Ninaz Khodaiji has an MA in Theatre Directing from Middlesex University and trained as an actor at the Herbert Berghof Studio and Lee Strasberg Institute, New York. She has worked for over two decades in theatre as a performer, director, writer, programmer and producer.
She was Writer-in-Residence at Oval House Theatre, London (2005 -2006). Other residencies include the Royal Court Theatre, Aldeburgh Music, Visiting Arts and Richmix. Ninaz was a theatre programmer at Watermans (2007-2012) and The Drum (2015-2016). She also worked in advertising and on a cruise ship.
London Prestige Interview with Ninaz Khodaiji
London Prestige: Tell us a little about yourself, growing up and your passions.
Ninaz Khodaiji: I grew up in Mumbai, went to drama school in New York (Herbert Berghof Studio and Lee Strasberg Institute) and did an MA in Theatre Directing at the Middlesex University. London is my creative home. I was Writer in Residence at Oval House Theatre, London and have developed work through 2 international residencies with the Royal Court Theatre.
Acting has always been my passion. I went on the professional stage when I was 16 and have acted in more plays than I can count. I write and direct, and am particularly influenced by film, which I also studied. I also worked as a theatre programmer for Watermans and The Drum.
My other great passion is travel – I worked on a cruise ship, spent time in South America and am always ready to pack my bag and set off on a new adventure!
London Prestige: What are you currently working on?
Ninaz Khodaiji: The White Plague, an immersive piece showing at the Landor Space April 7-22. Very exciting and innovative.
London Prestige: What made you take this role in “The White Plague”?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I thought the script was very good, showed excellent grasp of form, structure, drama and narrative, but was not afraid to mess around with it. Alex, the director, made a very good impression on me when we first met for the audition. More on that below.
Also, I was dying to do good, challenging theatre with wide appeal, without being pigeon-holed into limited Asian stereotypes. To me, this is about London as the mixed, cosmopolitan, international society it is today – which is where I feel I belong, as the person I really am.
London Prestige: What journey does your character go on in the course of the monologues?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I play the Doctor’s Wife, whose main conflict in the piece is between her humanity, her love for her husband and her need to survive. Her journey goes from being a loving wife with not very much power within her marriage, to finding her inner strength, becoming her true self and ultimately the leader of the quarantined blind – but all of this comes at a terrible price. She is the only person who can see throughout, a fact that she hides from the others.
London Prestige: Tell us a little bit more about this project, what is it about, who else are you working with, and who is the director?
Ninaz Khodaiji: We have an amazing team. Everyone is very dedicated and disciplined. I feel privileged to be offered the opportunity to work with all these formidably talented people.
About The White Plague
Following a sell-out international run, Ferodo Bridges’ immersive production about a city beset by an epidemic of blindness is re-imagined for London for a strictly limited run.
When a mysterious and fiercely contagious virus starts spreading among a major city’s population, causing all infected victims to lose their sight, the government takes emergency action and isolates those affected in unprepared and inaccessible facilities.
Imagining a London where people are driven to reveal the very brightest and darkest aspects of human nature, THE WHITE PLAGUE follows five of the infected, left to survive in inhumane conditions. In the midst of increasing discrimination and exploitation, with basic needs and even communication between them becoming a struggle, a woman will attempt to lead them to freedom.
For this uniquely immersive production the audience is placed right at the heart of the action, experiencing the world of the quarantine facility through every sense but their sight. Sharing the ‘white blindness’ of the characters, THE WHITE PLAGUE is a visceral, unforgettable experience, presented for a limited number of audience.
Written & Directed by Alexander Raptotasios
Adaptation in English & Dramaturgy by Gul Y. Davis
Designed by Marie-Cecil Inglessi
Assistant Director: Esther Fernández
Produced by James Haddrell
London Prestige: What is the most challenging role you have played and why?
Ninaz Khodaiji: Probably this. We have only our voices to work with for most of the piece, switching between narration, chorus, character and dialogue. And the material is very extreme! Also because I came in late, replacing another actor, and had about 2 and half weeks to prepare. I would have loved to be part of the devising work that went before.
London Prestige: And the most fun one?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I suppose the very first time I went on stage professionally. I was 17 or 18 and played Nancy in Gaslight. I remember going on stage before the first show, looking out at the large, empty theatre and how full of hopes and dreams and expectations it was. The whole future was out there!
London Prestige: Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?
Ninaz Khodaiji: Always the piece I am working on at the time.
London Prestige: What training / education do you have? How has your training prepared you for you acting career?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I went to drama school in New York (Herbert Berghof Studio and Lee Strasberg Institute) and did an MA in Theatre Directing at the Middlesex University. London is my creative home. I was Writer in Residence at Oval House Theatre, London and have developed work through 2 international residencies with the Royal Court Theatre. I would say that drama school is much better grounding for an actor than university. As a writer, the two residencies with the Royal Court Theatre were absolutely invaluable to me in terms of learning the craft. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to do all this.
London Prestige: Is there any academy or professional in the field that you enjoyed working with that you would like to recommend in your city?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I have loved working with Ferodo Bridges. I hope there will be further opportunities to do so again.
