There’s a soft crackle in the air as the Festival Dionysia sweeps back onto the scene after a sold-out performance in 2022. This year, it debuts at the Pal Studio Theatre downtown, which is more than just a change of scenery from its previous stage on campus.
Tucked into the space between Coal Harbour and Stanley Park, the venue primes the audience for the surreal spectacle of the Festival with its own breathtaking view. The playwrights of the UBC Players Club recognize this advantage and said they are excited to share six original plays, each attuned to different tastes but united under the comic disposition of revelry.
I sat down with one of the playwrights, fifth-year international relations student Asha Cooper. Their play A Waiting Room tackles themes of family and miscommunication, easing the tension with absurdity and humor. Cooper dedicated it to their extended family, whom they said they grew closer to after moving to UBC.
Inspired by an introductory creative writing class, A Waiting Room marks Cooper’s debut as a playwright, as well as their return to the world of theatre for the first time since grade four.
“I kind of fell into this festival,” said Cooper, who credited their friend for alerting them in time for the audition.
Writing used to be a personal activity for them, limited to poetry and short fiction. They said that plays are “structurally very different, but conceptually very similar.” Catering their writing to an audience rather than keeping it to themselves meant developing new skills.
“I guess one of the challenges for me, not having any acting experience or theatre experience, was to create dialogue and also to visualize the movement of the characters — so, to understand the constraints of the theatre,” said Cooper.
When asked about how their play relates to the namesake of the festival, Dionysus, Cooper explained that they “wrote the play with no intention of it being produced or seen in any sense.” Cooper said their play still fits Dionysian themes, however, due to the fact that “[it] doesn’t take itself very seriously.”
Medha Gautham, the director of A Waiting Room, said she is looking forward to showcasing diverse stories. She said this diversity explains her reliance on a collaborative style of directing: she gathered insight from her cast and crew to ensure the respectful observation of their respective traditions and customs.
Gautham said she learned more about the Canadian Sikh culture through this process and clarified her own position in the landscape.
Owing to this intersection of identities, she said she expects the festival to have something for everyone: one piece that fits at least one of their puzzles.
The Festival Dionysia takes place between March 8–10, 2023. Tickets are available through the UBC Players Club website.
This article has been corrected to state that Medha Gautham is the director of A Waiting Room, rather than the director the festival. The Ubyssey regrets this error.