Written by Ellen Close
Photography by Lisa Enman
Originally published in Stephen Magazine
Arun Lakra is an artist; a playwright, screenwriter, songwriter and creator of self-described “goofy videos” (check out Hey There Iginla or The Lockout Song - No More Merch on YouTube). He is also a practicing eye surgeon, which may initially seem to pose a bit of a contradiction, but is in fact integral to his rich creative output.
Downstage is delighted to be producing the world premiere of Lakra’s play Sequence in February. The play was the Grand Prize winner of the Alberta Playwriting Competition and one of three finalists for the prestigious STAGE International Script Competition for the best new play about science or technology.
Sequence tackles questions of science, luck and faith through two interwoven stories – a blind genetics professor’s encounter with an exceptionally unlucky student, and a confrontation between a pregnant young science major and an author who has won fame and fortune by successfully predicting a high-profile coin toss for nineteen years in a row. I was instantly impressed with Lakra’s ability to playfully dive into complex questions while creating a theatrical world that is rich and suspenseful.
So as I got ready to call him for our interview, I found myself getting a bit nervous – would Arun think my questions too simple or obvious? But really, I had nothing to fear – he is an affable, generous individual who just happens to gravitate towards projects that in his words, “give [him] a headache”.
I asked Lakra to describe the balance that he’s found between science and art as someone with active practices as both a writer and an eye surgeon. He laughed. “I think it’s the imbalance I’ve found, probably,” he finally answered. “It all started near the end of med school. I’d always had a predisposition towards the artistic side but I had neglected that quite badly, so I decided I wanted to make an effort towards cultivating that side of things.” He explained that he didn’t initially have any specific goals and intentions for his creative outlets but noticed that when he didn’t write, he would get cranky and miserable. “Ever since that time, I’ve done my best to try to satisfy both sides as best I can.”
This has taken a couple of different forms for Lakra. “Initially, I would divide my time in a sequential fashion… I would write for a bit, then practice medicine for a bit,” said Lakra.” Since starting a family, he has found it best to divide his week into two. “I have some days when I go to my real day job and some days where I go to my other job… and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he laughed.
Sequence draws on a number of scientific and statistical concepts, and I had assumed that was heavily informed by Lakra’s scientific background. He insisted though that he still had to do a lot of research. “I had to draw on my undergraduate genetics textbook and that sort of thing,” he said, “but there were also some pretty big deficiencies in my knowledge along the scientific line of thinking. And there’s a significant math angle to this play as well. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a mathematician.” He also spent a lot of time exploring debates between religious and scientific ideologies.
“One of the things that I stumbled on that kind of brought the whole play together for me is that one of the arguments to say that God has to exist is along the lines of that it’s so statistically improbable for us to have developed without the existence of God, that therefore God has to exist. So it almost became, you know, whether God exists is a question of statistics, which I thought was quite interesting. If something is so statistically improbable, then can you say that it actually could never occur?”
Sequence began as a bit of an experiment for him, he explained. “I wanted to try to do something where the form and content mirrored each other and hopefully enhanced each other. I wanted to write a play where it was possible that things could have happened in either order, depending on how the audience perceived it.” This importance of the order of things is woven throughout the play - do you say Ernie and Bert or Bert and Ernie? And which pant leg do you put on first?
I posed that question to Lakra as we wrapped up our brief conversation. There was silence on the line, then another laugh. “Uh… excuse me while I put down the phone. Uh… I think… as I’m doing the mime… I think I’m a left leg first person.”
|Looking up at Terry Gunvordahl's set|
|A shot of Sequence during rehearsals|
Visit www.downstage.ca for tickets and info.