Ninaz Khodaiji: I would love to work at the Barbican Centre, Almeida Theatre and of course, the National Theatre!
London Prestige: Who is your favorite director to work with and why?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I would love to work with Alexander Raptotasios and Esther Fernandez again. It has been a privilege to work with them. Unlike a lot of UK directors who come from Oxford or Cambridge, Alex has proper drama school training and so has much better understanding of the actors’ processes. He also has his own creative vision and he is not afraid to follow it – he is both persistent and tactful. He also brings to the work other European influences – this piece is structured like Greek drama with a chorus and narration, and is even a bit Brechtian, which resonates beautifully with the material. I have learned a lot from this process.
I love directors’ theatre. The other directors I really would like to work with are Rupert Goolde, Robert Lepage, Simon McBurney, Phyllida Lloyd, Rebecca Frecknall, Katie Mitchell, Rufus Norris.
As a young actor in Mumbai, I trained with a very gifted director, the late Satya Dev Dubey. I learned much from working with him.
London Prestige: Have you ever considered branching out into directing or screenwriting?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I am also a director and a published playwright. I have directed Insomnia, Strangers and Damage in London (Oval House, Hackney Empire Studio, Richmix.) Insomnia was developed through the Royal Court Theatre, has been published 3 times and was on the syllabus of two universities.
London Prestige: Where have you played a lead role? What was the character about?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I started acting as teenager in Mumbai, and have done many lead roles over the years – details in the attached CV. When I moved to the UK, I started directing and writing instead, as I felt opportunities as an actor would be limited for me here. I did the lead in a very promising R&D of a piece called Tree of Seeds at Richmix in 2013, by an American writer. I am delighted to be doing the White Plague.
London Prestige: Do you have any theatrical experience? What plays have you performed?
Ninaz Khodaiji: Theatre: Tree of Seeds – Actors’ Centre and Richmix (November 2013). Damage (April 2013) Richmix, London; Dharma Donuts – staged reading (Chicago, 2011). Love Letters from the Middle East – R&D, (UK 2011). Close Quarters (2002), Taking Sides (2000-01), The Wasteland & The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1999-2000), The Taming of the Shrew – Katherine (1999), Jump 1, Jump 2 & Flight (1997), Steel Magnolias (1995-6), Charivari (1994 & 1996), Jugalbandi (1993), Sambhog Thi Sanyas Sudhi – Satyadev Dubey (1992), The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigoldsl (1992), Upar Gagan, Neeche Dharti, Extermination (preface to G.B. Shaw’s On The Rocks) – Satyadev Dubey (1990), Sambhog Se Sanyas Tak – Satyadev Dubey (1990), The Trojan Women, (1989-90), As You Love It , Suddenly Last Summer (1988), Gaslight (1987), Nuts (1986), Skirmishes (1988-90).
Film & TV: Justice League (Greengrocer – Warner Bros) 2017; Pardaa – short film (2017) Feature film Shandaar (2014-15); Lead role in FTII Diploma film Death of a Prodigal Son (T. Mahesh, 1993); FTII short film Short Letter, Long Farewell (Subhadra Choudhury,1993); Anything Goes – fashion program for BiTV (1995/6); cultural show for DD3, student films at Columbia University, NY(1994), Rangberangi – TV series; National Parliamentary Quiz – UTV; Yes Sir – video series by Akik Chitra; The Time of Your Life – AV Other: Movies 24 Ident; Ancestry.co.uk Ident (2015 – 16); Tropical Sun TVC (2014); Print/Web shoot, BNY Mellon (2013); Stand Up Comedy (2013-14). Skillsoft Training Video (2015)
London Prestige: If you weren’t acting what would you be doing?
Ninaz Khodaiji: Directing, Writing. Or I might still be in advertising where I worked for almost 9 years (Lintas, D’Arcy, Publicis). Maybe working as a TV scriptwriter? I would certainly be earning more.
London Prestige: What have you seen lately that’s inspired you?
Ninaz Khodaiji: A brilliant satirical film called the Square, by Michael Haneke – about art, society, self… I got out of bed on Monday morning, my first day off in a while, and went straight to the cinema. Also, Summer and Smoke – like most things at the Almeida, excellent. Network at the National.
London Prestige: What television shows or show would you love most to be on?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I want to be a doctor on Holby City – I have auditioned for it twice. I really like some of the series on ITV (e.g. Dr. Foster, Cold Feet) and BBC2 as well. 2012 is my favourite show of all time, W1A too. Mad Men!
London Prestige: What’s your goal for this year?
Ninaz Khodaiji: I would love to do more proper acting work. More theatre and would love to be in a TV series.
London Prestige: What is your advice for aspiring actors?
Ninaz Khodaiji: Don’t let people discourage you. Be prepared to work very hard. Public failure is part of the deal. And it might be a good idea to qualify yourself for a well-paying day job on the side – even if a career might place conflicting demands on you, good employers might be understanding. I worked in advertising, but that was in another life – savings are useful when you make the inevitable leap to a full-time vocation in the arts.