A Diversity of Voices Speaking to Our Common Humanity

by Aditi Brennan Kapil

in Diversity & Inclusion

Post image for A Diversity of Voices Speaking to Our Common Humanity

(This post is a part of the Diversity & Inclusion blog salon led by Online Curator Jacqueline E. Lawton. Check out further Diversity & Inclusion interviews on Jacqueline’s blog. If you are interested in participating in this or any other Circle blog salon, email Gus Schulenburg.)

TCG Blog Salon
Diversity and Inclusion Program Arc
Mixed Race/Culture Theatre

JACQUELINE LAWTON: In your work as a theatre artist, do you self-identify closer to one race/culture over another? If so, why do you think that is? If not, how are you able to live in both worlds?

ADITI BRENNAN KAPIL: I don’t, I can’t, even if I tried they wouldn’t have me, I’m way too much of a mutt. My name is Indian but I don’t speak an Indian language and didn’t grow up there, I spent my childhood in and out of Bulgaria, but was never an adult there, I’m really very culturally Swedish when in comes down to it except that I went to International schools and spoke English and then left for college and don’t really go back except to visit family. And yet I claim them all, and being American too. I guess manage it by staking a claim in the mixed culture category and owning that, there are actually plenty of us, not the exact same combination of cultures necessarily, but the same opting out of single categories. And I code-switch a lot.

JL: As image makers and creators of narrative, theatre artists are in a position to define, influence and change what it means to be of mixed race in America. How do you feel the mixed race/culture experience has been presented in the American Theatre so far? (Have you experienced plays that are enlightening? Damaging? Or is there a complete absence of stories?)

ABK: I’m actually more bothered by the idea that any single narrative could define anyone. We do have a tendency as humans to categorize and define, and I guess I would argue for a diversity of voices speaking to our common humanity rather than our differences. That’s where I find myself in amazing work by a diverse assortment of creators, in the moments that connect us, be they Indian, Slavic, Scandinavian, or any number of other cultures that I don’t personally claim.

JL: Do we need theatre organizations devoted to producing work by and about the mixed raced experience? What is gained by having stories of a certain community told by artists of that community? What is lost?

ABK: Well yes, I think mixed race artists are an important and valuable voice and should be part of our cultural discourse. Where I get fuzzy is in the idea that the mixed race experience is somehow a common one. There are as many different ways to be mixed race as there are people. I would absolutely buy tickets to a season consisting of a variety of mixed race artists, but not because of the commonality of their experience, but because I’d find the inherent diversity of this programming intriguing.  But my experience as an Indian-Bulgarian-Swedish-American is incredibly specific, as I assume every other combination is. And I don’t think we need an Indian-Bulgarian-Swedish-American theater movement, which would consist of, I don’t know, me and my brother, except not because he still lives in Sweden and doesn’t make theater. I think mixed race voices belong in the discourse, but I don’t know exactly how, and I suspect there may be several different answers.

JL: What practical action steps would you recommend to local, regional and national theatre companies who are interested in creating opportunities that reflect the experience/challenge perceptions of mixed race people in America?

ABK: Program diverse contemporary work.

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