With so many “moving pieces” in a story still unfolding, Surrey’s Gavan Cheema finds it exhilarating to work on a theatre project about the largest so-called “ponzi” scheme in B.C. history.
Victim Impact, written by former newspaper reporter Tim Carlson, is a ripped-from-the-headlines account of notary public Rashida Samji’s scheme to defraud close to 300 investors who believed their money was being funneled into a winery’s planned expansion.
For her role in the $110-million scam, Samji was sentenced in 2016 to six years in prison, and in late May lost her bid to have an appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
BREAKING NEWS! SAMJI GOING TO JAIL! @CBC The fraudster has lost her Supreme Court appeal and has been ordered to surrender. Find out the whole story at #VictimImpact, June 8-17, 2018 at @TheCultch https://t.co/mfAV5m6gBc
— Theatre Conspiracy (@Conspiracy_Now) June 2, 2018
Starting Friday (June 8), the “live” documentary theatre-style Victim Impact play is brought to Vancouver’s Cultch theatre by Theatre Conspiracy, a company founded in 1995 to provide “a platform for artists creating contemporary work for stage and media to investigate new directions in society, politics, and culture.”
The play is directed by Jiv Parasram, with Cheema in the roles of assistant director and community outreach.
Victim Impact follows the Samji case through the courts and “down the money trail,” according to a release. “This innovative piece of theatre looks at the fallout for those affected as they got sucked into the vortex of civil and criminal trials.”
For Cheema, the play represents a first for her in the genre of documentary theatre.
“I had heard about the case before but didn’t know there was a play being written about it,” she told the Now-Leader, “and my sister actually worked on the case. She’s a lawyer, so I heard about it through the media and because she was working on it, but didn’t really know how large the case really was.”
The lawyer-sister, Manjot Cheema, helped the theatre company connect the dots with the case, Cheema said.
“She connected us with people we could chat with about it, but when it comes to details she can’t really share anything with us, other than the law and how it works, that kind of thing, which is really helpful, but there’s a lot of stuff she can’t share,” Cheema noted.
Parasram recently won the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award.
“It is amazing to be doing a show that addresses an issue that has impacted so many people in the Lower Mainland, with a company that has such rich history in innovation and political theatre,” Parasram stated in a release.
With the staging of Victim Impact, Cheema’s job involves doing research and refining story details, and also supporting the director and actors – “just being that extra set of eyes, where needed, to make it all come to life.”
It’s been a fantastic few weeks of rehearsals for the play, she added.
“Everyone has been great and really open to change and ideas, because the case is still going on, right, so there are a lot of moving pieces with this, and that’s just the nature of it, a documentary theatre piece like this,” Cheema explained. “The story is still going on, so it makes it really exciting.… It’s powerful.”
Nimet Kanji leads the cast as Samji, and is joined by Jenn Griffin, Risha Nanda, Allan Morgan and Munish Sharma, all in multiple roles.
The play is written by Carlson, Theatre Conspiracy’s artistic director, in partnership with Playwrights Theatre Centre’s Kathleen Flaherty, visuals designer Milton Lim and sound designer David Mesiha.
Stated Carlson in a release: “From Samji’s claim that she was the ultimate victim, to the tangle of court trials and attempts to get money back to the victims, the show exposes the dramatic effects of a vicious scam. It destroyed the hopes and dreams of hundreds of people including Samji’s family members and friends. And they are not satisfied that justice is being done.”
The theatrical performance of Victim Impact involves a podcast series called Victim Impact: The Fraudcast, available at conspiracy.ca and other platforms.
At the Cultch, a post-show feedback session with the play’s creators will be held on Tuesday, June 12, and a community forum will follow the 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, June 16. For tickets and show times, visit conspiracy.ca or call 604-251-1363.