Neworld Resident Producer Davey Calderon speaks with co-creator Jivesh Parasram (Pandemic Theatre), about their show, The Only Good Indian, presented as part of Upintheair’s 2018 rEvolver Festival.
DC: Hey JP! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Based off of the description of the show and the questions you’re trying to tackle; I’m very interested in the show’s process. How did it come to be? How did you and your collaborators create The Only Good Indian?
JP: In a roundabout way, it’s been both a long process and a short process in the creation of the show. I’d spent a long time (YEARS!) researching the aesthetics of suicide terror from a purely theoretical perspective – basically what the act, and accounts from witnessing the act, meant in the context of performativity. Regardless of if people view it as a form of terrorism or a form of resistance, or even something else, it is most definitely not something anyone claims to understand.
The original plan was that I was going to adapt that research into a solo show. But one of the things I kept coming up against is that by performing something like that, it could potentially limit the dialogue. It could be reductive. And this is a complex issue. Also, what could I possibly say to represent the diverse reasons people are driven to such extremes? The only thing that can be found to be a constant in all of these acts of radicalization is that they tend to occur in places that experience occupation. And so, we came up with a guided process to ask artists how they experienced occupation.
So now every collaborator is asked to go through a guided writing process starting with prompts such as “What is your relationship to occupation? What would you die for? What is your relationship to indigeneity? How did your ancestors die? What is the afterlife in your traditional belief system?” From there we find a thread, we expand sections and then we intercut it with the shared “lectures” which are the more theoretical components of the show that happen in all the pieces.
DC: So you’re having a round table discussion after each show (amazing!). It’s in the format of a “long/dinner table” exercise. I’ve done it before and found it very engaging. Can you describe how it works and what is your interest that comes from those discussions?
JP: Sure! So, the format is based on “the long table” which is a facilitation method developed by Lois Weaver. The idea is that it’s modelled after a dinner party where the only thing on the menu is discussion. The rules are pretty simple – you can only talk if you’re at the table, anyone can come to the table to talk and go when they like, if there’s no seat left at the table you can request one, silence and awkwardness is a-ok, and you can just be at the table and listen if that’s what you want. By design it shows visibly who is present in space, how much space they choose to take up, and presents an egalitarian model for discussion. I like it a lot better than a traditional “talk back” or Q+A where it’s a bit more of a vertical power structure. We also have crate paper on the table as the “table cloth” where people can draw, write, notate, whatever they like. The key of it all is that while there’s an end to the long table session – it doesn’t mean it’s an end to the conversation.
What we’re doing is a very brief version based on the time constraints of a festival – but we can still get into some conversation to get stuff going thematically in the show. Some of these long tables can be hours and hours long. Which is great – it is in itself a great performance experience.
DC: Last question: The show employs a different actor for each show in a run. What is the idea behind that choice?
JP: Well I think it has a lot to do with the time we first made it in – which is pretty recent – and also to a degree towards what I’d alluded to in diversifying the body of the performer that informs the narrative.
More practically though, we got selected to be part of the Rhubarb Festival in Toronto about a year or two back. I was originally going to just stage a two hander I’d written which was based on a keynote lecture I’d read concerning the lack of liquidity faced by (South) Asian males in the U.K. – basically “terrorist” became grafted onto their body post 9/11. I can say that’s something I also have had a shared experience with – have been attacked more than once for looking the part. So, in that show – a 10-minute short that I was going to expand to about 20 minutes (also called “The Only Good Indian”) – it was a brown suicide bomber and a brown cop in a standoff where the cop is holding the bomber at gun point (which is kind of ironic) – and then it goes from there. It’s pretty funny actually!
But as we got closer to the festival, there was a massive spike in Islamophobia, a reprise of the “brown other” happening in international and local media. We’re a political company, and that means considering the larger context all the time. So, we didn’t see the value in just putting a couple of brown dudes on stage playing terrorists, even if the point was to subvert it. Then the mosque shooting in Quebec City. Constant interruptions of prayers in Toronto, “protesting” outside of the mosque. A real ambivalence from authorities to call these things hate crimes or even just deem them unacceptable discrimination. There was a lot going on that was just wearing us down to witness. It really centered the question – if there’s all this hate towards the “other” right now – just who is that other? For that matter – what does “other” mean? Interesting fact – go deep enough into the etymology of the word “Indian” – you’ll find your answer.
All to say, we figured we need a real provocation about what exactly we mean when we talk about standing in solidarity. What are the limits? So, we made a show called the “Only Good Indian v 2.0” – this was a way to alienate the topic by grafting a theory-based lecture intercut with personal narratives onto bodies that may or may not fit what we are trained to think of as terrorists.
In that version, I did one and Tom Arthur Davis did one. Then we got asked to perform it at Summerworks, so we brought on our close collaborator Donna-Michelle St. Bernard to make a version as well. (We also dropped the “2.0” part of the title cause it was confusing… and mildly pretentious.) From there we developed the working process of how to integrate more artists and now what we’re doing is trying to partner with festivals and organizations nationally to link up with local artists wherever we go so that we can all decode how occupation and colonization has informed our identities. Or at least the identities we present. It’s a larger project of pluriversality, which means that there is not one universal truth, but rather many cosmologies and ideologies that can exist simultaneously. The question is – what would radicalize any of us to get to the point of blowing ourselves up. It’s a thought experiment to put out to an audience and then the key is the second part where we directly dive into the themes with the audience in the long table.
DC: Thanks man for taking the time to talk. Good luck and break legs!
JP: Thank YOU!