While it may seem like the Bikram yoga world doesn’t need any more drama, actor/writer Leigh Fitzjames is giving the popular hot yoga style the dramatic treatment.
Her latest stage play Love and Light explores yogic philosophy specifically related to Bikram’s style of hot yoga. This one-woman production follows Celine, a tormented woman who has fallen in love after having a one night stand with Bikram Choudhury. Celine locks herself in her apartment, waiting 90 days for her lover to return. With dialogue and lyrics adapted from the Bikram classroom script (e.g, “Bend me over like a Japanese ham sandwich”), the yogi’s journey is reexamined as a love story.
The content of the play is entirely fictional, although it takes on new resonance after news broke this week that a former student has sued Choudhury for sexual harassment. I asked Fitzjames a few questions about the production before news of the scandal hit.
Which came first for you: acting/theatre or yoga? How does your yoga practice inform or support your creative work?
First of all, let’s say yoga is the practice of being infinite, honouring the collective breath and challenging us to release expectations and go beyond the perceived limits of our bodies – what a powerful base for creative work!
Theatre came first, but since 2006 I have been on the mat with most of my collaborators and many of my audience members. I identify as a yogi amongst many things and make work from what I know. In art, I only see yogis depicted as ‘out of this world’ characters, wimpy and deluded. Get real! Then there is all that emphasis on body bending and veganism. I am trying to create fuller characters.
How can yoga be a dramatic text?
In yoga we are taught to be compassionate and loving beings, to accept things without judgement. But those things don’t make for a good story – where’s the dramatic conflict?! In yoga there are many challenges. There is resistance in the world around us and within our own body and minds. That’s the dramatic conflict, the wanting to be something beyond human. It can be very antisocial and humbling.
Has Bikram Choudhury himself heard about the play? He has a reputation for taking legal action against anyone who tries to use his script or threaten his brand – are you concerned that he might try to sue you?
I don’t think he has heard of the play, but I would want him to know that I write with the intention of celebrating him and the lessons he has taught me – to not be afraid, to go deeper. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Travelling with this play has been a gift in the way it has helped me connect with yogis and give them something to laugh about. I’d be honored to connect with Bikram in any way – if he wishes to sue, I trust his judgement!
Leigh Fitzjames is a New Zealand-born actor and writer who recently moved to New York City. She has performed with The Shelter Theater Company, The Actor’s Project and Clifton King Productions.
Love and Light will show in Montreal and NYC, with other US dates being announced soon.
Montreal: Mainline Theatre, 3997 St Laurent
8pm Friday, March 22
New York: The Producers Club, 358 W44 St
8pm Sunday, March 31