Montreal-based theatre company BlowFish brings fringe-goers “Paani“, an artful, complex, thought provoking, multidisciplinary piece of theatre that tackles Islamobhobia from all sides. Directed by Anurag Choudhury, and devised by the entire production and performance team at BlowFish, the audience may be left uncomfortable, interested, having even more questions, or feeling validated – whatever it is, these effects are powerful and significant.
The piece covers collective and individual perspectives to give its audience an opportunity to think about how they themselves contribute to the issue regardless of ethnicity or religion, and come to understand and validate Muslims experiences. As a white woman, it is not my place to tell you about anti-Muslim racism in North America. BlowFish does that. I am here to encourage you to see this show. I can however, discuss how the show works theatrically.
Paani uses mask, rap, dance, song, readings, music, direct address, audience participation and acting to bring us these stories that often don’t get a voice. The rapping was delivered exquisitely and used the medium’s full storytelling potential to paint detailed images. The singing was beautiful and although mainly a cappella, always on pitch. The dancing was lovely, but could have benefitted from a gaze with more intention, instead of just drifting.
The audience participation was exactly the kind of uncomfortable that I think is important in theatre! No one feels unsafe, and there is a purpose. The performer tells us right there: when reading from their “box of unmentionables”, not only do we have to live a small fraction of the terribleness that people who experience racism do, we also recognize and validate these horrible experiences. By having audience members read racist quotes of things said everyday, it gives the audience an opportunity to say “hey, I hear this and it is awful and I now understand a little bit more of what you have to deal with ALL THE TIME,” or “hey, I get this all the time. I am here with you,” and there is something really beautiful in this.
Theatrically, I experienced some confusion when it came to the use of the Paani mask, which is only worn once during the show, even though every performer plays the role at least once. This could have been purely for logistical reasons such as being able to see the performers’ faces, but I definitely felt disconnect with the story whenever the mask just sat there when it felt like it should be used. There were also a couple volume issues, where I had to strain to hear when a couple of the performers spoke – they may have been trying to match the size of the smaller crowd, but some of the script was lost for me, sitting in the second row.
I would like to give special mentions to the beautiful Shades masks, which were wonderful to look at, and the robot costume, which made me belly laugh.
The talkback after the show was very interesting, especially since not all of the artists agreed about everything. I got the opportunity to learn even more than I had from the show and some of the anecdotes that were shared with the audience will stick with me for a long time. Something that really struck me was the answer to a question an audience member asked about whom the show is for and how it is intended to make people feel.
One of the performers said “it is not my job to carry the burden of a white audience,” and I found this so important. We are a burden. We feel guilt and often blame that guilt it on the marginalized people that we feel guilty for oppressing. Theatre like this isn’t made just to give non-Muslims a sneak peek into what Islam means for different people, or what its like to experience Islamophobia—Muslims should be able to make theatre about their experience just as non-Muslims make theatre to figure out their own shit, to connect with others on similar experiences, and to just make good, interesting art using their own lives.
I would love to read a review of this show by a Muslim to see how they felt these methods of storytelling connected with them. I would love for those raps and songs to be recorded and released.
I would also love for you, the person reading this, to go see Paani. It’s theatrically diverse and fun to watch, and it’s the kind of story we don’t get to experience as often as we should.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Madison Jolliffe
Blowfish presents “Paani”
When: June 8 – 18, 2017
Where: Studio Multimédia du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri-Julien
Duration: 75 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
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