On a slushy afternoon, QDF met with Canadian artist Nisha Coleman at the beautiful and charming cafe Tommys not far from the Centaur Theatre where Nisha will be performing her solo piece, Self-Exile, as part of the Wildside Festival. Nisha earned her spot at the festival by being selected as the Best of Fringe award recipient. Opening January 5th and running until January 15th, here is a question-answer interview with the artist to give you a taste of her successful and powerful autobiographical piece.
[QDF] I understand you participated in the Montreal Fringe Festival last minute as a spot opened up a few weeks before the beginning of the festival. Tell me about your journey from a last minute Fringe spot to the Wildside Festival.
[NISHA] At first, I thought there was no way I would ever get into the Fringe I didn’t realize you could get into the festival until the very last minute. But then I got the call. A group had dropped out so if I wanted the space, it was mine. The show was polished enough since I had done it once before, so I was ready. I just needed to prepare myself psychologically. Then it started. It happened quickly and I feel fortunate it happened this way because I got to be at La Chapelle. It was perfect for the show. Plus, it was my first Fringe ever! So I was in awe of all of the activities. The spirit of the Fringe in Montreal is so amazing: there is so much love and support from all of the other artists. I would have so many artists come to see my show and I would get to see so many amazing shows. It was a good experience. And Self-Exile won Best English Production, so the prize of this award is to receive an automatic entry to the amazing Wildside festival. All of the sudden, I was being part of the festival I had been attending in the past and always wondered how does one get to this beautiful theatre. I am now so happy to have the opportunity to present Self-Exile at the Centaur.
[QDF] Tell us about Self Exile.
[NISHA] Self-Exile is storytelling. It borders on theatre, but it is a one-person autobiographical show. It is my story, from before conception to busking in Paris about ten years ago. That’s a lot of years to cover in one hour, so I decided to focus on very specific moments. Moments stuck in my psyche as very developmental that changed my direction and the way that I behaved and thought about myself. The basis is that my parents were hippies. It’s one unique situation that is not told very often. I also talk about the mental illness of my father. He was quite depressed when I was growing up with moments of violence sometimes. I talk about our relationship and how it affected me personally and the way I live my life as a result. The title, Self-Exile, directly refers to my tendency to dissociate from who I actually am to try and be other things… kind of like a shape-shifter. Because I learned early that it wasn’t okay to be who I was, I had to try consciously or unconsciously to be something else. It is kind of a difficult way to live and it is confusing, but my own self-exile seems to be my solution to what I was taught by my father.
[QDF] What does this piece means to you and why did you chose to tell it?
[NISHA] It is the most personal story I have ever told. I felt I had to write the show in order to understand myself. I always knew there was sort of a self-exile thing happening, but I had never articulated it. I was sort of aware of how I changed personas depending on who I was with, aware of the way I was trying to accommodate each individual based on who they were. Therefore, I tried to go back in time and figure out what created that behaviour. Was that actually me? Or a learned behavior based on something external? So I linked it to certain moments that I explore during the show. I guess it was a way to figure out why I am the way I am. The question I ask in my show is: is it better to be loved for who you are or to play all of these different roles to be sure you will be loved? Is it satisfying to receive love for a thing that you are not? Self-Exile is exploring all of those themes and, interestingly, although it is a very personal story, a lot of people connected with this sentiment.
[QDF] What would you tell a non-theatre goer to convince them to come to your show?
[NISHA] Self-Exile is very accessible and this accessibility is the beauty of storytelling. It is pared down with almost no set. It is just me telling my story. In a way, it is very easy to connect to. You don’t have to work hard, you just need to trust me and come along for the ride.
[QDF] What is special, to you personally, to be featured in this festival? How can this experience enrich your career?
[NISHA] Being a part of this bigger thing such as the Wildside, I think, will draw people I don’t know, that haven’t heard of my work, that are curious about the festival itself and what’s being featured this year. This, to me, is something new. I won’t know who will be in the audience and I like that. I like being part of these high caliber shows and am excited to see all of the other work that everyone is doing. It is so fulfilling to see other people working hard. When you do a solo show, there is so much time spent alone, but being part of a festival reunites you with other artists; even though you are doing a show by yourself you are still part of something bigger and that’s what I like about the Wildside Festival.
[QDF] What are you most looking forward to this year in the festival?
[NISHA] I guess I am looking forward to be surprised because of these unknowns and because every show is different in a way. I absorb the energy from the audience and since it is just me, I sort of change my delivery. I guess I am looking forward to seeing how Self-Exile will evolve based on this new audience, what appeals to them, and what they react to. Self-Exile in Montreal is not the same as Self-Exile in Toronto, or in my hometown of Huntsville–and I am sure it won’t be the same now. I guess that’s what I am most looking forward to: the unknown and how the show will evolve.
[QDF] What’s next for Nisha and Self-Exile?
My next challenge is to try to work in my second language, French. I am actually working on a new show that is in French about learning French. I would really like to translate Self-Exile because I think it could work in French and then I could bring it to other places, other French speaking places or other festivals.
Thank you to Nisha Coleman for agreeing to do this interview and thank you to our readers. Make sure to subscribe to QDF Musings for more insights on the Montreal Theatre Community and more interviews.