Arts & Culture

Whose heritage is it anyway?

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:25 PST, Fri January 18, 2019

The line between respect and parody can be narrow especially when we’re talking about another culture. When is it learning about and respecting a culture, and when is it pretending to be from that culture?

Gateway’s upcoming production, “Yoga Play,” looks at just those issues with biting humour and current, close-to-home references, according to cast member, Christine Quintana, “They’re going to see fast-paced comedy that’s going to make you laugh but it’s also going to challenge some of your ideas about business, about yoga, and about what is culture and who does culture belong to?”

The play starts at Jojomon, a fictitious but oddly familiar sounding yoga apparel giant just after its famous leader and founder is brought down by a fat-shaming scandal. The company has hired a new boss to stabilize the situation, and the company. Then things get complicated. Meaningful humour ensues.

Under the direction of departing Gateway Artistic Director, Jovanni Sy, “Yoga Play” written by Dipika Guha, explores the fashion of yoga, originally Ancient Indian physical, mental, and spiritual practices. Just as Christianity comes in many forms and denominations, so does yoga.

Guha says, “At its heart, this is a play about what it means to be yourself."

Quintana says, “What is so clever about this piece is that it is very diverse by design, the playwright (Guha) is an Indian-American woman (of South-Asian heritage.) She’s created these roles for people you don’t often get see--a role for a Singaporean man, an Indian-American man and the lead character is a woman in her early 50s.”

She says, even a woman in her early fifties is from an underrepresented group: “You start to disappear as a woman after a certain age.”

Quintana says diversity and authenticity are issues that affect her directly, personally: “For me, I am Mexican-American. I was born in California. I didn’t get to learn Spanish as a young person. How valid is my experience? I think you’ll find that with many children of immigrants; the world tells me I am this, but my experience is this. How do those go together?”

Lest theatre-goers think this is an angst-filled play, Quintana says, “Yes, it’s a big question and really fraught, but I think this play navigates this issue with a lot of humour and curiosity. And it is certainly what we are talking about at this sector, the arts sector.”

She says, no one and nothing is safe from this plays barbs of wit, saying it also tackles, “Social media, which is very central to our lives and how we consume things and how it influences our own image of ourselves.”

But, she says people will see themselves in the biting humour, “It is ruthless. Every time in the play you think, ‘But I’m not like that,’ It gets you.”

Even though Quintana plays someone called Romola, she says, “I really identity with the character of Raj, one of staffers, played by Chirag Naik. He’s from Delaware but his Indian heritage is called upon so has to examine his own heritage. In a world looking to monetize authenticity, his character really resonates for me.”

“This play asks the question ‘Is his experience with that culture valid? Who gets to decide that?’ “

Quintana says these issues are important not only to her but to all Canadians.

“I’m from a mixed background; I’m Mexican on one side, seventh generation settler on the other.”

“People in this industry seem to think it’s OK to hire people not from Latinx (gender neutral for Latina/Latino) background then dress them up to be (from a Latin heritage.) when there are so many more actually Latinx people who could have done it.”

She says we are now starting to have those conversations and it’s a big part of what makes “Yoga Play” so clever and fun: “It takes assumptions about representation and messes with you.”

Quintana lauds Gateway Theatre and other companies working to have characters of a given background actually played by people of that heritage.

Quintana goes on to cite groups that go even further, such as Gateway and Bard on the Beach for their diverse casting choices for all roles, not just roles representing a minority. She discussed Bard’s production of Lysistrata, where the entirely female cast represented women of a variety of backgrounds, ages, stages, body shapes and cultures.

“So when we then go to our work on stage and make ourselves visible in front of audience we carry the responsibility of our heritage,” Quintana says.

Of Yoga Play, she says, “We laugh and we cringe every day in rehearsal. It’s a joy to work on a play like that. “

Gateway offers special events ranging from pizza time, tea, yoga classes and talk-backs accompanying the play, that are free with a ticket. Click here for more information on the special events, the play, and to purchase tickets for Yoga Play which runs Feb. 7 through 16.

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