howard Stage

Price: $26 and Up

A Thousand Splendid Suns

When: Sept 12 to Oct 13

Where: The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Price: $29 and up

In January of 2009 I had my first meeting with South Asian Arts.

We were planning on cooking something up together: butter chicken. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken was a South Asian-centric sketch comedy show Leena Manro and I had created as an outlet for our jokes, ideas, and Bollywood weirdness.  And after only a few shows in a box studio that was actually called Box Studio, South Asian Arts wanted to work with us.

I hadn’t the slightest notion that it would be the start of a lovely nine-year partnership and journey.

Back in 2009 I was simply happy that people wanted to work with us. Having just moved to Vancouver a few years prior, I quickly realized that having an idea is one thing; it’s another challenge to put it to paper, and an entirely different beast to finally get it on its feet. And after all that, who knew if audiences would even enjoy it? South Asian Arts believed they would, and they believed in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken.

So they wanted to get in the kitchen with us.

Now, to put this in perspective, let me give you a little South Asian Arts history on one hand and a little Butter Chicken history on the other. On one hand, South Asian Arts started out as a company in 2005. The original team of Raakhi Sinha and Gurp Sian had already partnered with Neworld Theatre to bring Anita Majumdar’s Fish Eyes to The Cultch. They had also graced the cover of the Georgia Straight paper, had a dance team that had performed on many stages and functions in the greater Vancouver area, produced a couple of shows at the PuSh Festival, and were about to premiere their first written work.

On the other hand, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken had done 10 shows. Total. What had started off as a one-night-only, invite-all-your-friends-to-come-see-the-show show had blossomed into a four-show run to a packed 75-person audience. Still, we were looking to expand; and when South Asian Arts came on board, we did.

This meeting about one creative opportunity opened the door to another.  South Asian Arts cast me and the rest of the Butter Chicken crew in Bollywood Wedding, their first full-length play, in the summer of 2009. It was my first role as a professional, bumbling around as would-be groom Hanuman Singh. It was a dream first show. Not only was it a great production to work on, but it gave me my first taste of community, and it excited me for what was to come.

Finally in 2010 we produced our very first Butter Chicken show together. It was a “best of” show that comprised the very best sketches we had done in the past year and half. It was put on in the then-new Studio 700 in the CBC building downtown, the first show of any kind done there. We went on to produce shows with South Asian Arts for three years. At the height of our Butter Chicken madness we were doing 10 sold-out shows to 150 people, Wednesday to Saturday for two weeks. Twice a year. ( We did two shows on Friday and Saturday nights.)

To this day I still have people call me the Butter Chicken guy, or yell: “Dance-O-Gram!” at me.


In 2013, after much praise for the original production, South Asian Arts decided to remount Bollywood Wedding and asked me back to play Hanuman Singh. Of course I said yes. The show gave me more lovely memories but it also brought two other gifts: Kathleen (Kathy) Duborg came on board to direct. She would become a friend and one of the best mentors I’ve ever had. Later, I asked both her and Gurp to read a one-act play I had written called Mrs. Singh and Me. I had applied, unsuccessfully, to a festival and few theatres in the hopes of having it produced. I received nothing but rejection from some, and words of encouragement from others.

However, South Asian Arts had my back. Again. Rohit Chokhani, the new artistic producer for South Asian Arts, read it and liked it; Gurp liked it; Kathy like it but said it needed work. So we worked. Kathy eventually agreed to be dramaturg and to direct the play. Her guidance, knowledge, and friendship was and still is invaluable to me. South Asian Arts once again did its best to foster a supportive creative environment. And thanks to a little luck, Rohit won a spot in the Vancouver Fringe Festival through a lottery.

Mrs. Singh and Me premiered at the 2015 Fringe in one of my favourite places, the Historic Theatre at The Cultch.

It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Thankfully people enjoyed the play. The work we had all put in was appreciated, and we received the honour of being called a “Pick of the Fringe”. It was another first in my life that I had the pleasure of sharing with South Asian Arts.

Then in 2016, when South Asian Arts was about to launch the inaugural season of the Monsoon Festival, what was the first choice they made? They got the Butter Chicken crew back together to do a one-night-only show and packed the Historic Theatre at The Cultch. We finally had our one-night-only show ⏤ and at The Cultch no less!

