Like with life, you get one shot at this. Get up to a dark stage, spotlight turns on, blinding. And you are looking at an audience filled with expectation. You are the centre of this show and it’s only now that you are getting your script. Sound like something out of a nightmare?
But well, this is exactly what ‘White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’, which runs from August 13-15 at Dubai’s The Junction, has in store for its stars.
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It was written by Nassim Soleimanpour, who was grounded – no passport issued - in Iran for refusing military service. The playwright devised a novel way to travel, using words and the images they would suffuse in the imagination.
The result is an experiment as unusual for its audience as it is for its enactors. One actor can only perform the piece one time – there are no do-overs. So far the experience has panned out – the routine has been translated into more than 25 different languages and performed by more than 1,000 times around the globe. [Actors who’ve taken on the challenge include Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane and John Hurt.]
In Dubai, the shows will be presented by actor, writer, producer Asad Raza Khan; actor, producer Mohamed el Sawi (who will perform the Arabic version of the play); and actor, drama educator, radio and television presenter, Malavika Varadan
Raza Khan, who performs on Friday, is adept at improvisation and comedic timing. But will this really help him? He says: “The biggest fear I have is that my brain will freeze on stage once I see the script and it will turn into a play reading more than a performance. Improvisation can go very right, and very wrong both at the same time. However this is the most exciting part about the performance as well, that even I do not know what will come out of the show! Total mystery for everyone in the theatre that night, including the performers.”
That’s not to say this is a one-night-and-it’s-over kind of situation. Parts of the act are sure to be saved for posterity. Soleimanpour asks audiences to post to him photos and reviews of the play; the way the words brush colour into the room, the way they evoke thoughts, memories and ideas. So he can feel he is where the action is. Unstifled by convention – free to savour the final product of his work.
And actors are asked to not cheat their way to a good show; most stay within these bounds – having it any other way would compromise the dignity of the writing. “I have not seen any show of ‘White Rabbit, Red Rabbit’. And I am also avoiding researching too much on it to keep the mystery alive,” says Raza Khan.
His peer Varadan, who will perform on Saturday, says: “I have heard a lot about it from actor friends who have performed it [White Rabbit, White Rabbit], from around the world. They said, ‘don’t Google it, don't research it, just turn up and don't be an actor. Do as the script requires.’ That is exactly what I intend to do.”
Mohamed el Sawi, who will kick off performances on Thursday, explains what’s giving him palpitations. “The improvisation is scary by itself. Herein, you still not free to improvise, but there is script to follow. Also, it is the show duration is about 75 minutes.”
It's an evening that can go dreadfully wrong. Or perfectly right. Either way, it’s like life, there are no do-overs.