Mán Melá Theatre Company was founded by writer-director Dominic Rai in 1993 in south-east London. The name, Mán Melá, is a coined phrase taken from the Hindustani words for ‘entertainment of the mind’. Born in East Panjab, Dominic came to Britain as a six-year-old in 1967. His childhood memories, such as his first day at primary school on a snowy day in Birmingham, the morning after he landed from India are distinctly British. Culturally, Dominic sees himself as a British Panjabi and a ‘Brummie’ which has informed his work firstly as a visual artist in the West Midlands, and subsequently his work in theatre and as artistic director of Mán Melá.
Dominic first encountered British Asian theatre in 1984 through a performance of ‘Chilli in Your Eyes’ by Tara Arts in Birmingham. The play portrayed life through the eyes of young people in London’s East End and inspired him to become involved in contemporary Asian theatre himself.
In 1985, Dominic moved to London to join Tara Arts as an actor. In London, he noticed that there were very few plays engaging Asian audiences or presented in an accessible style. Writers and actors mainly worked in the English language, even though the dramatic contexts were multi-lingual and the performers often bi-lingual. His own experience growing up in Birmingham was of young people mixing various Asian languages with English. For Dominic, drawing on British Asian stories was vital in order to produce culturally rooted and relevant work.
From the beginning of his career, Dominic developed a strong desire to engage young people and community audiences, especially those who were not used to going to arts events, with work that confronted contemporary issues relating to everyday life. Throughout his career, he has worked with a wide range of practitioners and companies to achieve this. The desire to excite new audiences with relevant work became the benchmark for all future Mán Melá work.