(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.
ADITI BRENNAN KAPIL: I’m a freelance playwright, director, and actress, based in Minneapolis, MN.
JL: How do you identify in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage? How has this identity influenced the work that you do?
ABK: I’m half East Indian (on my father’s side) and half Bulgarian (on my mother’s). I also grew up in Sweden, so that’s a huge part of my cultural identity, growing up as an immigrant kid in Stockholm. And I’ve lived in the US since college. It all infiltrates my work, there tends to be a multi-cultural element, themes of displacement, language, communication, identity… an Indian character tends to show up in my plays, I may have something I’m trying to work out there.
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?
ABK: I think for sure I’ve found theatrical homes that are interested in diverse work, found artistic partners who are interested in those investigations… for years I’ve worked closely with Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, I feel pretty lucky to have found them so early in my career, a theater that embraces the mutt artists of the world.
I feel like we find collaborators, artists and institutions interested in the same conversations, and for the most part I’ve felt very blessed in this way. ‘Who I am’ has to have played some part in opening those doors, though I guess I would argue that it’s more in how it’s influenced what I write. My plays tend to be very different from each other, and each tends to find its homes, and they’re not always the same as the last one, I think it’s the material that is finding its homes as well as myself as an artist.
When you first asked me to do this Q&A I had a moment of not being quite sure where I would fit into this conversation, while I identify as Asian-American on surveys, I haven’t found that my work gravitates to Asian-American theaters predominantly, probably because it tends to run across cultures thematically, and also because I’m South Asian, which falls in a particular pocket in terms of how we culturally identify in the US. I just wrote a trilogy of plays based on the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, that we’re premiering at Mixed Blood this fall, these are my first plays that really lay claim to specifically an Indian identity, maybe their content will naturally connect more with Asian-American theaters, that’d be lovely.
As far as whether doors have been closed to me, I guess I wouldn’t know, what with them being closed and all…
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?
ABK: I guess I think we need a diverse dialogue in our theaters, and if culturally specific theaters is how that happens, is how all those other stories get into our cultural fabric, then yeah, we need them. I’m terrified of the single narrative, I’m terrified of what it does to our culture, to our humanity, to our capacity for empathy. And I’ve seen amazing culturally specific theaters train a whole generation of, say, Asian-American artists who would never have had an entry point otherwise, and they emerge with these amazing chops, an aesthetic, and become so undeniable as artists that their voice alters the mainstream. And I’ve seen culturally specific theaters offer what I think is the most authentic reflection of the American experience. That’s amazing. Anything that keeps that happening seems good.
JL: What is the current state of South Asian American Theatre? (This can address recent offences and/or great accomplishments.)
ABK: There are some amazing South Asian theater artists working in America, both in culturally specific contexts and in mainstream ones, this much I think I know. Beyond that, I’m actually looking forward to this conversation that you’re curating here to get a feel for what’s happening.
JL: What can theatres do to better serve a larger and more inclusive community?
ABK: Program a diversity of voices, create a dialogue that weaves together communities and ideas, that evolves us as a society.
I always like to give a shout out to my home theater, Mixed Blood, where this awesome social experiment of Radical Hospitality is happening. They’ve always programmed diverse work, and now they’re also removing artificial barriers to who is in the audience by, among other things, eliminating ticket prices. It’s really an experiment worth watching.
Aditi Brennan Kapil is a playwright, actress, and director, of Bulgarian and Indian descent, raised in Sweden, and currently residing in Minneapolis, MN. She is a graduate of Macalester College with a B.A. in English and Dramatic Arts. Her play Love Person, a four-part love story in Sanskrit, ASL and English, has been produced to critical acclaim around the country. It was developed during a Many Voices residency at the Playwrights’ Center, work-shopped at the Lark Play Development Center in NY, and selected for reading at the National New Play Network (NNPN) conference 2006. Love Person was produced in a NNPN rolling world premiere at Mixed Blood Theatre (MN), Marin Theater (CA), and Phoenix Theatre (IN), in the 2007/08 season. In 2008/09 it was produced at Live Girls! Theatre in Seattle, Alley Repertory Theatre in Boise, and Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago. Love Person received the Stavis Playwriting Award in 2009.
Her most recent play, Agnes Under The Big Top, a tall tale, was selected as a 2009 Distinguished New Play Development Project by the NEA New Play Development Program hosted by Arena Stage, and was developed by the Lark Play Development Center (NY), Mixed Blood Theatre (MN), InterAct Theatre (PA), the Playwrights’ Center (MN), and the Rhodope International Theater Laboratory (Bulgaria). Agnes Under the Big Top premiered at Mixed Blood Theatre and Long Wharf Theatre (CT) in 2011, and Borderlands Theater (AZ) in 2012 in a NNPN rolling world premiere.
Aditi’s newest Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy consisting of the plays The Chronicles of Kalki, Shiv, and Brahman/i, a one-hijra stand-up comedy show, is slated to premiere in repertory at Mixed Blood in Fall 2013.
She is currently working on commissions for Yale Repertory Theatre, and La Jolla Playhouse, and is a resident artist at Mixed Blood Theatre, an artistic associate at Park Square Theatre, and on the Board of The Playwrights’ Center.
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