Since March 2020, the world has been turned on its head. Across nations, we’ve dealt with pain, loss, and isolation as the pandemic raged on. In wake of COVID-19, we’ve seen an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, anti-Muslim attacks, important Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and a global understanding that the way we have been treating each other hasn’t been fair.
Now, as the world begins to find its feet again, people are reflecting on the past 16 months—how have we changed? And what will the world look like now?
These themes of self-reflection, wounded spirits, and the healing power of change are explored in Anosh Irani’s new work, Transcendence. The two-time Dora Award-winning playwright wrote Transcendence with the intention of creating a space for conversation during his spot in this year’s Indian Summer Festival.
Shapeshifting is the theme of this year’s event. Recognizing he’d be working in a virtual or online format, Irani’s goal was to take the theme of shapeshifting and present it as intimately as possible—after all, it is an inherently intimate and reflective subject.
“At this point in our lives, transformation is so important because we’ve all been through such a difficult time—and we’re still going through it,” Irani tells the Straight over a phone call. “There’s been so many people who are going through deep pain, and the question is, ‘How can we transform that pain into a higher nature? Is it even possible to transform pain into something else?’ ”
Directed by Lois Anderson and featuring performances by Munish Sharma and Laara Sadiq, Transcendence is not quite a play and not quite a film. When Irani was conceiving the event, he was careful not to classify it in a standard art format.
“It’s not pinned down—we’re not defining it because that’s the nature of the piece itself. In keeping with the theme, it’s fluid. It shapeshifts,” he says.
Quite consciously created as a “springboard for a conversation”, Transcendence is different from anything Irani has done before.
“It’s a presentation of sorts,” he says.
In Transcendence, we follow a spirit guide as she makes her daily rounds in the mortal realm, coming across human beings in pain. These characters are familiar faces taken from previous works of Irani’s.
“It was really exciting for me to see characters from different works, different time zones, different cities…side by side, talking, in a way, to the audience,” he notes. “But they’re also in conversation with each other without knowing. I wanted to allow the audience to experience what the spirit guide is witnessing. You know, we’re right there in these rooms with these characters.”
Irani hopes, through witnessing the intimate monologues, audiences will be able to connect to the presentation on a profound level. “It’s about making it deeply personal,” he says. “We all look for things that give us some insight into the human condition. I think at this particular point in our lives, we really need to look at how we can change internally, heal the inner landscape of the human soul, so to speak. That’s what I’m really interested in.”
Internal reflection is nothing new to Irani, who says that self-evaluation comes with the territory of being a playwright and author. “It’s the sole purpose of the artist,” he says. “We can’t write until we examine ourselves. It can make you quite vulnerable. But you can’t write if you’re not vulnerable—at least not the kind of literature that I would hope to create.”
Following the launch of Transcendence, Irani will join Sirish Rao (the artistic director of the Indian Summer Festival), director Lois Anderson, and other guests to lead a panel about the act of transformation. Transcendence will hopefully, Irani says, inspire an introspective conversation. “You know, sometimes we get trapped in our own wounds, and we stay in that for years and years and years,” he muses. “How do we empower ourselves? How do we take control of our own healing?”
While audience members reflect on their own paths over the past year, hopefully they will be able to recognize the power of healing within themselves, too.
“In every character’s journey, much like in real life,” Irani offers, “we’re looking for that moment when we can transform from being wounded to healing.”