Meet the director bringing multicultural storytelling, authentic accents and therapeutic improv to The Phoenix Theatre Company.
A few years ago, The Phoenix Theatre Company was growing rapidly but couldn’t yet afford long-term dialect coaches to teach actors crackerjack Cockney brogues and sweet Southern drawls. Luckily, they had someone waiting in the wings who spoke Farsi, French and Italian, plus collected regional patois after overcoming a French accent that rivaled Pepé Le Pew’s.
That person was Pasha Yamotahari. Since joining The Phoenix Theatre Company in 2009, Yamotahari has taken on numerous roles, including associate producing director, dramaturge, dialect coach and fight choreographer. Whatever he’s doing, he strives to “always be an authentic, truthful, original storyteller with a unique voice… and to inspire others to tell their stories.”
To add authenticity to the Irish musical Once, he hung out with street performers in Dublin. Before directing the Gloria Estefan musical, On Your Feet!, this fall, he hopes to scope out the music scenes in Miami and Cuba.
Yamotahari’s globetrotting life fuels his skills as a storyteller. He was born in Iran at the dawn of the revolution of 1979. His family fled to southern France, where he was raised before moving to Toronto, entering the film industry, then relocating to Phoenix to help his sister after she gave birth to conjoined twins. Every year, he directs Ollivander’s Wand Shop Experience in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios Japan.
On a recent European sabbatical, he spoke with theater groups about dialects and his work as artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Company’s outreach program Partners That Heal. The program’s members visit children in hospitals and create personalized improvisational games that lift their mood and reduce their fears. Many kids start out unable to talk to hospital staff because of anxiety or shame, Yamotahari says. Then “[we] get them to smile and open up and laugh. And when we visit them again, we almost feel like we’re visiting a friend, and they feel the same. There’s just thousands of stories like that.”