Isha Menon is a Canberra based actress who has had a diverse experience working in theatre and film in India, the Netherlands, and Australia. She has worked with Korzo Theatre in the Netherlands in their production of Mazza Mazza, and worked in film in India under the direction of M.P. Sukumaran in the production Dhrishtantham (the Vision). In Australia, Isha has performed in Spaces’ Mother and In Our Own Skin, Canberra Repertory’s Don Parties On and The Anchor Theatre Company’s How Are You?. Isha has also participated in a number of creative developments with The Street Theatre, such as F*cking Parasites, The Dark White, and Hired Mother. She is very excited to be part of the Street’s Boys Will Be Boys!
THE STREET TALKED TO ISHA MENON BEFORE THE SEASON OF BOYS WILL BE BOYS.
YOUR FIRST PROFESSIONAL THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE WAS AT THE AGE OF SEVEN IN THE CADANCE FESTIVAL IN THE HAGUE. THREE YEARS LATER YOU ACTED IN AN AWARD WINNING INDIAN FILM. DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE AN ACTOR?
Actually, not at all! Acting in theatre and film was always a big passion of mine, and something I enjoyed from a really young age. I remember that when I was part of Mazza Mazza in the Cadance Festival and Dhrishtantham in India, I would love rehearsing and performing so much that I would forget to even be nervous on stage! However, while I think I always loved acting, I don’t think I gave being an actor any serious thought before I was twelve years old. I remember seriously deciding that I would love to make a career out of acting when I was sixteen years old. Before then (if I could fixate on a career for longer than 24 hours) I would have considered being a doctor, a musician, a teacher or a novelist before I would consider becoming an actor!
YOU ARE ABOUT TO PLAY THE ROLE OF PRIYA, THE YOUNG PROTÉGÉ OF THE RUTHLESS STOCKBROKER ASTRID WENTWORTH. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE?
When I read the scenes for the audition for Boys Will Be Boys, I was really struck by Priya’s absolute confidence in herself and her abilities, and the way she is an intelligent, fiercely ambitious and savvy young women who is completely unapologetic about it! However, what really drew me to Priya were her moments of doubt. Melissa Bubnic has written this character beautifully, and I found it fascinating to see this strong, pragmatic and driven character suddenly find herself on shaky ground, and see that she can be vulnerable and uncertain as well. Priya is a wonderfully complex character who undergoes such a transformation through the play. I’m excited to see what else we discover about her through rehearsal!
THE WORK DEALS WITH CONTEMPORARY GENDER ISSUES, THE POWER STUGGLES TO SUCCEED IN A MAN’S WORLD AND THE SACRIFICES WOMEN MAKE. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THIS?
I think a play like this is incredibly relevant to today’s world! I am definitely of the opinion that sexism has not gone away, but simply taken on murkier, more complicated forms, and that realising the feminist agenda is perhaps more difficult today than it ever was. I find that Melissa Bubnic’s play deals with the complexities of female empowerment today without simplifying the issue, or taking an easy route out and presenting a whole bunch of stereotypes and clichés. It poses some pretty difficult questions on how far women are willing to go to get into the ‘boys club’!
REHEARSALS START SOON. WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS IN A WORK LIKE THIS?
I think for a play like Boys Will Be Boys, which has such a complicated and strong political message to it, it can be really tempting to get lost in the intellectual side of things and fail to realise the wonderfully human characters and relationships within the play. For a play like this, I try and do as much research as I can on the world of the play (getting my head around the world of high finance when I haven’t done maths since college is definitely going to be a challenge!) but also on feminism, ‘raunch culture’ and sexism in the workplace today. I try to keep the intellectual grounded in the human struggles and relationships of the work, and so try to do a lot of character work as well.
WHERE DOES ISHA MENON MEET PRIYA?
In some ways we’re pretty similar, but in other ways we’re worlds apart! Just like Priya does, I also have an Indian background, and share her experience of being a migrant in a first world, Western country. Priya also has a pretty dark and wicked sense of humour, which I have to say I share! However, there’s a scene in Boys Will Be Boys where she is astonished at a co-worker who professes an interest in working in theatre. As a South Asian who can’t solve arithmetic to save my life, I would be baffled by anyone who wants a career in finance! Priya also has a hard, brutal and ambitious side to her that is worlds away from how I live my life, and it will be really interesting to explore this.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO A SUCCESSFUL AND FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AN ACTOR AND DIRECTOR?
I think what’s really important for the actor-director relationship is flexibility and adaptability on the part of the actor, as well as a willingness to give something a go, even if they might look like a bit of an idiot! It also makes for a far more fruitful rehearsal period. I feel like I have always gotten much more out of working with directors and rehearsal when I feel like all the actors involved are willing to experiment and try things, even if they might not actually think it will work.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LIVE PERFORMANCE IN CANBERRA AND THE STREET.
I think that a lot of interesting and intelligent work goes on in the live performance scene in Canberra. Through being involved with the stage scene here, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a lot of experimental work and theatre that challenges its actors and audience to think differently. I’ve found working with The Street on a number of developments and play readings to be really inspiring in this way! Through working on play readings like F*cking Parasites and in developments like The Dark White and Hired Mother, I feel like I’ve not only learnt a lot as an actor, but also as a human being. I think that the live performance scene in Canberra has a lot of this work going on, and isn’t recognised enough for this!
ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS? IS THERE A PROCESS THAT YOU ALWAYS LIKE TO GO THROUGH BEFORE STEPPING OUT ON STAGE?
I generally try to avoid letting myself get superstitious about anything, but despite this I do find superstitious habits creep in to my performance preparations! It tends to change with every production. In the last production I was involved in, we wore socks as part of our costume. I hadn’t consciously noted this, but I’d gotten into the habit of wearing them inside out during rehearsals, and kept this up for the first two performances. On the third performance night, when I noticed myself meticulously putting on my socks the wrong way, I forced myself to stop. Even though I kept telling myself that the way I put on my socks has no logical repercussion on the performance that was the most nerve-racking performance of the season!
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
I’m a bit of a latecomer to the Netflix craze, but I have become hopelessly hooked on the show Suits! I love the tight, sharp scripting and quirky characters, and especially since working on Boys Will Be Boys, I’ve come to really appreciate the high intensity, corporate world of law. The power struggles and politics of the corporate world in Suits really resonated for me in preparing for Boys.
WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I’m a pretty big sci-fi and fantasy buff! When I was six years old, my life’s ambition was to go to Hogwarts and become a witch. In my spare time, I enjoy reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi literature, and have recently been reading Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind series as well as Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. Two very different authors with very different styles, but both amazing nonetheless! The graphic novel series East of West and Descender are both epic sci-fi sagas about the politics of the nation-state and culture clash that have me hooked at the moment.