Tag Archives: EnActe

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


 

That’s My Song!

Zila Khan’s singing, both as Gauhar Jaan and her mother, pierced the air of Cubberley Theater in Palo Alto shattering the breathless silence of the audience. The heavy tenor of her Sufi voice belied the softness of the form that it arose from, taking the audience and, it seemed, the singer by surprise. Zila, named by her father the legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, on the raag Zila Kaafi of Amir Khusrau, was tutored by him for 14-16 hours a day. Zila Khan’s musical heritage spans seven generations of Indian classical musicians and five generations of recorded music. She played both Gauhar and her mother at different times in the play.

The play Gauhar, presented by Enacte Arts in the Bay Area, told a story of defiance, foresight and unrequited love. At the turn of last century in 1902, when music rang out only from the durbars of rich patrons, a thirty-year-old Hindustani vocalist entered the studio of the Gramophone Company resplendent in jewels accompanied by her entourage and proceeded to record the first thick wax record turning at 78 rpm on the turntable. The huge recording horn was attached to the wall behind the musicians, its mouth practically bending into their faces. “Sing out loud!” – the instruction was announced. At the end of the recording the singer said: “My name is Gauhar Jaan.”

From her early days in Azamgarh and Banaras to the glory years in Calcutta when Gauhar ruled the world of Indian music, to her sad fall from grace and end in Mysore, the play based on Vikram Sampath’s well researched book, My Name is Gauhar Jaan! brings forth little known details of the artist  who lived from 1873 to 1930. Look out for an upcoming film on Gauhar Jaan. Ashutosh Gowariker known for directing films like Jodhaa Akbar has bought the film rights to the book. “Recently I have acquired a book called ‘My Name Is Gauhar Jaan’ by Vikram Sampat. She is the first lady who recorded for Gramophone Company of India. She is a great singer from a forgotten era and I think it is a lovely story. So it is quite inspiring….” he said to TOI last October.

“She was way ahead of her time. She was beautiful, feisty and independent. She spent Rs.20,000 for a party when her cat had a litter! But she was emotionally very weak and yearned for love, because of which many men used her, and she died in penury,” says Lillette Dubey, the director of the play.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan writes, “My introduction to Gauhar came by way of my father, Ustaad Haafiz Ali Khan Sahib who was a contemporary of hers. Gauhar Jaan was a legend even in her own life time and commanded a huge amount of respect in the musical circles of the time.” (My Name is Gauhar Jaan!)

From Instagram
Gauhar Jaan with medals pinned on her chest
Zila Khan as Gauhar

Gauhar Jaan of Calcutta, The Empress of Indian music, the Cuckoo of Calcutta, changed the music industry forever when she dared enter where no other artist dared to. She excelled in condensing the essence of the Hindustani thumri to 3 minutes, the time the record could play at that time. She left nazams, thumris and bhajans for generations of singers that followed. They would sing her songs not knowing whose soul had entered their voice.

As Zila Khan broke into Raske bhare tore nain the penny dropped in the minds of the audience. The songs they had so casually hummed under their breath were gifts of Gauhar Jaan: Mohe panghat pe nandlal; Kaisi ye dhoom machai ..a hori; Ras ke bhare tore nain. They had heard the nazams many a time and had not known whose song it really was!

” Houston audiences loved the play as much as Bay Area audiences did. We had standing ovations every night. We gave Gauhar something different from a local promoter. We gave them an audience of erudite theatre lovers,” said organizer Vinita Sud Belani.
“EnActe is committed to building bridges between the world of theatre in South Asia today and US based South Asian theatre efforts. Part of the cast and crew for Gauhar were provided by EnActe in an interesting collaborative process. We are such good friends now”, says Belani. “The Indian actors and crew and all of us at EnActe. Mission accomplished!”
“Knowing what drives an artist makes us more appreciative of the work that they do! Everyone was suddenly more appreciative when Lillette said she comes from a family of accomplished doctors, scientist and engineers and had to prove that the work she did was just as meaningful.”

“Theatre is the last bastion of human-to-human interaction in our increasingly technological world,” Lillette Dubey said at the end of the performance. “It requires not just an actor but also an audience to make it happen.”