Arranged Marriage is directed by Peggy Shannon, who also directed the award-winning American premiere of the play. Shannon is excited to bring Arranged Marriage to Toronto, where she serves as the Chair of the Ryerson Theatre School. Dr. Rahul Sapra serves as literary adviser.
The production is choreographed by Alyssa Martin, artistic director of Rock Bottom Movement in Toronto. Costume design is by Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston, scenic design is by Pavlo Bosyy, lighting design is by Noah Feaver, and original sound design is by Ned Jacobson with additional sound design by Matthew Duarte.
Director Peggy Shannon gives us more insight on the play.
Give us an overview of the story:
ARRANGED MARRIAGE by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is based on her short story “Clothes” found in her debut short story collection entitled Arranged Marriage. The stage play, performed in Bollywood style with music and dance as well as beautiful acting, tells the story of Sumita, a young Calcutta woman who is about to be married to Somesh. He is currently living in Canada and part owner of a small convenience store. They exchange letters and meet for the first time at their wedding in India. Sumita welcomes her new role as a married woman and joins her husband in Canada and is excited by the fresh sights, sounds, and values of her new country. As in real life, things take an unexpected turn for the happy bride and she must choose between her beloved India and her new life in Canada. At its core, Arranged Marriage is the story of love and marriage and learning that dreams – no matter how strongly we hold them – can be altered at a moment’s notice.
How did the idea of a play come out of this story by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni?
The play version of Arranged Marriage began back in 2001 when I was a professor of theatre at the University of California, Davis. A beautiful young graduate student had arrived from India to undertake her Master of Fine Arts in Acting. I was assigned to serve as her supervisor. Her name was Shahnaz Shroff. When we met to discuss her thesis, she requested to perform a short story by one of her favourite writers, the award-winning Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I was excited by this suggestion. Both Shahnaz and I were fans of Divakaruni’s writing. In Divakaruni’s debut collection of short stories entitled Arranged Marriage was a particularly poignant short story called “Clothes”. This was the story that Shahnaz chose to adapt and perform as her thesis.
The thesis production occurred in 2003 on the campus of UC Davis in a small acting laboratory. With a cast of four female performers, my talented graduate student was beautifully showcased.
In 2004, I was also serving as the artistic director of the Sacramento Theatre Company, a professional theatre serving Northern California. After the UC Davis performance in 2003, I offered to work with Shahnaz to further adapt the story with and for her. I sought permission – and received it – from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni to develop the story for a professional production. This expanded version included roles for two professional actresses (Shahnaz Shroff and the extraordinarily versatile Saffron Henke) and a small chorus of female dancers. I directed the professional premiere of Arranged Marriage at the Sacramento Theatre Company in 2004 with Shahnaz Shroff in the featured role of Sumita and Saffron Henke playing all the other speaking roles, male and female. The sold-out production ran for 10 weeks and then extended for another four weeks in an intimate 100-seat theatre. In 2010, I revisited the play, further adapting it for a new cast and a 350 seat theatre.
As luck would have it, as I was casting the female chorus for the 2004 production, a 16-year-old Indian Pakistani girl living in Elk Grove reached out to me to ask if I had any opportunities for her to pursue her dream of acting. I asked her if she has studied Indian dancing. She said yes and I casted her as a member of the female chorus. In 2010, she stepped into the leading role of Sumita. This talented young woman went on to receive her Master of Fine Arts in Acting from UCLA. Her name is Roshni Shukla and she joins the Toronto cast to once again perform the central role of Sumita, bringing this project full circle for me.
How were the actors chosen for this play?
This Toronto production has been an especially exciting one for me to work on. I felt strongly that the play should showcase a combination of actors and dancers from throughout the broader region and I knew we would also need a small team of professional actors, dancers, designers, and a wonderful choreographer.
For the auditions, I put up audition notices throughout Little India, Brampton, Mississauga and elsewhere in Toronto such as acting and dance studios, etc. Back in January we had four nights of auditions and Alyssa Martin (the choreographer) and I selected a group of 35 performers we thought would work well together. I had already made arrangements to bring Roshni Shukla in from Los Angeles to reprise the lead role of Sumita.
Actors had to pass a dance audition and then read for their roles. I was thrilled to meet actress/opera singer Meher Pavri and to be able to cast her as one of the leads in the show!
What will the audience get out of watching this play?
This play is as much about the immigrant experience as it is about love and marriage. Many, many people in Toronto are from other locations and have moved to Canada for any number of reasons: work, family, political asylum, etc. The audience will see the heroic journey of a young Indian girl, entering into an arranged marriage, falling in love with her husband, and then leaving behind her home in order to begin a new life in Canada. The play is humorous because it is an authentic portrayal of family, of love, of culture clash, and of making big decisions. So I hope that the audience will laugh, possibly cry, and ultimately feel enriched by watching this journey.
Why Arranged Marriage? Why is it important to show this through theatre?
There is a great deal of interest in the topic of arranged marriage – and much discussion about how this generation will (or will not) be able to find the perfect match. The play was created because Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s beautiful story lends itself to a theatrical journey – but the play is much more than a portrayal of arranged marriage(s). It is also very much about family, friends, culture, work, dreams and aspirations. It is about the immigrant experience found with Canada and throughout North America.
Where else has these play been shown/where do you plan on showcasing this next?
Professional productions have occurred in Northern California at the Sacramento Theatre Company. This will be the Canadian premiere. We have several producers from the USA coming to see the production with an eye toward moving the show to another city. Stay tuned!
Overview of Author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni:
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (http://www.chitradivakaruni.com) is an award-winning author.
Her newest book, Before We Visit the Goddess continues at Number 1 on the national bestseller list since publication in India. The BBC, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Hindustan Times, Newsday and many others describe this book as a must-read. The New York Times recommends it. Three of Divakaruni’s works have been made into films. All have won awards. Two of her books have been made into plays; one into an opera; and one into a dance/theatre performance.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni will be in Toronto for two nights of book-signings after the performances of ARRANGED MARRIAGE. MAY 26TH and MAY 27TH audiences can see the play (8:00 pm) and meet the author immediately following the play.