Anosh Irani is one of Canada's most treasured and exciting playwrights and novelists, with his past work landing him on numerous award lists, including the Governor General's Literary Awards and the coveted Dora Mavor Moore Awards.
His one-man show Buffoon (House of Anansi Press) has been hailed as a masterpiece of genre-blending theatre and scooped not one but two Dora Mavor Moore Awards already (for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role). Part tragedy, part comedy, and now available in book form as a priceless resource for theatre lovers and aspiring playwrights alike, the play follows Felix, who is born into a family of circus performers.
When it becomes clear his parents prefer the high wire to familial bonding, Felix finds his own way to love, humour, and connection. From a stint as a seven year-old clown to his middle-aged inability to shake that persona, Buffoon will have you gasping for breath with laughter even as it tears your heart out. It's Irani's own literary high wire act, and he pulls it off with shocking aplomb and grace.
We got to speak with Anosh about his life as a playwright, from how he goes about crafting dialogue to his most surprising source of inspiration, as part of our On Stage interview series for playwrights. He tells us about the importance of momentum in theatrical work, why Canada should celebrate playwriting more, and the best and worst things about writing for the stage.
Is your writing process totally page-based, or do you sometimes speak dialogue aloud (alone or with others) or try physically blocking out scenes while writing to work through things?
I certainly speak dialogue aloud. At times. When the rhythm is good, and I know that as a playwright I’m not getting in the way of the characters, I keep typing. But sometimes I get the feeling that I’m taking it away from the characters. That’s when I stop typing and start speaking. For Buffoon, I struggled with finding the opening lines. I spoke, very softly, into my iPhone and made the conversation intimate. That’s how I discovered the opening lines, eventually.
What one play, from any time period, do you wish you had been the one to write?
That’s a tough one. I’ll probably think of something else when I see this in print, but... no, it’s too hard to answer. But when it comes to a novel, I’m quite sure it would be A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
When I look back, I would say Bombay’s red-light district. That made me a writer. I grew up right opposite it, and it both haunts and inspires to this day. Is it unlikely? I don’t know anymore. The experience of growing up in that vicinity was certainly life changing. It was inevitable.
Are there themes, objects, or activities that you see cropping up repeatedly in your work that you are surprised by?
Yes, I’m always surprised by what shows up. I end up writing about children quite a lot. And they just show up in the work. I don’t really think about childhood that much, consciously, but the loss of innocence and childhood trauma somehow creeps into my writing.
If you've written for other mediums, what (if anything) changes when you're writing for the stage?
Momentum. I like my plays to have a “force/drive.” Novels can be more reflective. There’s room for meditation in a novel. For me, a play isn’t meditative. It’s a force of nature. But again – not all plays and playwrights are the same. That’s just how I write.
How would you describe the theatre and playwriting community in Canada? What strengths and weaknesses do you observe within the community?
We, as a nation, need to celebrate our playwrights much more.
What is the worst thing about being a playwrighting what is the best?
The worst is that you have no control over what you finally see on stage. For someone like me, who writes novels as well, that’s frustrating. The best is that there is enough room for other artists – directors, actors, dramaturgs, designers, composers and so on, to bring their talents to your work. Their consciousness, their higher nature.
Anosh Irani has published four critically acclaimed novels: The Cripple and His Talismans (2004), a national bestseller; The Song of Kahunsha (2006), which was an international bestseller and shortlisted for Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Dahanu Road (2010), which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize; and The Parcel (2016), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His play Bombay Black (2006) won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, and his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black (2006) and his play Men in White were both shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Buffoon, his latest work of drama, was critically acclaimed and won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role. He lives in Vancouver.