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July 8, 2015

Why Not Theatre on the world premiere of Gimme Shelter

On stage at the Young Centre as part of PANAMANIA from July 13 – 25
For tickets visit


It’s hard to explain (in a succinct way) what Gimme Shelter is about. At the centre of the show is one question: What can one person do to influence change? We at Why Not Theatre arrived at this question via a staggering statistic: by 2020 some 7 million Bangladeshis will be displaced by rising sea levels caused by climate change.

An early draft of Gimme Shelter tried to tackle this story from the perspective of a new category of migrants, the “climate refugee.” We started by creating an adaptation of the fable of the Three Little Pigs, in which the analogy was the pigs were refugees being driven from their homes by a coming storm instead of a big bad wolf. The first workshops focused on the story of a refugee (the pig), whose home has gone under water, trying to take shelter at his brother’s home. We soon realized that the fable didn’t give us the depth of story we needed to explore a very complicated issue. Why Not’s Artistic Director Ravi Jain found in his writing exercises that the stronger narrative was the perspective of the privileged Westerner, whose actions and luxuries are what ultimately lead to the suffering of millions on the other side of the world. He wondered, what can we do as a society when faced with the challenge of seeing ourselves in those who are being displaced because our actions? How do we actually make a change, when we feel so powerless?


In grappling with these big questions, we looked to the ancient texts, in particular a segment from the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is a chapter from the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata, and translates roughly to “Song of God.” It essentially contains a synopsis of the entire Vedic philosophy of life and the universe. Within its many layers of wisdom is a central concept of universal oneness, oneness in which everything in the universe and all its living creatures are interconnected. This is where we found our point of view for Gimme Shelter: the only way forward is for us is to really see the interconnectedness of all people, not just those we can see, but those we don’t see, whose lives we are impacting with our choices every day.


To find a dramatic way to explore this we read the Mahabharata itself, and created a new adaptation that uses the epic ancient tale to examine where we are today. The character that Ravi plays has changed from that of the climate refugee to that of an old storyteller who guides us on this journey, playing himself and all of the story’s characters. The ending of the show is the most exciting part, as our goal with this new direction has been to find a way to engage the story directly with the audience, so that it can affect change beyond the walls of the theatre. To find this level of engagement we break some theatrical conventions with a radical shift best experienced first-hand.


Post by Owais Lightwala, Artistic Producer, Why Not Theatre
Gimme Shelter rehearsal photos by David Leclerc