Rasa Theater, a new Off-Broadway theatre company devoted to the South Asian and South Asian-American experience, launches The 2002 Indian Diaspora Playwrights Festival Nov. 13-16, offering readings of four plays.
Founders Manu Narayan, Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj and Uzma Rizvi created the company with the intention of "raising the quality of American theatre primarily by employing the talents of playwrights, directors, designers, and performing artists who identify with the South Asian and the South Asian American experience."
The company plans its first full production in spring or summer 2003, but in the meantime is co-producing the new readings fest under the umbrella of the Lark Theatre Company, in association with Rising Cirlce and Salaam Theatre. The festival is a special project of the Indo American Arts Council, "in celebration of new South Asian voices."
Although South Asian generally refers to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and neighboring countries, the company states in its mission that the "South Asian experience" includes "all self-identified experiences and connections to the South Asian Community and its Diaspora."
The new festival "is aimed at allowing South Asian diaspora playwrights to develop their plays in a highly creative atmosphere with American theatre professionals." Four plays out of 53 were selected by Rasa Theater, Inc, The Lark Theatre Company and The Indo American Arts Council to be rehearsed by professional directors, dramaturgs and actors. Thee plays will get two staged readings for audiences. With support from the Indo American Arts Council, The Lark presented the first festival in 2001 and invited the newly formed Rasa to co-produce this year.
"The response from the South Asian acting community was overwhelming," Rasa's Manu Narayan told Playbill On-Line. "Over 60 people were seen through the open call and agent submissions." Tara Rubin is the casting consultant.
The plays, all presented at the Lark Studio Theater, 939 Eighth Avenue, are:
The Hallal Brothers, Alladin Ullah's play about the American experience of two Bangladeshi brothers, "set in a Hallal shop in Harlem on the eve of the assassination of Malcolm X." 8:30 PM Nov. 14 and 6 PM Nov. 16. For ticket information about The 2002 Indian Diaspora Playwrights Festival, call (212) 246-2676, ext. 22. A donation of $15 is suggested. For more information about Rasa Theater, visit http://www.rasatheater.org.
The company's mission includes cultivating "unique artistic voices of the South Asian Diaspora through the performing arts; to provide South Asian and South Asian-American playwrights readings and workshops of their new works with the goal of the corporation producing the subsequent full production when the new work is deemed ready; to provide professional and positive opportunities to South Asian theatre artists in the American theatre by producing full productions of new dramatic works and by reworking the classics to fit the South Asian and the South Asian-American experience; to infuse a love and visceral need for high quality American theatre in the South Asian and other minority communities in the United States of America; to be inclusive and draw upon the talent and identity of all world cultures regardless of religion, gender, sexuality, or race."
Co-founder Narayan appeared as Thuy in the national tour of Miss Saigon; in Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink at the Wilma Theater; in David Henry Hwang's Largo (with Cyndi Lauper and Fisher Stevens) at New York Stage and Film.
Co-founder Maharaj is a director, choreographer and playwright who earned four Audelco Awards for excellence in black theatre Off-Broadway. He recently directed at the Humana Festival. A recipient of the NEA/TCG Directors Grant and a Van Lier Directing Fellow, he is also a member of SSDC and Lincoln Center Director's Lab. He sits on the board and is associate artistic director for The Lark Theatre Company. He is director of the musical theatre wing at New Federal Theatre.
Co-founder Rizvi most recently worked on Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink at The Wilma Theater (Philadelphia) as the Indian cultural consultant. Other credits include production manager for Everyman Theater Company (NYC) and stage manager for David Mamet's Oleanna (ETC production); among other projects. A doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Rizvi will be a Fulbright-Hays Fellow in the upcoming year in Rajasthan, India.
— By Kenneth Jones