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Eastern trails 

OneLight Theatre moved out of The Crib and into Neptune Studio for their ambitious new production, The Veil. Mike Landry goes downtown.

Less than two years ago OneLight Theatre was staging plays behind a Persian grocery on Gottingen Street in a small space called The Crib. Now they have a downtown office across from Neptune Theatre. From their windows they can easily read Neptune Studio's marquee: "OneLight Theatre's The Veil. Production sponsored by Tabrizi Oriental Rugs, Oct 30-Nov 18."

The Veil is OneLight Theatre's newest production. Sayadi directed and adapted the play from Masoud Behnoud's popular 600-page Iranian novel, Khanoom, which follows a Persian princess, and her multi-continental journey through the revolutions and World Wars of the 20th century. To produce it, the company had to partner with Neptune Theatre and Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia. It's their first time working with the bigger companies and a big step for a company whose mandate states, "There should be complete freedom of speech and thought in the rehearsal space...Nothing that is forced can bring about good results."

Shahin Sayadi, OneLight's artistic director, who wrote the mandate, admits the added pressure of putting on a major production has been nerve-wracking. He even had to move his desk away from the window, because he couldn't stop staring at Neptune Theatre. But Sayadi has nothing but praise for the support he's received from Neptune and Mermaid.

"They've been great in understanding our position," says Sayadi. "I want my show told my way. There are certain aspects I wasn't willing to give up. Our philosophy has not changed. We're just lucky more people are interested in our work."

One of the aspects Sayadi wouldn't give up was his organic way of producing a play. When he first approached Neptune 18 months ago he didn't have a script, only an idea. The cast and crew went through counless table discussions and multiple workshops to develop a final version.

"I work visually with music and that's what I had to offer them. Very early on, we had to go through the social and political implications of the story. We don't pick up a script and say, "Let's work through it.'"

Neptune had to learn a new way of working. Usually they're familiar with a play before they produce it and will have an idea of how it should look.

Luke Brown, Neptune's artistic associate, credits Neptune's interest in OneLight to OneLight's track record, and the fact that Neptune has paid off the last of its deficit and is willing to take on riskier shows. He says Neptune Theatre has been reinvigorated by OneLight, which he calls "the little company that could."

Sayadi's original treatment of the Iranian text is still taped on the wall in OneLight's office. Tacked on the wall next to the pages are dozens of photographs of Iranian women and historical moments throughout the 20th century. He used the photos to help him tell the story from Khanoom's perspective and not his own. "The main thing to understand is we're not talking about someone. If anything, it's someone talking about us."

To maintain Khanoom's Iranian perspective, Sayadi directed the play in the Eastern style of drama that he grew up with as a child in Iran. He doesn't know how well the play will translate for a Western audience, but says he never concerned himself with a certain audience when he was at The Crib and that hasn't changed.

"I'd really like everybody to understand it, but I have to tell the story the way I hear and see it. There'll be Iranians who don't like some things and will criticize it, there will be Westerners who won't understand it."

Theatre-goers can expect a visual treat from OneLight. The set crew and wardrobe department had to span decades and recreate foreign lands. The projectionist went crazy, breaking the rules of photography and video to create interactive projections that assist in telling the story.

Sayadi identified closely with the book's characters, and it was the challenge of staging a story spanning 85 years that appealed to him. "You read a story and if you were a painter you'd see it and paint it. It's the same on stage, only I like to tell it with live actors. I found this was important to me and I wanted to share it."

The Veil at Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle, October 30 to November 18, Tuesday to Friday 8pm, Saturday 4pm and 8pm, Sunday 2pm and 7:30pm, $25-$15, 429-7070,

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