If you had 17 different people in your head trying to speak through you, you might be considered crazy. But for an actor in a New Zealand-based theater company, it is simply another night on stage.
Jacob Rajan is the only actor in the play “Guru of Chai,” which is a production of the Indian Ink Theatre Company.
The touring act will perform in the Squitieri Studio Theater at the Phillips Center of Performing Arts tonight, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Throughout the production, Rajan plays 17 characters, both male and female including the Guru, a tea-maker who is an engaging narrator that speaks and interacts with the audience.
“It’s a romantic thriller — a storytelling piece — and the storyteller is a dubious spiritual guide,” Rajan said, describing the play. “We came up with the piece about three years ago. It was based on an Indian fairytale [Punchkin] that we, sort of, took apart and then reassembled in modern India, so it has a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ feel to it. It’s very contemporary and has a great live soundtrack.”
Rajan said that Indian Ink was formed with a common love of masks. He and director Justin Lewis came from a European tradition of physical theater, and the form that influences their work is masks.
“In Guru, I have probably one of the smallest masks, which is a set of false teeth. They change my character and the strength of my voice and my body completely to that of the character of the guru,” Rajan said. “He becomes this very unreliable narrator telling the story from his own life, but the storytelling enables me to play up to 17 different characters on stage.”
The production continually changes landscape, from Indian railway stations to prisons and streets. There’s even cockfighting. These settings give each character that Rajan plays voice and depth.
“We take about two years to put a show together,” Rajan said. “So by that stage, it isn’t a question of getting into character, it’s the characters are screaming to get out of me.”
The Director of UF Performing Arts, Michael Blachly, who brought Indian Ink to the Phillips Center, said that the production has received very great reviews across the U.S. The company has won two Fringe First awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, and has received great response in New York.
“‘Guru of Chai’ is one we are doing in a small space because it’s an intimate piece of theater,” Blachly said about the location of the play inside Squitieri Studio Theater. “What we’ve heard about the piece is that it does real well in smaller spaces where it creates a real relationship with the audience members in attendance and the artists.”
Squitieri Studio Theater is a 200-seat auditorium that’s utilized for more interactive productions, like “Guru of Chai” Blachly said.
Todd Taylor, the public relations associate for the Phillips Center, said students can get tickets for this performance by going to either the Phillips Center box office or the University box office in the Reitz Union. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 352-392-2787.
Student tickets with a Gator1 Card are $10 and regular admission is $15 for the first showing tonight and $20 for Friday and Saturday.
Award-winning actor Jacob Rajan plays 17 different characters in the play “Guru of Chai.” The Indian Ink Theatre Company’s production will visit the Squitieri Studio Theater at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts tonight through Saturday.