The Brilliant Playwrights Behind inspiraTO Creations Festival

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inspiraTO Creations Festival 2023 presents 6 amazing short plays, by talented Canadian playwrights. In this article meet each of the playwrights. With their unique voices and creative visions, these playwrights have crafted narratives that will transport you to different realms, challenge your perspectives, and stir your emotions. In this exclusive feature, we bring you firsthand insights from the playwrights themselves, as they share their thoughts on the driving forces behind their work. Get ready to explore the depths of their imaginations. Discover the stories that have been shaped by their personal experiences, societal observations, and the universal themes that resonate with us all. Join us on this enlightening journey as we learn more about the plays and the inspirations that have fuelled their creation. 

inspiraTO Creations Festival is produced in collaboration with Crane Creations Theatre Company and Theatre InspiraTO. The Festival is held on July 8 – 9 2023 at Maja Prentice Theatre in Mississauga. Tickets on sale.

Meet The Playwrights

Shabana Zorah-Ahmad

Shabana was born in England, Great Britain and is of South Asian descent. Her parents were born on British India soil (a country that was later divided into two countries India and Pakistan in 1947 after the British exited). She grew up in the duality of both a western and eastern cultures. This created a divide within her own identity and is demonstrated within all her creative work.

 

About Shabana’s Play Not Fit For A Donkey

Two sisters and one wedding. Junakhi, the older, awkward and unappreciated sister is having an arranged marriage to Kurun, a groom she’s barely met but come the wedding day she begins having doubts about whether she should be getting married.  Panya, the younger, glamourous and much loved sister remains on Junakhi’s heels to ensure she gets married.  When the groom comes riding in on a donkey both sisters are pushed to take decisions, they would rather not make lest they suffer the fate of being left not even fit for a donkey for shaming the family if Junakhi refuses to go through with the wedding. Will the wedding happen or not happen? And what price will each sister have to pay for not riding the donkey or riding the donkey? 

The Playwright Speaks About The Play

“The play is about two sisters born and raised in Toronto, Canada with parents who have migrated from India.  The play looks at two generations with two cultures. The parents represent the traditional cultural value of arranged marriages in India. The two daughters raised in Canada, having the knowledge that they have the freedom to choose a spouse in Canada thereby creating a divided identity.”

“Although the two sisters are very different their understanding of the consequences of not complying with the family’s expectations and their parents’ cultural values is all too clear. Even when it appears the younger sister Panya is aligned with Western values when alluding to Shakespeare, Kim Kardashian or wearing Jimmy Choos she still falls under the spell of the beautiful traditional Chunni – which is more meaningful to her than the man she herself will one day marry “hubby whatever” – he has no meaning for her as he will not be her choice of spouse.” 

“When Junakhi, the older sister doubts whether she should get married, she packs her suitcase to leave for LA. However, she forgets her passport. We question whether her intention to leave is credible or whether she is fooling herself believing that she some power in the situation that has been arranged for her.”

“Despite the differences between the two sisters, they must resolve the situation so the wedding happens.  Junakhi does in the end go ahead with the wedding. She gets a little of her own way by not having to ride a donkey – but then her younger sister Panya has to pay the price in agreeing to ride the donkey and give up her beloved Jimmy Choos, (essentially giving up the little power she has), so Junakhi can get a little of her power back by riding in a limo.  Both sisters are caught in a circumstance controlled by a common external factor of cultural compliance and the severe consequences of social ostracization and possible violent repercussions towards them by their own family should they fail to comply.”

The play matters – in showing human vulnerability when caught in a situation from which one cannot get out but there may still be hope if we chip at it little by little.  Although it is difficult for Junakhi to get out of the wedding – a little chipping away at the situation gets Junakhi some of her own will and power in being able to ride in a limo instead of a donkey.” 

Story Significance

“…It is almost a karmic divide between the country my parents were born in and the cultural divide I experienced in the country they gave birth to me.  And then in an ironic twist (one that only fate has power over) my first marriage was to be a Nigerian national and my son was born a dual-racial child.  It was at this point I saw division as a beautiful possibility of integration and completion.  I am now married to a Canadian national which has brought me to this wonderful country and my journey of racial and cultural integration continues.

“As an artist, I initially trained as an actor and then ventured out into playwriting and dramaturgy after completing both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Drama, Literature & Theatre Performance in England.  I continue to perform as an actor as well as writing plays.”

Inspiration

“Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the first play I ever watched in a theatre at ten years old, it simply put me under a spell I have never recovered from.  This world of fantastical fiction and the unfolding of plots were like the unwrapping of a present on Christmas morning.”

