Fenulla Jiwani was destined for greatness before she was even born.
Her birth name, meaning queen, was chosen by her aunt, who found it in an ancient scripture but isn’t sure which one. “My aunt doesn’t even remember where she read it,” Jiwani joked.
Jiwani, 26, is currently touring with 30 Dates, a play she wrote, produced and now stars in. The play is about a woman who is trying to find true love in a time of Facebook and ticking biological clocks.
This marks Jiwani’s official return to the Montreal stage; the last time she performed here was four years ago at the Montreal Fringe Festival, her acting debut.
The Toronto native was inspired to write the play while eating lunch outside of a golf course. She began by simply writing “30 dates” on the top of a sheet of paper, which led her to think about true love. “I wrote down all my ideas, about speed dating and Internet dating,” she said, and came up with an idea for a play. This “divine inspiration,” as she refers to it, led her to book a local theatre two days later, without a script, a cast or a director. With only a few months to put the entire show together, Jiwani took a huge risk that payed off. 30 Dates was a hit.
It was so successful that Jiwani decided to book another theatre in Toronto followed by a third.
Now a certified crowd pleaser, Jiwani decided to take the show on tour. “First we brought it to Vancouver, [which is] like a second home because I have so much family there, then we went to London, Ontario and now we’re coming to Montreal.”
Armed with two degrees– education and psychology– Jiwani did not plan on becoming an actress or a playwrigh, although she’d danced and sung since the age of five, theatre was only an unrequited dream. That is, until she entered the workforce. “I was two weeks into my teaching job, teaching grade two,” she said, “[when I realized] it wasn’t my passion.” Jiwani soon took a leave of absence from teaching and enrolled at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts.
After honing her acting skills, she realized that there were very few roles available to her. “There were only stereotypical roles for South Asian women,” she said. In order to create acting opportunities for herself and others in her community, Jiwani opened her own theatre company, Fenstar Productions.
Jiwani is certainly driven, something she credits her parents for. “I’m very passionate at what I do,” she said. “My parents [both refugees from the Idi Amin regime in Uganda] always instilled in me to work hard, to put food on the table.” Jiwani also credits much of her drive to pageantry: performing and speaking in front of crowds earned her confidence and the Miss Uganda crown.
Some have questioned her ability to write about dating, she has not been on a date with a man other than her husband since she was 18. Yet, Jiwani says she still has plenty of dating experience under her belt: some of the dates that go awry in the show stem from her past trysts.
Many of the the play’s modern dates arranged through Facebook or online dating sites end poorly, but Jiwani says that it’s still a viable way to find love. “I would totally go online,” she said . “I know so many people who have had success online. My friends came to see me after the show [one night] and told me they met online, they were just too embarrassed to tell me before.”
30 Dates has been successful because anyone can relate to it. “I have had women come up to me and say ‘I have been on every single one of those dates,'” Jiwani said. From the guy who lies about his Internet profile picture to the mama’s boy, every archetype is covered.
After her Montreal gig, Jiwani hopes to bring 30 Dates to the United Kingdom. This time, she won’t be the only queen present.
30 Dates play at the Centaur theatre from Sept. 23 to 26. Tickets for students are $20 in advance, $24 at the door. Adult tickets are $24 in advance, $27 at the door.