Back in 2005, actor Sanjay Talwar did something unusual in Pi Theatre’s production of Helen’s Necklace. He played five characters, earning him a Jessie Award.
This holiday season, Talwar will go well beyond that. The versatile actor is taking on all 40 characters in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol at the Firehall Arts Centre.
In this one-person show, the veteran of Shaw and Stratford festivals will perform everyone from the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future to members of the Cratchit family to Ebenezer Scrooge.
“The longest one-person show that I’ve done to this point about a 17-minute monologue for an arts festival a long time ago,” Talwar tells Pancouver over Zoom.
“It’s storytelling at the end of the day, but around trying to inhabit all these different people. It’s a fun challenge.”
In A Christmas Carol, author Charles Dickens shows how Scrooge’s childhood and young adulthood led him to become so disgusted with the world. As an actor, Talwar considers all of this in his portrayal.
“In broad strokes, how does being raised in an orphanage, rejected by your father, sent off to a really bad, rough kind of boarding school—how does that make you feel?” Talwar asks. “And when the one person who’s in your corner is your younger sister and she dies in childbirth, how do you look at your nephew and how do you treat him?”
For Talwar, the central question of the play is whether these experiences result in Scrooge being beyond the ability to care or love or have hope for the world.
“It’s a very romantic notion to think that most people in most experiences are never beyond that kind of reclamation,” he says. “And that’s why I think it’s such an endearing story.”
Talwar never stops learning
Talwar describes himself as “an embedded artist at the Shaw Festival”, which means he’s mostly based at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. He says that the festival encourages him to work in other places so he can learn and grow as an artist.
In fact, he’s a lifelong student of the craft. And he’s not shy about saying that actors who lose their curiosity should stop performing on-stage.
“When you don’t have anything to learn, you really have nothing to say,” Talwar declares.
Talwar also has some advice for young people considering a career in acting.
“Listen as much as you can, on-stage, off-stage. Everywhere you are, listen,” he says.
As a young actor, the best guidance he received was “don’t stop doing everything else.” By this, he means keep going out into the world and experiencing as much as possible.
Inside the theatre, he says that young actors should never say “no” to doing various tasks unless there’s an absolutely compelling reason not to do something.
“Having the experience is the way you learn the most, I’ve found,” Talwar says.
From sciences to the stage
It’s quite remarkable that the Halifax-born actor has enjoyed such a long career on-stage, given that he focused on the sciences in high school. He enrolled in Dalhousie University with the goal of earning a bachelor of science degree.
“But in my senior year of high school, I joined the drama club,” he reveals. “I got to work at the local cable station in Halifax. We did a weekly show that was loosely based on SCTV at the time.”
His “a-ha” moment came in his high school drama festival. He had a medium-sized part in a musical, but had to suddenly take on the starring role when the lead actor disappeared.
“I never experienced anything like that,” Talwar recalls. “It was really exciting. It scared the heck out of me at the same time. So, I was interested enough that I took theatre as an elective while I was working on my honours BSc.”
For many years, Talwar was a rarity—a stage actor of South Asian ancestry who was performing at the highest levels in Canada. But he dismisses any suggestion that he was a trailblazer.
“There were a few others who sort of trailblazed and had been the Jackie Robinsons of various backgrounds,” Talwar says. “So, it was always about paying respect to the Sam Moses of the world, who had been on the Stratford stage 30 years previous.”
The Firehall Arts Centre presents Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol from December 14 to 24. For tickets and information, visit the website. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.