Chai Stand Chats: Justin Lewis - Indian Ink Theatre Company

Chai Stand Chats: Justin Lewis

Justin Lewis sits smiling at the camera while tying his sock on his front pouch. HIs tan coloured dog is sitting next to him.

We sit down with Director and Co-writer of Guru of Chai Justin Lewis to get some behind the scenes thoughts on the show.

What are your main intentions and ideas for Guru of Chai?
A key element of storytelling is that it requires direct address to the audience. Making this exciting, natural and fun was a big part of our work. Finding the character of Kutisar, his mask (a set of teeth) and kind of clown for Jacob became central to the direction of the show. Making this character the storyteller affected how the tale was told. It led to the idea that he was a ‘guru’ which in turn sets up the frame for the story. The guru is in room with the audience promising to take away all their troubles – to do this he tells them a story. This frame is critical to the success of the whole production.

Another key idea for the show was that the first performances would take place in people’s homes. This creates a set of technical limitations (small playing area, portable set and props, limited lights and sound) and also sets up a particular dynamic between the performer and the audience. These became key elements in shaping the production.


What excites you about this production?
I love the way the story moves through time and space. I love the way the storytelling allows Jacob to evoke characters with just a few words, his body and voice. I love the live music and I love the intimate relationship between storyteller and audience. And I love how naughty and irreverent Kutisar is.

What are the challenges of having an actor play multiple characters?
You need an actor who has the facility to really change their voices and body and create a physical change for the different characters. This requires time in the rehearsal process to allow them to explore, make mistakes and build up the shape of the various characters. Also, when constructing the play, time needs to be allowed for the actor to make costume changes.

What inspired you to tell this story?
Our work often results from a number of elements combining. For Guru, we had the idea of doing a storytelling piece that would launch in people’s homes, we’d met a dance teacher in Bali who became an inspiration for the character of Kutisar, I’d met a fortune telling scam artist in Singapore and we had this fairy tale called Punchkin. These elements all underpin the play.

How did you discover The Tale of Punchkin? And why did you choose that story?
Jacob found the story. It’s a vast, sprawling, not very well written tale but there were some elements that got under our skin. The key image was of a man who keeps his soul in a cage. This fascinated us and became a central idea as we made the play.

When writing, what is the relationship like between you and Jake?
We talk a lot. We will spend hours and hours, and days and days talking. It’s one of the great things, because writing is often a lonely process, so having someone to collaborate with is good. We’re both theatre-makers because we like to collaborate. And we each have our own strengths, Jake’s really good on dialogue and character, and my strength is on the architecture, on the more structural sort of stuff. So, we kind of have complementary skills. What also works is that we know how to talk to one another about the work and we can disagree about what the right thing is. And in those discussions about the work we talk about what is right for the story and what’s right for the character, rather than arguments about who’s right or wrong.