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Why Not Theatre asks "why not Toronto?"

When Ravi Jain, Katrina Bugaj, and Troels Hagen Findsen met while studying physical theatre at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, they knew they wanted to continue working together.  From Toronto, New York and Copenhagen respectively, and along with colleagues from the UK and the US, the trio decided to create a Toronto-based theatre company despite living in different cities.  

They wanted to push boundaries.  "It was [done] through a series of emails and talking on Skype," Bugaj says, referring to both the company's creation and the theatre they produce, which uses body language, dance, and images to convey meaning. "We were throwing around ideas, and we loved the idea of the provocation...why not?"  The three contemplated ideas for productions, shared thoughts on technique, and managed research virtually -- creating provocative physical theatre despite not sharing the same physical space. Why Not Theatre explores innovative ways of telling stories that don't rely solely on text.
"I think Toronto generally seems to think of theatre as text-based, so a playwright writes a play, and actors speak those lines," says Jain, co-artistic director.  "I think for us, so much of a story happens when people aren't speaking.  You can go out on the street and see two people sitting next to each other.  They don't say a word, but you know exactly what's going on...that's where we look in terms of physical theatre -- at how those bodies are speaking, just by the way they're sitting."

They weren't sure their company model would work.  "Early on, I got discouraged," says Jain, speaking on living in different countries, "[I thought] we can't grow that way."  But, rather than slowing growth, Why Not has come to see their distance as an asset.  "Because we don't live in the same country, we all have to work on separate freelance projects," he says, "And now I can see [how we] are bringing those experiences to this work, and how it's actually changing the types of questions we're asking each other."  Hagen Findsen agrees, "The 'digestiveness' of our process is surprisingly good.  Because we've had so much time apart, we can almost forget the project, and then come back to it -- I think that's actually a luxury that's difficult to imagine."

Their approach is working -- their first production, The Prince Hamlet received rave reviews for an innovative interpretation of Shakespeare's masterpiece.  Performed at the Winchester Street Theatre, the show replaced exposition with action.  Since then, Why Not has made Toronto its physical home, though living so far apart has meant that a substantial part of their creative process is virtual.  "We really spend a lot of time on Skype and email, where we're researching and sharing different material, "says Bugaj.  

Their different backgrounds have also brought a global perspective to their work.  "We've all been fortunate enough to travel and live in different places, and we all speak different languages," says Jain. "Our world view is one that is very inclusive, and wants to engage in a kind of global dialogue."  

Jain sees Toronto as a place to begin that dialogue. "Toronto is extremely multicultural, extremely diverse, yet the vast majority of our theatre does not reflect that."  Bugaj adds that their relationship with Toronto works both ways, saying,"To me it's really important to build within the community, to reach out to other communities and to bring people that we've encountered outside [to Toronto]...and bring what we make out."  
They recently completed the final phase of a residency at The Theatre Centre on Queen West, re-working a piece that won the Spotlight Award at the 2008 Summerworks Festival.  "We've been excited to start to call Toronto a home of sorts, even though we don't live here full time," Bugaj says. "It's an interesting city to be in, in terms of the arts and the different communities.  So many other places that we've been in don't have the diversity, and coming from New York, there's something that I can relate to -- there's something really amazing about what that produces."

The residency has also lent structure to their process. "We work in small periods of time," says Hagen Findsen. "We get three residency periods a year, where we come to Toronto for a couple of weeks and develop the show."

The play, I'm so close used Why Not's mastery of corporal expression to explore technology and relationships.  The project began with a desire to look at the concept of time, and how it is changing. "The thing we were experiencing was just how fast our lives seem to be going," says Jain. "I'm spending more time with my computer than I am with my friends."  The trio came up with the show to articulate the emotional reality that they were feeling.  "Though we feel connected through Facebook, networking, social media, and we can connect to people who are all over the world," Jain says. "I'm still sitting alone at a computer, and I'm spending a lot more time there than I used to."

"It's a love song," Hagen Findsen says, "that is drowned out by the technological landscape that is bringing us together and pushing us apart."  The trio was cautious about using technology to tell the story; in the end they wanted to be sure to have the right mix of technology and physical theatre.  "What we're good at is telling stories with our bodies," says Jain. "Our imaginative world lives there."  

Exploring these themes seems to have helped Why Not navigate through their creative process -- they may have found the perfect balance of technology and physical presence.  "I didn't realise that that's how growth works," Jain says about their time away from each other. "[It's] why when we actually come together, we advance each time.... It's been a beautiful surprise -- we've really seen our work as artists, for each other, grow."

Tasleem Thawar is a Toronto based writer.

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