INDIA ADVENTURES DAY 17 (part 2) AND 18: In our previous episode, Parking Tickets With A Sporting Chance and Sage crossed the 401 without a helicopter. And now, today!
I’ve just arrived at Urban Solace, a small theatre on the second floor of a cafe that overlooks Ulsoor Lake. Three walls are solid, but the fourth is open to the street and the murmurs of coversation from the sidewalk drift up on the breeze.
This is “By The Lake”, a storytelling show. I’ve been invited to perform by one of my workshop students who hosts the show. Like the storytelling shows in Toronto, anyone can apply to tell a story for the first half. There’s a long piece of red and gold fabric hung on the wall behind a chair and the lighting is low. I sit down and wait for the show to start.
And oh man. OH MAN.
The first story takes us to an isolated house in the Indian countryside in the 1980s. The electricity is almost always out. Using spare and simple words the storyteller creates and eerie atmosphere that makes us all terrified when the bad man shows up at the gate on his scooter.
The second story shows us a quiet village with uncompromising rules. Next, we learn what being the only family of colour in a smal Illinois town in the 1970s was like (surprisingly good) and in the fourth story we are in the shoes of a little girl meeting the first Indian astronaut. The fifth story is by one of my workshops students and, watching it, I wonder why she took my workshop – her ability to engage the audience and put them in her lovelorn shoes is on par with professional storytellers.
I tell my own true story about living in a yurt in the woods with Todd and our toddler son. At the break I tell my student how amazing she was, then go ask the first teller if she’s a published author and when she says no I encourage her to submit her story to literary magazines. After the break the featured teller comes up on the stage. “That was ‘OPEN MIC’?” he says, “I have to follow THOSE stories? I want to go home!” and we all laugh together. He tells us his own story of trying to become an fighter pilot in the Indian Army. One hundred thousand people apply, sixty people are accepted, and thirty of those actually fly planes. Yow!
My head swimming in sumptuous stories, I grab a tuk tuk back to the hotel. When I walk in the door, Todd is in bed. He has the covers around his ears and his sweatshirt hood is around his head. He says, “It’s cold.” His forehead is hot. I make sure he’s had Tylenol and go next door for take-out for dinner. I’m set to perform again tomorrow night – an hour long solo show – but I can’t leave Todd in this state. We eat in the hotel room and watch House Hunters International and Todd falls asleep. He sleeps heavily throughout the night. (I do not.) I periodically feel his forehead and around three a.m. he starts to sweat like he’s running a marathon. His fever has finally broken and all is well.
In the morning, Todd is feeling better but is still weak and achey. I go to the only place in walking distance that’s open. Starbucks. I know, it’s gross, and I’d rather be anywhere else. (Unlike the Jaipur McDonald’s the only concession to being in India I can find is paneer in a wrap.) We eat and Todd naps and I catch up on writing and rehearse for my performance tonight. By noon, Todd can go outside for ten minutes and sit on a bench. I tell him he can come to the show tonight if he stays in bed for the rest of the day and he does.
That evening we use Ola to order an autorickshaw.
When we arrive at the MyBoTree venue I see a bright eyed cat scrounging on the sidewalk, batting a plastic bag around. Upstairs, the theatre is once again three solid walls and one wall made of glass that overlooks the surrounding trees like we’re in a treehouse.
I sit down with Nasir, who runs the ICB with such good humour and grace, and he interviews me about my improv experience for Improv.xyz https://www.improv.xyz/ – India’s Source For Everything Improv. He asks me for two pieces of advice for new improvisers, and I say, “Do the scenes YOU are passionate about, not the scenes you think the audience will like.” And then I say what I’ve learned from the ICB crowd – “Don’t shy away from hard topics. That’s where the best scenes live.”
Then it’s time for the show. I tell stories for an hour, and then I close with Baba Yaga, my improvised folktale. I usually call the babysitter in the story Jennifer as my own inside joke about how EVERY GIRL IN THE EIGHTIES was named Jennifer, but because I’ve already mentioned Jennifers in the true part show I change her name to Katy instead. But old habits die hard and I hear myself saying, “Then my babysitter Jennifer -” and my heart sinks. But I know how to fix it. “Katy. Her name is Katy. But I have Jennifers on my mind because yesterday I was walking down the street and two fashion college students asked to take my photo because I’m fashionable and I just thought, SEE THIS? GO TO HELL JENNIFERS WHO BULLIED ME IN SCHOOL,” and we all laugh and I’m pleased with myself.
After the show people come up to me and say extremely kind things. Three young women wearing saris come up to me hesitantly. “We’re studying storytelling,” they say, “and we were wondering if we could do a quick interview.” I say of course, and they ask insightful questions I’m happy to answer. After the recording the shyest woman tells me that she drove four hours to come to my show when she heard I was coming to town and I thank her a thousand, thousand times.