Director Karishma Mathur, whose play ‘Ben and Ahmed’, has been received well by the audience at the Short and Sweet festival in Sydney talks to Indus Age, where the multi-talented Karishma shares the challenges she faced while directing the play, her various sides of being an actor, dancer, martial arts enthusiast and much more. Excerpts:
By Nidhi Kumari
It is the director who puts his/her vision into a reality. How do you ensure to bring out what you visualize?
Well it really is a sequence – It’s the job of the director to bring the writer’s vision to life and the actors to bring the director’s vision to life and hopefully they all sync up!
Every director has their own process. For me, I read the script several times. It’s only when I get a grasp of the subtleties of the meanings, do I start to visualize how I would stage the piece and bring it to life. And the beauty of theatre is rehearsals! I try out all that I have imagined in my mind’s eye during the rehearsal process. And it is here that the reality kicks in! As a director, I need to factor in the dimensions of the performance space, lighting, budget (or budget limitations, as it might be)! And then you start adapting those ideas and get creative. For my vison to come to life, I also need strong actors, which, for Ben and Ahmed, I have been extremely lucky to get.
Enlighten us about your Australian play “Ben and Ahmed“.
The play, Ben and Ahmed, is part of the Short and Sweet festival in Sydney. This festival provides fantastic opportunities for writers, directors, actors, dancers, stand-up comics and other performers to showcase creative talents and the only rule is that no performance can be longer than 10 minutes!
The play, written by Shae Riches, deals with a multicultural component, and in our case, art imitates life! Ben and Ahmed from the start has had this element: Shae Riches – the writer – is Caucasian and has managed to capture the essence of how some kids respond to cultural differences. Josiah, who plays Ben, has an English and Dutch background, while Mohammed, who plays Ahmed, is of Lebanese background and I of course have an Indian background!
The play at its core delves into how children are impacted/influenced by what they hear around them. In Ben’s case he is adamant that he doesn’t like Muslims (even though he’s “never met one in real life before”) and bullies Ahmed purely because he is Middle Eastern and Muslim, which leads to dangerous results for both characters.
I understand that this is a sensitive topic and it might make some people uncomfortable, but it is one that needs to be explored and brought to light.
My first challenge was casting Ahmed. I had seen Josiah at one of the Short and Sweet auditions late last year and his acting abilities at the audition proved he’d be the perfect Ben. Mohammed was cast almost 1½ months later. I had a hard time finding kids with a Middle Eastern or Indian background of that age group. I contacted community groups, put posts up on social media, asked family and friends to keep a look out, but kept coming up empty handed. But as luck would have it, a colleague from work had a nephew who had never acted before but was keen to audition. When I saw Mohammed, he looked like the Ahmed in my mind and thankfully, he nailed his audition!
I wouldn’t call it a challenge, but more of a learning experience directing two 12 year old boys with such varying acting and life experiences. Both the boys have been victims of bullying and have been able to incorporate those challenges into their characters. They both seem at ease with the character (and performing) and are able to shake off any negative aspects of the role!
Varying acting experience and their age bring different dynamics into the mix. With the boys I needed to keep my directorial instructions clear and precise, using vocabulary that was simple and understandable to them, which they were able to convert into acting!
While Josiah has had some experience in acting, as mentioned earlier, Mohammed is new to this, so to get him to get into the character and understand Ahmed took a bit of creative thinking and acting coaching. Mohammed has a natural talent for it so that made my job as a director a bit easier!
You wear many hats; you are an actor, director and also into Jazz Ballet, Salsa and Martial Arts. Which side of yours do you enjoy the most?
Each side brings me a level of happiness and enhances my skills as person.
Martial Arts has taught me the inner peace and strength I have the potential of achieving (haven’t yet though)!
Salsa and Jazz Ballet taught me rhythm, elements of which can be incorporated into characterization.
Directing has taught me to get creative and to bring the journey of the story as a whole to life.
Teaching is one of my loves. I can honestly say I learn more from my students than from anywhere else. They teach you, and at times force you to challenge your own ideas and views, not only about teaching, but about life as a whole.
And acting, well that’s something that I cannot live without! I love the idea of bringing characters to life, telling their story, whatever it might be. We live our life as one person, but as an actor, we live many!
I think theatre still has its own place and that can never be taken. Technology is also incorporated in Theatre – you just have to go see Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera to see that in action! However, I do agree that with social media and our growing culture to be entertained 24/7 people may not go to the Theatre as much as they used to.
It’s not only technology. We, as a wider community, need to support the Arts in all its forms. The funding for Theatre over the years has been reduced. We need more people to get involved in supporting the art of storytelling, because it’s something that is beneficial for all. Theatre will never die as long as people have stories to tell!
For information on Short+Sweet Theatre play, the schedule and bookings you can visit: www.shortandsweet.org/sydney