The Dentist's Chair - Notes
More than ten years on from the premiere of Krishnan's Dairy and Indian Ink is still going strong. Jacob and I still like one another, we still live in different cities and we now have the status of 'Mid Career Artists.' I have to pinch myself sometimes that I have a career as a theatre maker and that indeed many of my dreams have come true. But what happens after your dreams come true?
The spark for The Dentist's Chair was the idea of fear; ghosts and the notion that life makes cowards of us all. My greatest fears are about losing the things I have dreamed about and value the most - my family, my health, my career, my comfortable life - a deep fear of having to start again. But the story has a mind of its own and at a certain point in the making of this show I have had to let my ideas go and allow the story find its own path. The hardest thing is to see what is right in front of me and then get out of the way.
One of the things that allows me to do this is the audience. I only really know what we have made when our work is in front of an audience. We continue to write and work after the premiere performance and I am very grateful for what audiences give back to us. And what I see now when I look at the play surprises me in a good way. I think this has become a piece about faith rather than fear. Everyone drags their feet about going to the dentist but when your tooth aches you can't get there quick enough. Perhaps if God had a job he would be a dentist and maybe Albert is a hero for our times - a fear filled dentist whose greatest enemy is himself.
As always, we began with the masks but this time we have ended up somewhere new. The essence of the masks remains, in a set of teeth, a way of walking and a theatricality that is open to the audience, but the story has demanded a new style of playing. Knowing what to keep and what to let go has tested me and, as always, has required a leap into the unknown for this story to find its form.
I have been drawn forward by a love of live music, story and theatricality and by the wonderful creative team who have brought such fresh energy and so much of themselves to this work. As a hero Albert's resistance to change has frustrated me at times but he has also inspired in me a deep compassion. His story is full of pain but I'd also like to think is full of love, forgiveness and redemption.
The Dentist's Chair is a new show for us, the start of a new body of work. It is feels unfamiliar, a bit scary but it also feels very good to have reached this point, sharing our story with you.
I wrote my first programme note for my first play 11 years ago. I'm Indian and the play had Indian characters and the notes were apologizing to Indians and people fond of Indians who might take offense at my portrayal of Indians.
The Dentist's Chair is my fourth play and I'm still Indian, the company is still called Indian Ink but the play actually makes no reference to my ethnicity or the ethnicity of any of the other characters for that matter. It wasn't a deliberate desertion of my culture, it wasn't a political statement - it just happened. The story is a tyrant who exorcises any other allegiance you may have. If you try to force it to do your will, it just packs up and goes into exile leaving you floundering in the wilderness with no one to follow.
And this story has left us lost more than once. A labour of love full of all the anguish and insecurity that only love can inspire and endure. Here's a little tip for young writers. Be careful the themes you choose to explore in your writing since they inevitably loom large in your life as you work.
We chose the theme of fear and fear has hovered over us through the whole process. The climate of fear that has been the tenor of recent times - the terrorism, the tsunamis, the bird-flu replaced with more immediate fears of failure and financial ruin. But of course the flipside of fear is trust. Ask any knife thrower's assistant, frequent flyer or evangelist. When you have enough trust or faith the fear dissipates. And so it was with this play. The fear was transformed from the ominous swooping wings of black vultures overhead into the fluttering of butterflies in our stomachs. Actually, they were the same butterflies I had 11 years ago. It's a reassuring feeling. In the end, our trust in the story and our ability to tell it, our faith in the wonderful team we have assembled have pulled us through the dark times and into the brilliant light of the theatre.