Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 564: Madhuri Shekar



Madhuri Shekar

Hometown: San Jose, CA and Chennai, India

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA

Q: Tell me about your upcoming show at the Alliance.

A: My play 'In Love and Warcraft' has won the 2014 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting competition and will be produced at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, February 2014. Not only am I thrilled about the award, this will also be my first professional production.

The play was developed in a workshop production at USC last April, directed by Chris Fields. It's about a gamer girl, Evie, who also plays love doctor by using strategies from World of Warcraft to help other people fix their relationships. For her own life, she's content with a so-so relationship with her online boyfriend until she falls for someone IRL (in real life). In order to keep him around, she's forced to venture out of her comfort zone and explore the terrifying world of real life intimacy, and all the complications of a non-virtual relationship.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: It's the last semester of my MFA at USC, and I'm working on my thesis play- 'A Nice Indian Boy'. When Naveen, a thirty-something gay man, falls in love and wants to get married to his unconventional boyfriend, it's an uphill struggle to get what he truly wants- all the trappings of a fairytale romance, along with the complete support and approval of his family. In most Indian marriages, even the heterosexual ones, you can't have both.

We'll have a staged reading of the play at the end of May, directed by Robert Egan.

Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A: My dad used to act on stage, and loved performing. He never got a chance to do it professionally, but when we lived in the Bay Area, he and his friends would produce Tamil plays, usually comedies, and he would act in them.

Once when I was three, he was acting in a play called "Ayya Amma Ammamma". I was sitting in the front row with my mom, who had my one-year-old brother on her lap. Enthralled by the show- and before she could do anything- I lept off my chair, ran up on to the stage in the middle of the performance, and hugged my dad's leg, refusing to let go. The best part was that my dad stayed in character and improvised lines until one of the other actors appeared from backstage to pry me off of him.

I think I knew then that I was meant for the stage, but maybe not as an actor.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A: I grew up in Chennai, India, and my first real exposure to theatre was working with my college dramatics club and (at the time) amateur English language theatre companies. The theatre scene in India has continued to expand, despite almost no public aid or support from the government. There are many downsides to that for sure, but I am always so inspired by how these theatre companies (such as Evam, who I love working with) manage to produce their shows, raise money from affiliated commercial services, make the sort of theatre they're passionate about, and still remain financially solvent. Sure, most theatre artists can't quit their day jobs yet, but they have a hunger and passion about making theatre that attracts young people in droves. Just from what I've seen, I'd guess most audiences at an English play in India are in their 20s and 30s. I was at the wonderful Prithvi theatre in Mumbai last year, and everyone hanging out in the coffee shop after the show was around my age.
I don't see that here, and although the environments are so vastly different, I think American theatre companies could learn from how theatre is made around the world, and how it's becoming so much more relevant to the younger rising middle class (with disposable income!) than it is in the U.S.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Anyone who makes a living doing theatre is my hero.

Mahesh Dattani's work opened my eyes to how not all English plays had to be about Brits or Americans, that the English language could capture the rhythms of the Indian vernacular, and that yes, I could be a playwright too.

My professors and mentors at USC have had the biggest influence on my writing. Velina Hasu Houston, Luis Alfaro, Oliver Mayer and Paula Cizmar inspire me year after year with their passion and their work ethic.

My classmates Megan Kelly and Zury Ruiz never stop surprising me with their writing. It's such a gift to have been in class with them these past three years. I love them too much to admit publicly, so let's just say I'm excited to see where we go after graduation.

And, of course, my Dad, who has promised to act in one of my plays when he retires.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: If your play tells a strong and honest story, with compassion for the characters, and lets me laugh along the way, I will be your devoted fan forever. So much of the theatre I see is full of cleverness, and dialogue that doesn't ever sound like real people talking. I don't want to see that, I just want to see something sincere and true.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: My MFA at USC is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time (and with the right people!), but the training I received here has been invaluable. Not all MFAs are financially out of reach (USC gives its writers a generous fellowship), so I think if you're open to experimenting and learning and failing in a safe space for a few years, it's worth it.

And whenever you're feeling stuck, read this blog.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: If you're in LA, come check out the USC New Works festivals in April and May, showcasing the new and original plays of the MFA playwrights.

For tickets and timings- http://sait.usc.edu/spectrum/events.asp

2nd years-
Morning View by Jesse Shao, April 12-14
Tales from Tent City by Brian James Polak, April 19-21
My Dear Hussein by Nahal Navidar, April 26-28

3rd years-
And All The Trees Shall Clap Their Hands by Megan Kelly, May 28 & May 31
¡What a Piece of Work is Man! by Zury Ruiz, May 29 and June 1
A Nice Indian Boy by Madhuri Shekar, May 30 and June 1

Follow the news (and our updates about our last semester at USC) at our blog- mfawriters2013.wordpress.com


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