This spring the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage opens its doors to a novel story
Alex Kropova // Contributor
Inspired by her own childhood, playwright Sarena Parmar’s debut play The Orchard (After Chekhov) is an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, sparking new life into the classic. The production tells the story of a Punjabi-Sikh family that tries to save their Okanagan Valley orchard, shining a light on the people of colour who helped shape the Okanagan and continue to breathe life into the land. “I am so proud a piece of the Okanagan Valley’s history will be shared with the rest of Canada,” said Parmar.
The artist’s family came to Canada in 1967 and she grew up on an orchard in the Okanagan Valley and studied The Cherry Orchard while at the National Theatre School. Then her family cut down their orchard. “When I started writing The Orchard (After Chekhov), I thought: I have a unique perspective about this adaptation,” Parmar said.
Being from Punjab, an agricultural province, her family’s farming roots were their last ties to India. When those ties were severed, it was the closing of a chapter and Parmar began to understand Chekhov’s play in a whole new way. “The entire process for writing The Orchard (After Chekhov) took six years. This is my first full-length play and first produced play,” Parmar explained. “While I was writing it, I was also learning how to write,” she said.
The first draft was simply a line-by-line translation and a process of re-contextualizing the characters and relationships to the Okanagan in 1975. With each draft, Parmar’s voice spoke. She started to explore Chekhov’s themes in a way that resonated with her, and she started writing new scenes that are not in the original play.
For Parmar, this story had to be in theatrical form to honour the four-act structure, heightened rhetoric and iconic Chekhovian tone. Parmar’s adaptation is set in the Okanagan in 1975 and told through a contemporary lens. Nevertheless, she wanted The Orchard (After Chekhov) to feel like a Chekhovian play. While writing, her motto was Chekhov’s famous stage direction: “laughing through the tears.” Characters longing for that which they can never attain. And this longing is matched with comedy. During rehearsals, the talented cast managed to pull their own comedic moments from between Parmar’s lines.
An actor by trade, Parmar didn’t expect to become a playwright. But Chekhov’s sword is the pen: currently, Parmar is working on her next play. Not only that, she also just finished two seasons at the Shaw Festival. And this summer, Parmar will be playing Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well at Vancouver’s own Bard on the Beach.
“It can be hard to manage both, but I like a challenge,” she said. Because theatre is performed live, it has a magical quality for her and “The transference of energy from the actors on stage to the audience and vice versa. It’s restorative.”
Catch The Orchard (After Chekhov) from March 21 to April 21 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. Tickets are available from $29 at www.artsclub.com or the Arts Club Box Office at 604-687-1644.