“In that dark theatre with over 300 people, I felt I was the only one the characters were talking to and they whisked me into their world which seemed more real in human relationships than my own.  In some intangible way for me, fiction held greater truths (exposing reality) than the reality I existed in (where people tried to cover up the truth through deception). “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may have been a fantastical comedy but it showed me the truth about humanity and its enormous vulnerability.  My creative journey is driven by a revelation of the truth about humanity when humanity does not wish to face it.”

“Needless to say, after watching my first Shakespearean play, I read his complete collection of 36 plays before my 11th birthday!!!  He remains the greatest source of inspiration to playwrights centuries later.”


Shelia Toller

Sheila Toller lives in Toronto.
Since 2017, she has cared for her aunt who has dementia. Part Golden Girls, part Grey Gardens, it has always been interesting. Sheila is a member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.

About Shelia’s Play: Today Again

How long can we care for our loved ones with dementia at home? A tired daughter brings her thoughts to life to come up with an answer.

Shelia Speaks About Today Again

Today Again is a glimpse into the complicated decision-making of caring for a loved one with dementia. Everyone dealing with this has a unique situation, and there are no easy answers. Not every solution will work for everyone, and what works now (or doesn’t) may change over time.

The play is about staying in the present, which is a strategy for dealing with dementia, and also for playwriting. In both cases, the present might be the past (my 94-year-old aunt says she worries about her father “because he’s starting to get old”), or the future, or some alternate reality. There’s a lot to be gained by being present in someone else’s experience.

In my play, the daughter uses “staying present” as a way of facing her situation. Instead of thinking about months and years, she thinks about what she can do today.

(I guess I should add that if the daughter was truly being present, she would just take her mother out for a walk when the mother says “Let’s go!” But for the purposes of writing a play, I couldn’t let the mother get what she wanted right away.)

Inspiration

The play was inspired by the writing prompt “character talks to a puppet and the puppet talks back”. And by my experiences caring for my aunt.


Jordan Kewell

Jordan Kewell is an alumnus of Niagara College’s Acting for Film and Television program. He is also a graduate of the Second City’s improv program. He is the co-founder of Reverie Arts, an Indie film production company based in Toronto. Jordan was the recipient of the best male performance award at the 2018 InspiraTO festival. He also participated in 2023’s New Ideas Festival in Geni-ology. Jordan is currently performing in the Fringe Festival in the show “Things we lost in the Fire” 

About Jordan’s Play Family Affairs

Family Affairs about estrangement and sacrifice. How doing the wrong thing for the right reason can lead you to a place of suffering.


Aviva Fleising

Aviva Fleising is the General Manager at Fall for Dance North Festival and has worked in arts management for the past two decades. Hailing from Alberta, she holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Contemporary Dance from the University of Calgary and a Certificate in Arts & Cultural Management from Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton.

As an artist, Aviva has participated in theatre and dance festivals across Canada. An emerging playwright, her short play Last Call has been published as well as presented in the US, and won first prize at the King’s Shorts 10-minute play festival in Annapolis Royale, NS. An active member of the Toronto arts community, Aviva has participated as a Dora Awards jury member, been an artist in residence at the Toronto Heliconian Club and performed on various stages in the city. Aviva has produced two full-length interdisciplinary productions and loves storytelling whether it be through dance or text.

About Aviva’s play Re-Routed

What could be better than being stranded in Rome? When two sisters are faced with a sudden change in plans, how do they each navigate this turn of events. What might seem adventurous to one, emanates panic in the other. Re-routed is about going with the flow, getting out of your pandemic pants and facing life full on.

Aviva’s Inspiration For Writing Re-Routed

“When working with theatre inspiraTO, we were given a theme to work with. Mine was two characters in a hotel lobby – one turns to the other and asks them to dance. So I wanted to explore something not stereotypical. Instead, make it adventurous and about two sisters at different places in their lives and their relationship to their environment and each other. A lot of my focus through this process was around exploring distinctive voices and characters. I want to make people laugh but also recognize their own quirks and self-doubts and how those can ultimately shape who we are. I want to convey a message to encourage people to not be afraid. To try new things and that for every twist in life, a new door opens.”

About Re-Routed From The Playwright’s Own Words

“My goal with this play was to highlight a loving and dynamic relationship. Two characters that can withstand all and that travel through life together side by side. No matter what is thrown their way. I want people to connect to their own quirky character traits and perhaps recognize a bit of themselves on stage. It’s about the human connection and those that lift us up along the way. The goal was to make people laugh. But also to reflect on those people in our lives that we love and that hold us up. It’s also about getting out of your comfort zone and embracing all the unpredictable twists and turns life throws us. How we navigate that with people that we care about by our sides.”

