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Silicon Valley’s South Asian Theater Weaves Women’s Narratives into Performance

Women in performance art are playing a pivotal role in crafting compelling cultural narratives, whether in the roles of founders, directors, costume designers, set managers, or music directors, they are increasingly helming the process of creation, rather than jumping into something already created.  

This new positive and empowering image of women is what you will see in EnActe Arts’ latest initiative WEFT (Women EnActe for themselves). A brave space for women, it presents writers to exercise their craft under the guidance of qualified mentors. Women may make up 50% of the population, but the representation of women in the Arts hovers between 16% to 20% globally, and EnActe is doing its bit to redress the balance. Launched last year, WEFT is a fellowship program offering female-identifying writers a space in which to work under the guidance of a global, incredibly talented group of mentors to craft their stories, workshop them with professional talent and produce them under the EnActe banner. Mentors for the program include such seasoned artists as Anita Ratnam, Patty Gallagher, Susan McCully and Roberta Katz.

This week Reena Kapoor, EnActe’s first WEFT Fellow, opens a showcase of the four pieces she has written and produced through WEFT. Kapoor was born and raised in mostly urban India. “And while I have been gone from India for over 30 years, growing up there in the 70s and 80s was formative. It is a culture, a way of life, a social metaphysics that is not easily erased. Ironically while India, especially in the metros, has changed and moved on, the Indian diaspora I have encountered here continues to reenact much of what I had hoped was left behind. In fact, in some ways the diaspora holds on even tighter to all that is Indian – good, bad, and ugly,” says Kapoor. 

Her stories are informed by what she saw, and grew up within her own extended family and among friends–even in social circles that professed modernity. Kapoor says her story inspiration came from her “surprise, and often disappointment, at the rigid and less desirable attitudes that the Indian diaspora continues to abide by here. Women are expected to occupy, and often submitting to, prescribed roles, dictated by stricture and double standards that deserve to be rejected; and women repeatedly asked to sublimate their own desires and self-respect in service of meaningless tradition.”

The first play she wrote from this vantage is Art Of The Possible and is a somewhat humorous look at a situation where a young woman decides she can no longer sustain a marriage with her “perfect” husband and worse she cannot come up with a “good” enough reason why. What is she to do? 

Bollywood Rules: For Women is a rather tongue-in-cheek rap song about the inherent patriarchy in Indian films, starring a host of aspiring Bay Area talent – from professional actors to Arts Council members. Highlighting the “double standards for women that Bollywood films have long embraced. I do not wholly blame Bollywood; in my view, it reflects and yes, perhaps amplifies, what we hold dear. But we can protest, and powerfully mock it and hopefully, as a result, dismiss its focus and amplification,” adds Kapoor.

Art Of The Possible, a 45-minute play, explores the beautiful relationship between a nervous mother and a determined daughter as she plans to walk away from a marriage, not because there is anything wrong with either partner, but because she wants other things out of life. The play stars Anita Ratnam from Chennai, Shubhangi Kuchbhotla from Baltimore, Sreejith Nair from LA, and Anususya Rao from Bay Area.

Burned is a deeply resilient response by the victim of an acid attack, addressed to her attacker, in which she finds the courage to live to the fullest the life he has attempted to rob her of. Starring Yeshaswini Channaiah from Bangalore. 

Oasis is an epistolary piece that traces the thoughts and memories of a child abandoned by an abusive father as she navigates through childhood and adolescence and reaches precarious adulthood.

The narrative that weaves through all of Kapoor’s work is that of urgency. “My character is a woman of Indian origin who finds herself in a situation that was visited upon her and in which she suffers. But she doesn’t succumb to a narrative of victimhood and instead reclaims her voice and life. Her savior is not out there but within. She suffers — and yet SHE rises!” 

While WEFT is a dedicated space for the feminine lens, other EnActe initiatives explore female relationships too. As physical interaction shuts down in the new reality of the pandemic, the world has moved to virtual communication, opening up avenues of global collaboration amongst artists not possible before. In a bid to capture this COVID-dictated reality, and to provide a platform for artists to stay engaged and collaborate internationally, EnActe Arts, USA and Rage Productions, India launched a Festival of New Plays by accomplished and aspiring playwrights on the subject of love, life, and family in the pandemic-altered reality of today.

The second play in this series How It Happens, opening April 30th, explores the shifts in the relationship between two former high school friends connected by a dark past. Set against lockdown despair of the raging pandemic, a positivity influencer accuses an essayist of adolescent bullying, a story that burns through social media, destroying the fragile trust between COVID infected friends. Written by the Bangalore-based playwright Deepika Arwind and played by Bay Area’s Roshni Dutt and Sonia Balsara. 

More Info About WEFT:

WEFT(Women EnActe for Themselves)  is a program designed to support women writers writing on women’s issues to take their nascent stories to completion, and work with a sisterhood of creatives to bring those stories to life as a performative art, first presented by EnActe.

In this program women writers research, create and write stories that are pertinent to women, and bring these stories to life in theatrical performances that can reach audiences in meaningful, resonant, and entertaining ways.

The program works as follows: 

Phase 1: Ideation & Research

Phase 2: Story/scriptwriting through workshops

Phase 3: Script/story development as a performance piece

Phase 4: preparation of the piece(s) as a live presentation workshop

Phase 5: Event creation & rehearsals

Phase 6: Premiere Performance

Bollywood Rules For Women & Art of The Possible

Sat, Apr 10

5:00 pm PST, 8 pm EST, 5.30 am (Apr 11th) IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

Burned & Oasis

Sun, April 25

10:00 am PST, 1 pm EST, 10.30 pm IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

How It Happens by Deepika Arwind

Fri, April 30, 8 pm PST  

Sat, May 1, 5 pm PST

Sun, May 2, 4 pm  PST

Tickets: $15 – $100

Pay-it-Forward All-Access Pass for the entire 2021 Season:

https://enacte.org/seasonpass/


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: mona@indiacurrents.com