Inaugural festival aims to shower Surrey audiences with ‘Monsoon’ of South Asian theatre

Eleven-day festival will open Aug. 11 with shows at Surrey Arts Centre and Bell Performing Arts Centre

The cast of comedy troupe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken

SURREY — Every autumn, monsoon-like rains tend to swing through Metro Vancouver, similar to those experienced in India. In that country, annual festivals celebrate the arrival of the wet-and-windy season with dance, music, theatre, film and other performing arts.

With all that as a template, organizers of the inaugural Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts are planning to “welcome the storm” at venues in Surrey and Vancouver next month.

The 11-day festival will open on Aug. 11 with shows at Vancouver East Cultural Centre, or “The Cultch,” and continues at Surrey Arts Centre and Bell Performing Arts Centre.

The festival is presented by South Asian Arts Society, which operates a studio in Newton, and is produced by the organization’s Gopi (Gurpreet) Sian and Rohit Chokhani, who outlined their plans in an interview with the Now.

“It’s been in the works for about three years now, in terms of actually making it happen, but the idea has been brewing in our minds for at least five or six years,” said Sian.

“These events happen in India,” Chokhani added, “and we thought it’d be great to celebrate the coming of our own monsoons in the Vancouver area.”

Deliberately, theatre performances are in the spotlight for the inaugural edition of the festival, with both comedy and drama in the mix.

The decision is tied to first-year funding, Sian noted.

“In years to come,” he said, “we aim to present other components, including music and dance, visual art, maybe some experimental art forms, any type of performing art.”

An Aug. 14 show at Surrey Arts Centre marks the return of Vancouver-based sketch-comedy troupe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken, which will also perform at The Cultch the night before.

The following Friday and Saturday evening (Aug. 19-20), the play “Meena’s Dream” (PICTURED) is brought from Washington, DC, to the Bear Creek Park venue. The story, written and performed by Anu Yadav, involves a nine-year-old girl who wishes her mother had the medicine she can’t afford. More about the acclaimed play can be found on the website

A festival “closing night” celebration at the arts centre’s studio theatre on Aug. 20 is followed by a Punjabi-language performance of the play “Kehar Singh Di Maut” (“The Death of Kehar Singh”) at Bell Performing Arts Centre on Aug. 21, in collaboration with Surrey-based Rangmanch Theatre.

Leena Manro, a co-creator of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Chicken, is excited about the show’s return.

“We were going strong for a number of years since we started out in 2008, and then we took a long break, about three years, after having new shows a couple of times a year, and now we’re back,” she said. “It’s kind of a reunion show we’re doing.”

The show on Aug. 14 will include a handful of old sketches mixed in with new material. Some “mind-boggling scenarios, very absurd versions of reality” are part of the script, including a daughter who reveals she’s been doing adult films to pay for school, and the parents react – but not necessarily in the way you’d think, Manro explained.

“It’s racy, it’s edgy, you know, and we talk about race and sexuality and families – all kinds of issues that touch the South Asian world, but it goes beyond that, too. The issues are at the core of multicultural Canada that affected a lot of us growing up as first-generation Canadians. That’s why our audience has actually always been very mixed, along with our cast.”

The Monsoon festival will also include an industry series featuring workshops for actors, writers and directors.

As a post on the festival website ( notes, “South Asian Canadians are the largest visible minority group in Canada, yet a simple scan of Vancouver’s performing arts community suggests that there are very few South Asian theatre professionals currently working in our industry.”

With their Monsoon Festival, Sian and Chokhani aim to improve those opportunities.

“The idea is to bring in established pieces from artists around the world, to show what good quality works can be presented, but the idea is also to nurture a new pool of artists in B.C.,” Chokhani explained.



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