Theatre is on the brink of collapse. Ravi Jain has a vision for how to save it
The award-winning stage director sits down with Amanda Parris on the series finale of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists
With theatre on the brink of collapse, artistic innovators share their vision for the future in the series finale of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, streaming now on CBC Gem.
Theatre director Ravi Jain is known for making politically bold and accessible theatre experiences on both small and large stages. But obviously COVID-19 has proved a huge obstacle for him, as it has for theatre artists around the world. This situation was clearly looming large when Jain — the founding artistic director of Why Not Theatre — sat down with host Amanda Parris for the special theatre-focused series finale of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, the extended cut of which is featured in the above video.
"A lot of us had so many projects that we had to either cancel or postpone," Jain tells Parris. "So there's a process of kind of grieving that and letting it go. And ... you know, you don't get to see the same people on a regular basis. So that has been hard."
But Jain says it's important that theatre artists all take this time to reflect on the conditions of the industry — and not just with respect to the pandemic.
"COVID and obviously Black Lives Matter helps us to really think about the precarity of freelance workers and the way we've been working and the barriers of access for BIPOC folks," he says. "For us as a company, we've really been thinking about not so much what we do and when we get back, but rather, how can think about better ways to create a better process that is more healthy for more people?"
Twice shortlisted for the 2016 and 2019 Siminovitch Prize and winner of the 2012 Pauline McGibbon Award for Emerging Director and the 2016 Canada Council John Hirsch Prize for direction, Jain knows the theatre world inside and out. And he and his collaborators have a vision for its future.
"We said to ourselves, you know, if we had to buy a building ... we'd have to raise like six million dollars, which we've never done, which is a crazy amount of money, and we'd be limited by capacity," he says. "And I said, 'If I could raise six million dollars, I could change the game for everyone tomorrow night as opposed to investing in this one building.' We started going, 'Well, what if we treat Toronto like our theatre?' And if we thought about all the underused space that already exists, we don't have to build a new space. There is space already there — it's just not being accessed. So the idea was, let's take all the underutilized space, figure out a way to get into it and create temporary rehearsal hall spaces."
Jain feels that if an artist could just access a space temporarily for the month that they need it, the spaces could be turned into temporary rehearsal halls. He also argues that these spaces should be free of charge.
"What if space could be free for artists? How would that change who gets to make the art? And how would that change what audiences would come to see that art eventually when it gets on stages?"
As we crawl toward the light at the end of the pandemic's tunnel, it's questions like these that theatre artists — and the folks who support them — should be asking themselves.
Watch the full interview above, and watch the entire final season of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists here.