Toronto's Why Not Theatre Will Produce a New Stage Adaptation of MAHABHARATA With an All-South Asian Cast

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Toronto's Why Not Theatre Will Produce a New Stage Adaptation of MAHABHARATA With an All-South Asian Cast

Toronto's innovative Why Not Theatre (Founding Artistic Director Ravi Jain; Managing Director Owais Lightwala; Executive Producer Kelly Read) will produce a new stage adaptation of the epic Sanskrit poem, Mahabharata, commissioned and presented by the prestigious Shaw Festival.

The production will be presented in two parts, which on two-show days will be separated by a community meal. Mahabharata will be staged in repertory from August 15-September 19, 2020, at The Shaw's Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.

Mahabharata is adapted by Ravi Jain and Miriam Fernandes, using poetry from Carole Satyamurti's Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling. The original concept was developed with Jenny Koons. The production is directed by Mr. Jain and created in residency at the Shaw Festival.

Why Not Theatre, a 12-year-old company founded by Mr. Jain, has earned a reputation for staging works that challenge the narrative of the stories being told and who is telling them, while celebrating and exploring diverse cultures. The company performs in Toronto, as well as touring internationally with such acclaimed works as A Brimful of Asha, Prince Hamlet, and Mouthpiece. Most recently their work was featured at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and in residency at the Barbican Centre. Why Not also supports other independent theatre artists in Toronto by helping provide producing support, free creation space, childcare, and audience development for emerging companies.

The idea for a new stage adaptation of Mahabharata occurred when Jain and Koons worked on a small section of the sprawling poem for a solo show for the Pan Am Games in 2015. Coincidentally, Tim Carroll, the Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, approached Jain to gauge his interest in creating a new stage version of Mahabharata almost 35 years after the legendary Peter Brook production.

Mahabharata is a contemporary take on the 4,000-year-old Sanskrit epic with more than 100,000 verses that shape many of the myths and philosophies foundational to Indian culture. To this day, the stories are told in the kitchens and temples of more than 1 billion people of India, and its diaspora.

This gripping story of a family feud is an exploration of profound philosophical and spiritual ideas, along with modern day parallels to issues of climate change and the refugee crisis. Mahabharata is a visually stunning spectacle that takes audiences on a journey through the past in order to write a thrilling new future.

The production will be staged in two parts. The first part, Karma: The Life We Inherit, is the origin story of the rival Pandava and Kaurava clans. The work examines the choices we inherit and how those choices impact generations to come. The second part, Dharma: The Life We Choose, tells the story of the end of the world, as a great battle causes a mass extinction and the survivors are left behind to rebuild. The staging of Mahabharata will explore the art of storytelling itself, transitioning from the ancient form of telling a story around a fire, to modern technology and stagecraft. The production will also feature a live band.

On select days when both parts of Mahabharata will be performed, a community meal will be served during the interval. Audience members will gather for a traditional South Asian meal, joined by local Indian aunties and uncles - non-performers - to experience the stories as many people have, from elders around a dinner table.

Why Not's staging will star a cast that is comprised entirely of the South Asian diaspora, highlighting the hybrid of cultures through the storytelling, and balancing East and West, traditional and contemporary. The production will feature Praneet Akilla, Nadine Bhabha, Hamed Dar, Jay Emmanuel, Miriam Fernandes, Harmage Singh Kalirai, Darren Kuppan, Goldy Notay, Nadeem Phillip, and Navtej Sandhu - an international cast spanning four continents.

Production design is by Camellia Koo, lighting is by Kevin Lamotte, projections are by Hana S. Kim, sound is by Suba Sankaran and John Gzowski, music is by Suba Sankaran and John Gzowski, with Ed Hanley and Hasheel Lodhia. Lodhia also serves as traditional music consultant. Producers are Kevin Matthew Wong and Kendra Bator.

Mahabharata is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts' New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada. In addition to the support received from the Shaw Festival, Mahabharata is also developed with support from the National Arts Centre's National Creation Fund, and the Wuchien Michael Than Fund. This event has been financially assisted by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund a program of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, administered by the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund Corporation.

More information about Why Not Theatre is available at:

To purchase tickets for Mahabharata, visit:

Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

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