This year for the Monsoon Festival I will be reading the latest draft of my first one-person show for the workshop and reading series. The show is slated to premiere at the 2020 Monsoon Festival. Next year, South Asian Arts will premiere the full-length version of Mrs. Singh and Me, also at the Monsoon Festival.

Almost 10 years later, South Asian Arts and I are still cooking together. Not only have they respected my skills as an artist, but they have given me a space to find my voice. With the growing belief that inclusivity and diversity should become mandates and not just trends or a matter of checking a box, artists of different backgrounds and lifestyles are starting to find space and opportunities to be seen and heard. Making art can be a challenge. No matter how strong, resourceful, and creative you are, you still need people to believe in you.

For me South Asian Arts are those people.

I’ll be a flower

Others can aspire to be gods or goddesses,
Kings or queens
I will be a delicate flower

Embody your spirit guides and the metaphors of magnificent beasts
You can give me soil
I’ll be a sweet scented flower bound to this earth

Lay claim to the top of the land
Let me plant roots in her

I will live off the recipe she offers
A touch of sun, a sprinkle of water, and a small dash of wind
Gestation to termination in seasons

What good is a lifetime

If I do not know what it is to grow?

Hot pink and a touch of teal
That would be me
I would even take joy in being a weed
But
You can call me a flower

You can be gold, diamonds or some other alluring jewels
I have no interest in turning people into shining fools

Call me pretty
Tell me I’m beautiful
Fawn over me if you must
As long as it comes from the realization
Someday I will turn to dust

Yes, I’ll be a flower
Tease me
I’ll make no fuss
For I will still blossom and live a life full of purpose

Asha sat on her grandma’s lap and watched as her mother tickled her baby brother Soroush.
“Ma!”
Soroush had just learned to say his first word.
“Ma!”
Asha’s dad had run to the kitchen to grab his phone. Mom was so excited that she wanted to record Soroush’s first word and send it to the whole family.
“Grandma, did Mom and Dad do that for my first word?”
“Of course Kishmish,” Grandma said.

She called Asha “Kishmish” out of love; it means raisin in Hindi. Asha loves raisins.

“I remember sitting with your grandpa when your mom sent me the video. You were sitting in her lap, wearing that little blue frock we got you. Your grandpa said it sounded like you were singing it.”
Asha smiled.
Grandpa had passed away a couple years ago, and Grandma had moved into the house. Asha missed Grandpa, but she was very happy to have Grandma living with them. She loved hearing Grandma’s stories and spending time with her.
“Ma! Mmmmmmmmaaaaaaa!”

Dad was recording now.
“Look Grandma!” Asha said. “He’s doing what I was doing! Singing!”
“Of course my dear,” Grandma said, “he’s your brother.”
Then a thought occurred to Asha. “Grandma, why is ‘Ma’ a baby’s first word?”
Grandma looked at Asha. “Well Kishmish, what is the first word we say when we pray?”
Asha thought about it. “‘Om’, we say ‘Om’.”
“Do you know why we say it?” Grandma asked.
“Because we are supposed to?”
Grandma laughed. “Although it’s important to say ‘Om’ in prayer, it’s not because we have to. It’s because it’s the sound of life and everything that exists.”
“Oh.” Asha didn’t understand.
“Ma!” Soroush shouted.
“Can you say ‘Dad’?” Dad was holding Soroush now.
Grandma could tell Asha didn’t understand. “Kishmish, say ‘Om’.”
Asha looked at Grandma. “Why? We aren’t doing prayer.”
“Trust me,” Grandma said. “Say ‘Om’ for as long as you can and then open your mouth.”
“Oooooooooooommmmmmmmm-A!” At first, Asha couldn’t believe it.

So she did it again.
“Ooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm-A! Grandma! When I open my mouth it sounds like ‘Ma’!”
“Yes, Kishmish. Do you know why?” Grandma asked.
“Why?”
“‘Om’ is the vibration of life. It lives in all of us, like a song. And you’re old enough to know who gives us life, right?”
“Ma!” Asha said.

“Maaaaaaa!” Soroush echoed.
“Ma,” Grandma said. “A mother is everything to a child. Before a child knows itself it knows who Ma is. So the first word a child speaks is the name of the divine mother and father who brought it into this world.”
Asha smiled. She loved Grandma’s stories, but she knew that maybe it’s wasn’t fully true. Yet as she looked at her mother smiling at Soroush, she couldn’t help but feel there had to be some truth to it. Grandma took Asha and sat down next to her mom.
“‘Dad’, can you say ‘Dad’?” Dad was still playfully trying to get Soroush to say his second word.

