What would you do if a trusted neighbour, friend or even family member convinced you to invest your life savings into what turned out to be a complete scam?
Theatre Conspiracy’s newest show, Victim Impact, relays the story of Rashida Samji’s $110-million Ponzi scheme that defrauded hundreds of people in B.C. and focuses on the impact it had on the victims and their community.
True to life
Former notary Rashida Samji ripped off over two hundred people over the course of nearly a decade before her Ponzi scheme was finally broken open in 2012. A large number of the victims were members of Surrey’s South Asian community, and many of them were family and friends of Samji. Samji pleaded guilty to fraud but the case has still dragged on through to the present day. Victim Impact, which runs at The Cultch from June 8–17, is a documentary show, taking much of its content directly from the real-life case.
“The writer of the show [Tim Carlson] had a real interest in the story,” says Jiv Parasram, the director of Victim Impact. “This was a case where there was a fair amount of documentation, so he was able to conduct interviews with people who were affected by it.”
Much of the text of the show comes from interviews with various victims, while some of it also comes directly from court documents. For Parasram, what drew him to this production was the scope of the case.
“I got drawn in by the sheer impact it’s had on people,” he says. “It wouldn’t seem to be on the surface as thrilling as a bank heist, but there’s something about being able to take the time to sort through and see the absurdity of the system and rationalize why people made these decisions that led to them being ripped off.”
While Samji might seem like she’s the main character in this story, Victim Impact looks to focus instead more on those affected by this scam and relay their story in a way that properly conveys the weight of the betrayal they suffered.
“Part of what we’re trying to work with is the storytelling aspect of it all,” says Parasram. “When you look at the court documentation it’s fairly emotionless. We’re trying to see how we can tell the story with the sheer effect it’s had on people and the community.”
The impact of theatre
Theatre Conspiracy’s work with the Samji case has not been limited to just the stage. They have also produced Victim Impact: The Fraudcast, a podcast that gives detailed context of the scheme and includes some longer interviews.
“There’s a lot of shared content between the show and the podcast,” says Parasram. “The podcast is more thorough: it follows a more traditional documentary form and goes into great detail. The play is more of the emotional end.”
Parasram believes the emotional end is the key to the show. While a story can be consumed in many different formats, he sees theatre as a way to engage with this material in a unique way.
“I think what is unique about theatre is that it’s not isolated: we have a group of people who have agreed to be in a room together and take in information together. Considering that [this scam] is something that had a huge impact on a community, watching in this way seems almost essential.”
And while watching the show, Parasram hopes that the audience will not see it as a simple, cut and dried case.
“I want them to waver back and forth,” he says. “I want them to have moments where they can really empathize with what happens and can see that there’s a gray area in terms of the motivations behind someone. I also hope people will have a bit more of an understanding of how not to be ripped off.”
For more information on the show and the related podcast, visit www.conspiracy.ca