Review: How to Fail as a Popstar

by Lynn on February 20, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Vivek Shraya
Photo: Dahlia Katz

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs.

Written and performed by Vivek Shraya

Directed by Brendan Healy

Choreography by William Long

Set and costumes by Joanna Yu

Lighting by C.J. Astronomo

Composition by Vivek Shraya and James Bunton

Sound by James Bunton

From the program: “Vivek Shraya is an artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, theatre and film.” She’s written a searing book of raw emotion with  “I’m Afraid of Men”. She’s recorded albums of her music. She’s written books of poetry.  A novel is about to be published. But all she really wanted in this life of accomplishment was to be a popstar. It’s not for lack of trying.

Vivek Shraya arrives on stage ‘before’ the performance begins to explain what she means by failing to be a popstar (her spelling).  It means she’s not God. She’s not Madonna. She has not performed on the international stage to great acclaim.

When she returns to the stage she wears a diaphanous gold coat over a short, black jumpsuit. Kudo’s to Joanna Yu for the costume and set design. The set is a large circle of cables on the floor. Inside the circle is a guitar on a stand and a stool. Occasionally Vivek Shraya brings a stand microphone into the circle.

For her show Vivek Shraya takes her audience on her long journey to be a popstar.

Through luck and coincidence she has always been singing beginning at the local religious centre. In public and high school Shraya identified as a queer boy who endured homophobic taunts.

Shraya was recognized for the singing ability by people in the business which lead to getting to know singers who were impressed with the resulting songs Shraya wrote. This lead to moving from Edmonton to Toronto to live with a woman who wanted to promote Shraya. This didn’t work out, which lead to other opportunities in Paris, France and a recording contract and more albums. We get a good sense of Shraya’s work.

Shraya is trusting, bold, curious and cautious in this pursuit and also recognizes when something is a bad idea.

Shraya says there are 40 reasons why pop stardom did not result, some of which were: being born in Edmonton, being born brown, queer and trans. Shraya identifies as she.

She does not go into when the change in identity happened because she dwells on her journey to pop stardom.  As she goes through the 40 reasons why she is a failure as a popstar, the audience is absolutely silent as the reasons become more and more personal.

Some of the reasons seem self-deprecating, but I don’t think the show is a ploy to win our sympathy. Vivek Shraya is such a charming presence, sings beautifully and certainly has a facility with lyrics, that she draws in her audience. I don’t think it a stretch to say they are rooting for her all the way. If anything Shraya illuminates a work ethic that is strong and steady and left it to us to figure out that stardom often does not rely on hard work and creativity. She took every opportunity that was presented and created others to achieve her dream.  Sometimes it’s just luck that makes the difference.  She’s made her luck and fought hard for what she has achieved. She’s a good story-teller with a sense of humour.

She touches on the personal issues she’s had because she is brown, queer and trans but only as a means of forwarding the story, and informing us of the kind of personal ethics she has. It’s also beautifully directed with sensitivity by Brendan Healy.

We might disagree with her assessment of her failure but it’s her show and she gets to decide what is a success and what isn’t. One thing is for sure—this show is a winner.

Canadian Stage presents:

Opened: Feb. 19, 2020.

Closes: March 1, 2020.

Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission.

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