Regina theatre-goers can further their horizons by watching performances put on by Lexeme Theatre, a company its founder and artistic director, Ayesha Mohsin, calls Regina’s first multilingual theatre group.
Mohsin, whose group performs at the University of Regina, says it started when she noticed a demand for multicultural theatre.
“We [didn’t] have any performing arts theatre companies over here in Regina that do multicultural shows in immigrant languages,” said Mohsin. “I wanted to establish a place for them so that they can tell their stories, too.”
The group has students from Pakistan, India and other countries, all with their unique languages. Mohsin, a third-year University of Regina theatre student, is from Pakistan and is one of the only theatre students from outside Canada.
“There’s nobody else who’s doing training as an actor or as a designer who understands different immigrant languages.”
Mohsin thought of starting her company a few years ago; she took the leap last June.
“I [was] at a stage that I was thinking ‘Ok, when I go out of the university, what next?’ ” Mohsin said. “If I need to . . . work with immigrant language plays, I either have to move to a different city or start something myself, so I [was] like ‘Let’s just start something myself.’ ”
The company recently celebrated its first milestone with its production of “Bu,” meaning “smells” in Urdu, on Jan. 12. The play was performed completely in that language. Mohsin wrote and directed the show, and even had a supporting role in it.
“Originally I didn’t want to act in it,” said Mohsin, laughing. “[But] when it’s your first show you somehow [end up] doing everything by your own self.”
The company is made up of U of R students who handled every production aspect. Mohsin is the only theatre student, which she admits was difficult at first as she had to teach others about the craft.
“In theatre . . . we are trained in a very specific way,” she said. “So if you’re not from that background you don’t sometimes understand the importance of little things.”
One of those first-time students is Ahmed Cheema, the company’s assistant director. A third-year business administration student, he credits Mohsin for helping him understand his role.
“I sat down with [Mohsin] and she gave me some lessons,” said Cheema. “She explained everything to me about the role and about what I should do.”
Cheema was surprised when he and others were asked by Mohsin to join.
“We were not expecting that kind of idea because . . . [we] haven’t seen . . . that kid of diversity and multilingual theatre,” said Cheema.
Both Cheema and Mohsin said audiences have been surprised and delighted by the newest addition to the Queen City theatre scene. They said “Bu” was well attended with people excited that multilingual theatre is taking the spotlight.
Lexeme joins a growing diverse theatre scene in Regina that includes a recent LGBTQ+ theatre group’s performance at last year’s Regina International Fringe Festival and Deaf Crow’s Collective, a theatre group out of Thom Collegiate that features students with hearing impairments.
“I believe the basis of this country is based on diversity and multiculturalism,” Cheema said. “In any city you go, you’re going to find a lot people who do not speak one language. You’re giving them an opportunity to go out on the weekend and enjoy something in their language.”
Mohsin thinks Lexeme is a doorway where people from all over can express themselves.
“I think everyone needs a place where they can tell their stories and also learn this form of art,” she said. “We have a lot of people coming in from so many different parts of the world and they don’t have any platform to do anything like this.”
The group will also be performing plays in English, but Mohsin says people shouldn’t be discouraged from coming to a show in a language they may not understand.
“A good story is a good story is a good story,” she said. “So if you have a good story, everybody will come and watch it.”