(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog.)
TCG Online Conference Salon: Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc–South Asian American Theatre series
JACQUELINE LAWTON: First, tell me about the work you do as a theatre artist or administrator.
LAVINA JADHWANI: Artistic Director, Rasaka Theatre Company (the Midwest’s first South Asian American ensemble)
Associate Artist, Silk Road Rising
Graduate Student, MFA Directing, The Theatre School at DePaul University
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
LJ: I primarily identify as a first generation American – I am simultaneously an insider and an outsider in both American and Indian cultures. The ability to look at a community from both internal and external lenses heavily influences my approach to the work. I am interested in directing plays that illuminate characters and communities who are not often found in the spotlight.
JL: How has this identity impacted your ability to work in the American Theatre? Have certain opportunities been made available to you owing to “who” you are? Have certain doors been closed to you?
LJ: I know that I have been specifically approached to direct certain plays because of my background as a woman and/or as a South Asian. I do feel that my identity – with regards to those aspects, as well as others – inform my vision for a given text, and I feel that this informed vision is an asset I bring to the table.
The flip side to that is that I do feel like I get pigeon-holed some times (as all artists do). I have a passion for classical texts, for example, but am not always immediately approached to direct canonical work. I have made a concerted effort to counteract this perception, as a result.
JL: Do we need racial, ethnic and gender based culturally specific theaters? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community?
LJ: During my formal training (BFA, Carnegie Mellon University; MFA, The Theatre School at DePaul – anticipated 2015), I have frequently identified as the sole South Asian in my program. As a member of Rasaka Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, two culturally specific theaters in Chicago, I gain a sense of community, identification and understanding that I lacked during my conservatory training; there are conversations I previously couldn’t have about my culture simply because I couldn’t find anyone to have them with.
That being said, I feel that my strongest work with these companies have focused on the dynamic formed between a specific community or culture in conversation with another one. For example, when Rasaka produced the Chicago premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, I wanted to direct the piece with a mixed-race cast; I wanted us to create an opportunity to have a cross-cultural conversation via our production. I’m interested in the South Asian experience as it relates to other cultures because that’s what I think our world looks like today.
JL: What is the current state of South Asian American Theatre? (This can address recent offences and/or great accomplishments.)
LJ: I think that South Asian theatre is currently under represented and under-articulated in the American theatrical landscape. That is to say – I believe that there is a wealth of talent that needs to be showcased more often. I think this can be ameliorated by producers more assertively looking to include South Asian voices in their repertoire; but, moreover, I think the artists themselves must advocate for this inclusion. How can we promote our own work? How can we provide opportunities to showcase our peers and/or create crossover conversations? It can be frustrating, as an artist of color, to feel the need to articulate the importance of including our perspective in a well-rounded conversation – shouldn’t that be obvious? Well, yes; but it currently is not. How can we support each other’s work so that the importance of our role in American theatre is blindingly obvious? That should be the goal.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
LJ: See above.
Lavina Jadhwani is the Artistic Director of Rasaka Theatre Company (Gruesome Playground Injuries, Kabulitis, Thirst, Yoni Ki Baat, culture/clash and others) and an Associate Artist at Silk Road Rising and Premiere Theatre and Performance. Other directing credits include work with American Theatre Company, Apple Tree, Bailiwick, Chicago Dramatists, Hubris Productions, Raven Theatre, Remy Bumppo, the side project, Stage Left and Victory Gardens. Lavina recently received an SDCF Observership to assist Michael Michetti on Noises Off at Playmakers Repertory; she has also assisted Jonathan Berry, Jeremy B. Cohen, Barbara Gaines, Frank Galati, Henry Godinez, Steve Scott and Chay Yew. Lavina received LMDA awards for her work on Merchant on Venice at Silk Road and Urinetown and Arcadia at Carnegie Mellon University. She has been a finalist for the Michael Maggio Directing Fellowship, the 3Arts Artist Awards and the Luce Scholars Program. Graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Lavina is currently pursuing an MFA in Directing from the Theatre School at DePaul University. www.lavinajadhwani.com
Jacqueline E. Lawton received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener fellow. Her plays include Anna K; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: Love Brothers Serenade, Mad Breed and Our Man Beverly Snow. She has received commissions from Active Cultures Theater, Discovery Theater, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Round House Theatre and Theater J. A 2012 TCG Young Leaders of Color, she has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She resides in Washington DC and is a member of Arena Stage’s Playwrights’ Arena. jacquelinelawton.com