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Q+A: Playwright Pamela Mala Sinha talks “Happy Place”

L-R Diane Brown, Nicola Cavendish, Sereana Malani, Adele Noronha, Laara Sadiq, Colleen Wheeler and Donna Yamomoto. Photo by Riun Garner.

Playwright and actor, Pamela Mala Sinha, spoke with Artslandia recently about her newest play, Happy Place. Sinha talks about the origins of the play, her creative process, and sharing her play with Vancouver audiences for the first time.

Can you tell us about the origins of the Happy Place and the creative process of writing it? What was it like for you?

The impetus to write the play came from a desire to write about the experience of depression from perspectives outside my own. As a survivor of sexual trauma and someone who has lived with PTSD for over twenty years, I know that depression is not a ‘one size fits all’ illness. I also wanted to write about the hierarchy of suffering in our society; how too often we measure someone’s “right” to be depressed against someone whose suffering is perceived to be indisputable. It’s a cruel system. The facility of Happy Place is a microcosm of the world outside its walls, especially when it comes to mental health.

In reviews of the play, it’s been said that we, the audience, get to take a journey with the seven women who share their very personal experiences with us. Can you tell us a tiny bit about the characters, just in so far as so we can glean a bit understanding into each, or of the women in the hospital, perhaps just their general bond with one another?

Outside of Louise, the therapist, these women have not chosen to be with each other. They are not friends. Yet, all of them are forced to share space at a time when they are most raw; literally vibrating with secrets they not only keep from each other but also themselves. They are funny and complicated—impacting each other in positive and negative ways. But despite the challenges of living in this odd community, they experience a sense of belonging that eludes them in the “outside” world.

Much of Happy Place centres around the heavy emotional places within the characters, as to be expected in places of therapy. How important was it for you to share these topics (abuse, frustration, anger, depression, etc.), while at the same time, also infusing laughter and companionship within the work? How did you marry these two juxtaposing elements and how did it assist you in telling the story?

We are, as humans, walking contradictions. It wasn’t about marrying juxtaposing elements—it’s life. We are never just one thing… not in feeling, not in action. I think that’s why the play is such an actor’s piece because the richness of these women comes from the complexity of human behaviour. I knew if I stayed true to that, I was telling the right story.

What was your favourite part about writing this play?

My favourite part was discovering that I wanted to write it—discovering how important it was to me to capture something about living with depression that I couldn’t with CRASH (my first solo play).

L-R Diane Brown, Nicola Cavendish, Sereana Malani, Adele Noronha, Laara Sadiq, Colleen Wheeler and Donna Yamomoto. Photo by Riun Garner.

What was your biggest challenge?

Writing for such a large cast and performing in it as well, for its premiere production in 2015. I can’t tell you how thrilled I will be to be sitting in the audience on Opening night, watching these powerhouse actors take ownership of it.

Since its premiere in 2015 at Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre, how has Happy Place changed, if all, and what makes things different for you this time, sharing it with a Vancouver audience?

This draft explores Samira’s storyline in greater depth than the original draft. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to see this adjustment in performance (not just on the page!) and to be able to share it with Vancouver audiences.

Besides everyone, who do you think specifically should come see this play? (We’ve also heard that people often want to see it more than once in the same run!)

Of course, I hope that everyone will come, but I hope even more that they will leave having recognized something in themselves, or someone they know—perhaps even someone they love—in the time they share with these characters and their stories.

Describe Happy Place in just three words.

Complex. Surprising. Resonant. Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Happy Place runs October 19–29, 2017 at Firehall Arts Centre. Get your tickets here.

Pamela Mala Sinha is an award-winning Canadian actress and playwright. Selected Theatre credits include Happy Place (Soulpepper), Nirbhaya (Assembly Theatre/UK, NY), The Little Years (Tarragon Theatre) and The Penelopiad (Nightwood Theatre). Selected TV/Film: three seasons on ER (NBC), Huff (HBO), Traders, Live From Baghdad, Breakaway, and What We Have. Her first solo play, CRASH (Scirocco Drama), received Dora Awards for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Lead Actress; an excerpt of which was included in Bloomsbury’s (UK): Audition Speeches for Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern Actors as well as the anthology Love, Loss and Longing (Playwright’s Canada Press).