“Mmmmmmmaaaaaaaa!” Soroush giggled.
Today belonged to Ma.

Then let me be lost in it
Imagination
Endless amounts of it
As if it were the very waterfalls that flow from the dreadlocks of the cosmic dancer himself.

Your reality seems dry to me

Like a fish in those waves of creative curiosity I will play.  
While others ask about the temperature
I will be fully submerged  
The ones that never learnt to swim may even utter that I‘m drowning.

And this “Can you imagine” aqua blue
Will come in and tease you
While you struggle to dip your toes
Safe on the sands of the real land

If by chance after your squealing and fearing you manage to dip that toe in
I hope that the excitement that courses up your spine reminds you that there is still time.

Time to jump in, frolic and dream.
Plunge you into the adventures that you seek.

Imagine
Create all that you need
That is what it means to live the dream.

The following is a drunken retelling of a story written immediately after it happened.
It was edited for the love of grammar.
Which is also a really good name for a book or movie.
Anyway…
In a drunken stupor he walks into an A&W.
This blissful brown man feels the uneasiness underneath the Main Street Skytrain station.
A man stands cursing as if the very words course through his veins.

There is a fire and it’s not underneath a grill.

A large man walks towards what some would call the “crazy” person.
A mild threat is muttered to the untamed fire burning near the fountain drinks. The brown man looks at the robust human and inquires, “Is everything alright?”
He is waved off.
The large man grabs his goods and leaves.
The brown man walks to the fountain drinks. He listens as the man curses freely, ruthlessly, hurtfully.
Finally, “Why are you angry?” the brown man asks in an upbeat, playful voice.
The “lunatic” goes off.
Most people would call his babble mindless and weird.
But as the root-beer-drinking brown man listens as earnestly as possible (I mean, he’s pretty drunk), he starts to waver.
Slowly calm fills the A&W.
A couple watches as they whisper an order for a 3 a.m. feast.
The once-”crazy”, now-calm human slowly relaxes and leaves.
The couple applauds the brown man.
“You handled that so well!” they say
“Handled?” the brown man replies, “I didn’t handle anything. He just needed to talk to someone. Sometimes, that’s all we need.”
That, and onion rings.

The city once named Pile of Bones is where I was born. It is where I once called home. Canada is the nation where my parents built a life.

So we came to understand that this plush and angelic land was nurtured by the hands of many indigenous clans.

The first peoples of this land have the last in its claim. We are cousins just the same for we’ve shared a common name.

Indian.  

A name christened by a mistake but it’s a compliment I am happy to take. Once stoic honorable people made slaves from schools to needles by ignorant European peoples who colonized and devised the plan to once “rule” all the land.

The first nations are returning to their glory. They are an important part of this country’s story. Canada is where I call home but mixed with profanity I’ve still heard, “Go back to your country.”

India.

That’s what some people don’t shy away to tell me. The motherland of my ancestors though it is, I will never be fully welcome in it.

NRI. Non-Resident Indian.

Because I don’t reside in the state where my grandparents carved a place. They don’t hesitate to charge me the NRI price at all the historical sites.

My Canadian accent causes them strife. My parents once thought it’s where I would meet my wife.

This Bharata gave birth to Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs but no common place do they choose to meet. They won’t decline the time to quickly draw a line on Mother India’s face because politics tell us borders make us safe.

Conquered and ruled by Christians and Islam yet Mother India gave all that she can. She nurtured both her surrogate and biological babes, and like all mothers she forgave. For in another age she belonged in a different place.

Smashed into a foreign country millions of years ago. Maybe she sheds tears for her distant home.

Pangea.

Once she was nestled in Antarctica and Australia. She left and gave us the Himalaya.

We all want to belong.

That need to survive we inherited from our ancient African tribes. For without them none of us would be alive.

So I make the case: What side of the line can I call mine? My skin colour is a product of evolution. If I called religion an illusion some would think I live in delusion. Where is my place? Aren’t we just particles dancing all over space?

If I dig, I’ll discover, unearthed in this rubble, is a pile of bones. And it is where I was born. This pile of bones is our home.