PreViews – Sorab Wadia Interview
>>Laura Sullivan: Sorab Wadia has spent more than five
years performing in American Place Theatre’s production of “The Kite Runner.” The one actor show, based on Khaled Hosseini’s
best-selling novel, is a poignant tale of friendship and betrayal. Previews writer Jennifer Pencek speaks with
Wadia about his preparation for portraying eight characters and how he
quickly transforms from one to the next. Wadia also discusses how he first
encountered “The Kite Runner” and why he thinks the story resonates with people
around the world.>>Jennifer Pencek: In “The Kite Runner” you portray upwards of eight different characters.
>>Sorab Wadia: Right.>>Pencek: Can you talk a little bit about your
process in preparing for this production and how you plan to tell the story on stage?>>Wadia: Well, I’ve been doing this production since 2007. So it’s been a good five years of doing it, and, uh, the original method of working on it was, as you would work on any character in a show, you know, if I was doing a play with — just a regular play, I would have one character to work on.
And there is a process, you know, of finding that character’s voice, his or her body movement. Where they live? Do they live in their head? Do they live in their heart? Do they carry their weight? This, you know,
sort of physical things, mental things, emotional things. It just so happens that if you have eight of them in a show or nine of them in a show, you work on each of them separately and very carefully. And don’t — what we did during the rehearsal process is never rehearse two characters on the same day. Uh, my director was very careful to work only one person on one day, and he even divided up the protagonist,
Armir, into three people because Armir starts out as a 38-year-old man, he flashes back to a 9-, 10-year-old boy, and then jumps forward to when he’s 12 or 13. So there’s an adult, a pre-pubescent, and then a teen. And all those three guys are — it’s one person, but it’s
three very different guys. Even those three, I was never allowed to do them on the same day, until you really can live in that body organically, truthfully, and then you start jumping between you know, a and b, a and c, c and d. And, you know, then you can start playing games with yourself.>>Pencek: Has it been a challenge for you to kind of
tackle all of these characters, or have you been doing it long enough that you feel pretty comfortable in those roles?>>Wadia: Actually, it’s very comfortable.
By this time, by this point it’s rather Pavlovian, you know. I have certain things that happen on stage
where I do certain things to my body, and it’ll just — the character — it’s very simple because you can’t be doing, you know, massive changes or putting on a moustache or a hat. You can’t — none of that stuff can happen because [snaps fingers] it’s very, very fast. Those changes between characters happen in a second. So it’s all in body gesture, body posture, gesture, things like that. So, but when I do that it’s Pavlovian. I change character very, very quickly. And even when I started five years ago, that was my goal, was to have something, a trigger, to really put me into the mood of the next person immediately.>>Pencek: How will the, uh, structure of the production actually work?>>Wadia: First of all it starts off with a teaching artist, who’s also an actor but in this case is a facilitator, a stage manager, and leader of discussion. And he or she will, um — it depends on what the situation is. If it’s skewed towards a particular aspect — are we
talking, are we going to be skewing towards literature, or racial integration, or bullying. “The Kite Runner” has so many aspects that we can all of the above or none of the above. So he does a pre-talk. It sets the stage up. Maybe if the people haven’t read the book, discuss a little bit about Afghanistan, give them a little bit of background. And then the show starts for about an hour and five minutes. And then afterwards, we discuss themes from the show with me also present on stage. Uh, he calls me back out, we talk about things that affected you, what, you know, what resonates. How does it change our perspective? So it can be used as, uh, a discussion — a launching point for discussions
of all kinds of things. But in itself, the show itself, in that one hour that I have on stage, the genius of that adaptation is that Wynn Handman is a guru of New York theatre. He’s — I don’t know how old he is now. He’s in his late 80s. He’s like 87, 88 maybe, something like that, and, uh, he’s been teaching and around for sixty years. He goes off to Nantucket, where he has a summer home, and sits with these novels and then tries to bring them into a kernel of, you know, bring them into verbatim adaptations that are only an hour long. In my case, in the case of “The Kite Runner,” he happened to choose the first hundred and something pages, which is the first third of the novel, which turned out to be totally, fortuitously — Khaled Hosseini had written that section as a short novella, which no one knows about because no one knows that. He was a doctor. The story of these two boys in Afghanistan, son of a master and son of a servant, came
to him in a flash, and he wanted to write it down and elaborate. So he did. And then
he took it into a writing group, and they said, “This is the start of a book. You should then flesh it out
to what happens to these kids after this.” So, hence it became a novel. But Wynn Handman wanted to focus on the first third of the book because that is the nexus of the story, the story of these two boys and their friendship, their love, what happens, their two respective fathers, and what happens to them. The rest of
the story is a catapult or a roller coaster ride that happens after the story.
>>Pencek: Right.>>Wadia: But this is the meat of story.>>Pencek: What do you think it is about this particular story that seems to resonate so much with people?
>>Wadia: It is a human story. But the book came out in the middle of a — you know, Americans can be very myopic and very insular. They don’t realize that there are people in other countries — you know, like how many Americans couldn’t tell you where Vietnam is on the map. You know that’s, uh, maybe better now, but certainly
when Vietnam itself was happening, how many of them could actually tell you
where Vietnam is? Or Korea was when the Korean — police action was going on, you know? So, here we are in Afghanistan hunting down bin Laden, and we forget that there are humans there. There are mothers who died in childbirth. There are fathers trying to raise children alone as single parents. There are bullies who are, who are making hell for lives of kids.
>>Pencek: Uh huh. And, do we not have those same things in South
Africa, or in Germany, or in India, or in — you know, is there not racism and class divide in the Pretoria regime or in Aborigines in Australia or, uh, let’s face it, still in America
today? You know, is there not, do these things not happen? So sadly, it’s there, and I think it’s the universality of the human experience it touches. And the story it’s such a — I won’t say beautiful, because it’s such a
the heart-wrenching story, but it’s such a captivating story that it’s a page turner. Even though
you’re turning horrendous pages, you still want to keep turning them because the story is captivating.>>Sullivan: Tickets are on sale for “The Kite Runner” October 8, 2013, at Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium. For ticket information, visit cpa.psu.edu or phone 1-800-ARTS-T-I-X. “The Kite Runner” includes mature themes. Parental discretion is advised.