Behind the Scenes of the Freshest Shows in Town

When I hear the words “fresh ink,” images of quill pens dripping with gobs of black liquid come to mind. The idea connotes creativity and newness, inspiration and excitement. And so it makes sense that Illusion Theater would dub its new-play festival as such. Celebrating its 25th year this year, Fresh Ink brings three in-the-works productions to the Illusion stage, each completely and totally different from the others in content, but tied together in the spirit of ingenuity and risk-taking. Every Monday here on TCCulture, we will feature a Q&A with the artists behind that week’s upcoming Fresh Ink show. Think of it as an appetizer to your entrée of creative delights.

The series opens Thursday, July 12, with Zaraawar Mistry’s The Other Mr. Ghandi, a one-man show written, directed, and performed by Mistry. The final piece of a trilogy, Ghandi is a fictional drama about a Parsi family from Mumbai caught up in the ongoing conflict between Pakistan and India. The theme of being an Indian immigrant to America is the common thread of the trilogy (the other shows were Sohrab and Rustum and Indian Cowboy), and something Mistry is more than familiar with: he came to the United States from India when he was 21.

I caught up with Mistry recently to try to get some insider info on the show he’s keeping so quiet about.

Mistry: Before we get to talking, I need to say that if I’m a little evasive or vague, it’s because the project is meant to be that way.

Fair enough. So then, what can you tell me about The Other Mr. Ghandi?

M: It’s the final piece of my trilogy of one-man shows, all of which deal with being Parsi and an immigrant to America in some shape or form. The characters in the stories are all different, but there are trends.

You wrote, directed, and star in each show in the trilogy. What role do you identify with most?

M: I think of myself first and foremost as an actor. I was trained as an actor in grad school, and started my career here in the Twin Cities at the Children’s Theater, then the Guthrie.

What made you branch out into writing?

M: Along the way, based on the kind of person I am and what options are available to me in terms of roles, I realized I needed to start making up my own stuff. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to do more than I could on other peoples’ stages.  Also, I was discovering I was more than an actor—I wanted to tell my own stories.

As the last part of your one-man trilogy, is Ghandi different from the first two shows at all?

M: Ghandi is a gradual distillation of what I’d been doing with the other two. When I started with the first show, there were two musicians on stage with me, plus a team of designers for the lights and sets. The next piece included just one musician (who was invisible to audience) and one collaborator (the show was presented and produced by Mixed Blood Theater).

With Ghandi, I did something kind of crazy: I worked completely in isolation on my own. No collaborators; my wife and child didn’t know anything about it; the set, music, lights, performing, directing, and writing were all my own. I wanted to go inside myself completely; see what I could produce. I’ve been continuously crafting and tweaking the piece since I started.

How many characters do you play during the show?

M: Somewhere between 12 and 15, if you include the little roles. There are about six principal characters.

What do you want the audience takeaway to be?

M: I’ve had an evolution in thinking when it comes to that question: I no longer think about that. What I want to do is share something that’s important and meaningful to me in as artistic and creative a way as possible. In my experience, I’ve found that people take away things you can’t always anticipate. Ultimately, it’s about them reflecting on their own life. I just let them absorb and experience it as they want. Sometimes they even fall asleep. My motto: “Don’t worry about it.”

The Other Mr. Ghandi
July 12–July 15
8 p.m. (7 p.m. Sunday, July 15), $15
Illusion Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.