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Camyar Chai wants to put Vancouver on the map with plays that spur people to think beyond their borders - photo by Camyar Chai
Camyar Chai wants to put Vancouver on the map with plays that spur people to think beyond their borders - photo by Camyar Chai

UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 5 | May 3, 2007

Director Adds MFA to His Credits

By Lorraine Chan

Friends and family were somewhat puzzled by Camyar Chai’s decision to return to school. After all, hasn’t he already made it?

Chai, 39, is the founder and one of the artistic producers of Vancouver’s neworld theatre, known for original and ambitious plays. Works such as Adrift on the Nile and The Adventures of Ali and Ali and the Axes of Evil plumb the political and social divide between East and West, mixing the forms of theatre and cabaret.

His recent film and television acting credits include Douglas Coupland’s film Everything’s Gone Green, Stargate SG1 and the new Chris Haddock series, Intelligence.

However, when Chai crosses the stage at UBC’s Chan Centre during graduation, it will be to receive his Master of Fine Arts degree.

“Coming back to UBC gave me the luxury of honing my directing skills and clarifying the kind of theatre I want to make,” says Chai. “When you’re working and face daily pressures of deadlines, bills, and performances, you just don’t have time to ruminate on these issues.”

Since graduating from UBC in 1993 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Chai has performed in 25 theatre productions, produced 14 and directed seven.

For his MFA thesis project, Chai directed Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Compared to the open-ended creative process with his own and other new plays, he found a marked difference in directing an established work.

“Before I put my own ingenuity on the script, I had to understand what the writer intended.”

Technical proficiency in lighting and other design elements also comprised his MFA studies. “I was using those tools before, but I can do so now with greater subtlety and depth.”

Chai plans to continue working in Vancouver, concentrating on socially relevant and intimate plays that challenge audiences to think and live beyond their established borders.

Chai, having grown up in London, New York and Tehran, left Iran at age 11 with his family. They eventually settled in North Vancouver in 1981. He says he’s strongly influenced by Persian poetry and history that emphasizes respect and deference toward others, “looking toward the greater good – which for some is God, the universe or society as a whole.

My dream for Vancouver would be a city that moves toward tolerance and toward resolving some of the problems we’re facing because of intolerance.”

This month, Chai will be mounting the first U.S. run of The Adventures of Ali and Ali and the Axes of Evil in Seattle. He’ll also be bringing the play for the first time to the Persian community in North Vancouver.

The neworld company is currently working to gain the rights for a Vancouver production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, the Royal Court Theatre play about a U.S. activist who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer. It is also collaborating with Touchstone Theatre on a production of Quebec playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s Tideline, set in the chaos of Lebanon.

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My Best UBC Memories

“Interacting with the cast of students who acted and designed and worked on the technical crew of the show which I directed...I’ll never forget sitting down in the Green Room...one of the actors said to me it looks like you’ve achieved what you wanted to with your play, ‘Listen up, everyone’s discussing global politics.’”

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Last reviewed 03-May-2007

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