Preview: Gimme Shelter

GIMME SHELTER written and performed by Ravi Jain, directed by Jenny Koons. Presented by Why Not Theatre and Panamania at.


GIMME SHELTER written and performed by Ravi Jain, directed by Jenny Koons. Presented by Why Not Theatre and Panamania at the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Opens Monday (July 13) and runs to July 25 see website for times. $30, stu $20. 416-866-8666, youngcentre.ca.

How does one person deal with a world filled with seemingly insurmountable problems?

Thats the question that Ravi Jain sets out to explore in Gimme Shelter, a solo show that draws on contemporary media and ancient tales.

Its inspiration was a newspaper article I read in which the economic minister of Bangladesh said that if climate change continues, by 2020 more than seven million people would be displaced, recalls Jain, whose company Why Not Theatre stages this world premiere. And thats in Bangladesh alone. Where are these people going to live, I wondered.

This isnt about a war displacing people, who can return after some kind of settlement is reached. These are climate refugees, forced to move and with nowhere to return. I know that immigration is being locked down in Canada what happens when those boats filled with refugees arrive at our shores?

Jain began creating a show that used the Three Little Pigs as its narrative core. When he workshopped it last fall, New York-based theatre artist Jenny Koons, who has since come onboard as director, saw it and offered some suggestions.

Jenny questioned the severity of the issue and the relative lightness of the fable, in which the good figures try to find shelter and the big bad wolf comes into the story. She pushed me to look at the material in a larger context, using themes that were heroic and grand in scale.

Koons gave one other crucial piece of advice before Jain took the show to Montreal for another workshop: write a monologue in which the actor spoke to a group of people who would be affected by a cataclysmic change.

I came up with the idea of speaking to a boatload of people. What flashed through my mind was an image from the Bhagavad Gita, part of the epic Indian tale The Mahabharata, in which the warrior Arjun is caught on a battlefield, in the middle between two sides, both of whom are family.

The tale of princely cousins Arjun and Duryodhana eventually replaced the previous frame story.

The Mahabharata is a resource for huge questions about what you do with problems that are too big to solve, how to engage with them when you feel overwhelmed and still be the hero of your tale.

Thats the thing about the multiple layers of philosophy embedded in each episode of the Mahabharata. When you drill down, the stories become metaphoric. Arjun may be physically caught between the sides on a battlefield, but the narrative is also about the war within oneself and how to resolve it.

I think the truth comes from seeing yourself in other people and living a life that is of service to others while still acknowledging the self. We should be looking to each other, to the powers of those in the room, rather than to an outside hero for the answers.

The journey and the show are meditative, admits Jain, who draws on everything from personal anecdotes and the importance of storytelling to high-tech multimedia spectacle and experiential moments for the audience.

Ironically, our relationship and reliance on technology is one of the themes of Gimme Shelter.

We must work on getting people face to face. Technology and the greed and capitalism that feed it are actually keeping us apart I see tech as one of the reasons we have the problem.

As an artist, Im tied up in that knot we need to disentangle. As I say in the play, how can I ignore the fact that Barrick Gold is supplying medals for the Pan Am Games while at the same time Pan Am has commissioned this play that addresses the problem?

Jain knows that people want to be given answers: what charity to donate to, what action to take.

But its a more complicated question than that. I think the resolution is to look deep inside ourselves, make a fundamental change in how we think about others and treat them as family.

I wonder what kind of world it would be if we made choices based on how those choices affect others. I think it would be different, very different, than what we have now.

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