Changing the world one show at a time
A profile on 2011 DiverseCity Fellow Ravi Jain.
If all of the world is a stage, then why not use a stage to change the world? Ravi Jain, 2011 DiverseCity Fellow and Artistic and General Director of Why Not Theatre, aims to do exactly that—harness the power of theatre as a tool for social justice.
Why Not Theatre actively works towards social change by making and touring critically-acclaimed and award-winning new work, sharing resources with other companies and artists to produce and tour their work, and provoking change through new producing models and the presentation of work for new audiences.
“Changemaking is our business, and storytelling is our tool,” says Ravi.
Ravi saw this model at work when studying an important Kenyan artist in class as a part of Radical Street Theatre in New York City who used art to address social issues, fuel revolutions, and challenge the history of colonial rule. While later facilitating a Schools without Borders exchange to the Nairobi, Ravi saw this work in action. As a result, he was inspired to think about what theatre could mean to communities and the role it can play in making them better, building on his desire to use theatre for social justice.
Through the company, Ravi sees an opportunity to challenge the status quo of which stories are being told and who gets to tell them. Many of Why Not Theatre’s productions have only been made possible because they brought together a diverse crew who helped them shape a story into something new.
“If you don’t have those perspectives in the room then you don’t take the risk to free yourself from the trappings of the things you know, which every artist needs to do,” says Ravi.
This approach led the company to cast the first fully integrated deaf female Hamlet, stage international work in languages other than English, and perform Salt-Water Moon written by David French, a Canadian theatre classic, cast with artists of colour who took the show out of realism by using a minimalist set to let it become something new in the audience’s imagination.
But Why Not Theatre’s work doesn’t stop at producing shows. It’s also about making change in the arts sector and beyond.
One way the company is bringing about change is by supporting female artists with child care services.
Many women leave the arts because they don’t have access to childcare support. So Ravi and his team asked the question: “What would happen if childcare wasn’t a barrier and we retained that talent in the industry?”
This led to an investment of $25,000 in the last few years to support artists’ childcare, including subsidizing babysitting, paying for cabs after late night rehearsals, and even flying in a relative to help with childcare.
Why Not Theatre is also challenging the assumption that theatre companies need to own property.
When the company received a burst of funding from the Canadian government, the next logical step would have been to buy a building. Instead, Ravi and his team chose to see the city as their theatre. They have the ability to go beyond the limits of a fixed building and create temporary platforms or structures for artists in spaces where people are already gathering.
The company’s leading edge approach in Toronto’s theatre scene shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Ravi believes that theatre’s main goal should be to challenge people to try something new and encourages people to look at their relationship with theatre differently.
“It might not be a big production, it might be a tiny theatre in a storefront, and it’s ok if you hate it. Some people don’t want to go back after they’ve had a bad theatre experience, but if you think of it differently and are ok with a little bit of risk because you want to invest in these artists and their ideas, you’ll be sure to find something innovative and thought-provoking,” says Ravi.
If you’re looking for a show that isn’t advertised on TTC ads or giant billboards, let Ravi be your guide. Just stop by Why Not Theatre’s office at 101 Florence Street or drop Ravi a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s happy to chat and connect you with a show you’re bound to love!