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On a breezy morning, a group of friends gather at Alum Rock Park to discuss a play they are about to produce. All are nature guides or docents for Bay Area parks. But they are also members of America’s biggest Indian theater, Naatak (naatak.com), which produces and performs several plays and musicals each year in the Bay Area. Their mission is to combine their two passions – nature and theater, plays and parks.

Atul Chaudari, an avid bird watcher, says he grew up near a park in Mumbai and the outdoors have always been part of his life. “A lot of people think of parks like zoos, with animals in cages. To me parks are about open space and wildlife.”

Ankar Jain, an executive in the tech industry, talks about leading a meditation workshop around a picnic table at Alum Rock.

For Soumya Agastya, a costume designer and musical director for Naatak, the parks are a great classroom for her son, who is a junior ranger. “Biography, geography, history – all this can be taught through nature walks,” she says.  “And there is such biodiversity here – the red-legged frog, the tiger salamander, the golden eagle, the bobcat, the gray fox – all thriving just a stone’s throw from San Jose’s downtown.”

As the group wends its way from Alum Rock up to Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve, a favorite trek which takes them from the verdant valley nestled in the Mt. Diablo foothills up to panoramic views overlooking Santa Clara Valley, they discuss staging future productions in a park setting to draw more people in their community to the outdoors. Maybe a rock band to attract young people, or a traditional musical with lots of dancers to draw older community members. And why not adapt a Shakespeare play, Indian-style?

For scenes of the Nataak theater group visiting the Alum Rock Park and Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve, be sure to catch Kia OpenRoad with Doug McConnell, the weekly program on NBC Bay Area Channel 11 on Sundays at 6:30 p.m., or visit the OpenRoad website on nbcbayarea.com/openroad.

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