Story Significance

“My goal with this play was to highlight a loving and dynamic relationship. Two characters that can withstand all and that travel through life together side by side no matter what is thrown their way. I want people to connect to their own quirky character traits and perhaps recognize a bit of themselves on stage. It’s about the human connection and those that lift us up along the way. The goal was to make people laugh but also to reflect on those people in our lives that we love and that hold us up. It’s also about getting out of your comfort zone and embracing all the unpredictable twists and turns life throws us and how we navigate that with people that we care about by our sides.”

Inspiration

“I come from a dance background and have always enjoyed sharing stories through movement. Most of my work has been a mix of dance and theatre so I decided to challenge myself by taking a playwriting course in order to learn more about this craft. I always think about how the characters can move on the stage and what propels the actions. By taking the time to stop and examine life we discover a rich palette replete with rhythm, texture, sound, energy, emotion and imagination, and my inspiration for storytelling is drawn from these observations of everyday rituals, patterns and traditions. There are so many fascinating components to the everyday that are intricate and beautiful and hilarious.”


Elizabeth Friesen

Elizabeth Friesen is a Toronto-based playwright, actor, director, and dramaturge. Her passion for theatre creation in all its forms, coupled with an insatiable curiosity, keeps her very busy. 

Elizabeth began performing at a very young age, as a Romani scarf seller in a production of Carmen. With a wide range of dance classes at various studios around the city, classical vocal training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and countless acting courses, workshops, and productions under her belt, she is a very well-rounded theatre professional. Playwriting and directing came later in life. Both were natural extensions of her love of theatre and natural affinity for performance.

Elizabeth is currently affiliated with Alumnae Theatre, Bloor West Village Playhouse, Haven Theatre, ACT II Studio at Toronto Metropolitan University, and Crane Creations Theatre. She will be performing in this summer’s Fringe Festival in Back to the Bar, at the Tarragon Theatre. She is also the mother of two amazing young people and 8 cats. When not cleaning litter boxes, she can be found on Twitter at @emfriesen.

About Elizabeth’s Play Lovely, Dark And Deep

In a world where sexual violence still occurs (primarily against women), where victims are rarely believed, and where justice is rarely served, sometimes it becomes necessary to take matters into your own hands. It helps to have a strong group of sisters by your side. 

Hear More From Elizabeth About Her Play Lovely, Dark And Deep

“My play, Lovely, Dark, and Deep, touches on themes of sexual assault, vengeance, justice, and sisterhood. The idea came to me when I realized that I spoke differently about behaviour, personal responsibility, and safety with my daughter than I did with my son. I knew that my daughter would have fears and concerns that my son might never know or understand. This topic is not a new one. Sexual assaults have been a part of our collective history for tens of thousands of years. Yet, as intelligent and as advanced as we like to think we are, we still haven’t found a way to make sexual violence stop or to hold the perpetrators sufficiently accountable.”

Elizabeth’s Inspiration

Elizabeth is a keen observer of the human condition. She finds her characters in the faces of the people she encounters in everyday life, then creates stories for them. Overheard conversations on the TTC are a constant source of ideas and inspiration. There are so many stories just begging to be told. 


Rebecca Becket Grace

Rebecca is involved in local theatre as an actor, writer, director, and producer.  She enjoys spending time writing, reading, and watching movies.

Hear About Rebecca In Her Own Words

“I’ve been involved in local theatre as an actor, writer, director, and producer for several years. Spending time writing, reading, and watching movies, are some things I enjoy. I am a novice chess player, and I am trying to learn the piano again.  I believe in ghosts and the spirit world though I won’t always admit it. “

About Rebecca’s Play Unboxed

A Man and Woman made a pact fifteen years ago. If still single when they turned forty years old, they would meet up and marry each other. The time has come, and they both have a life-changing decision to make.

About Unboxed From The Playwright’s Own Words

“My story is about two people who try to find love (or, at least, are open to falling “in like”) later in life. They are not always truthful or honest about themselves and their mistakes. They want to let go of their inhibitions and judgements and take a leap of faith. Can they accept each other for who they are and create a new future together?”

Rebecca’s Inspiration For Writing Unboxed

“I’ve always enjoyed writing since I was a child. I like writing plays especially – there is nothing like live theatre. I like writing quirky, authentic characters in unexpected situations where they have to step out of their comfort zone to find a solution to their dilemmas.”

Story Significance

“My story is about two people who try to find love (or, at least, are open to falling “in like”) later in life.  They are not always truthful or honest about themselves and their mistakes.  They want to let go of their inhibitions and judgements and take a leap of faith. Can they accept each other for who they are and create a new future together?”

Inspiration

I’ve always enjoyed writing since I was a child.  I like writing plays especially – there is nothing like live theatre.  I like writing quirky, authentic characters who are put in unexpected situations and have to step out of their comfort zone to find a solution to their dilemmas.

Conclusion

Now that you have met the playwrights featured in inspiraTO Festival 2023, get your tickets to see the show!

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