Why Broadway Needs More South Asian Actors

Outside the Theatre   Why Broadway Needs More South Asian Actors
 
For actor Vishaal Reddy, the push for diversity on the stage still has a way to go.
Vishaal Reddy
Vishaal Reddy Monica Simoes
Vishaal Reddy
Vishaal Reddy Monica Simoes

Who: Vishaal Reddy
Stopped: Outside the Booth Theatre on 45th Street

What are you up to today?
VR: I’ve just come out of rehearsals. I’m doing a show called Outcry that’s part of an Off-Broadway festival called Tamasha—it’s a festival for South Asian actors. Outcry is one of Tennessee Williams’ classic plays, but this will be the first time in New York City that we’ve done it with South East Asian actors. I’m so excited about it.

What’s the impetus behind the festival?
VR: Whenever I look at a role, I think: “Is this going to be a challenge, and am I going to have fun with it?” Many times in this business, I’ve found that a lot of the really great roles out there are not necessarily offered to people of color. It’s taken a long time for African-American and Latino actors to get to a level where there are roles being written for them—but right now, for South Asian and South East Asian actors, roles are still not being written for us. So what do we do? We start by creating our own works, and we take classics and turn them upside down. We change the dynamic.

The impetus for the festival is to create our own space in the industry. Currently, there are very few Indian actors on Broadway, which is telling. So, with the festival, we’re proving that there is a space and that our stories should be told; also, that we can re-interpret classic works and make them very interesting.

In your opinion, why is it valuable to cast a Tennessee Williams play with Indian actors?
VR: I think it adds such a fresh twist on a traditional story. Making the characters diverse only allows the audience to identify with the story in a deeper and more complex way, and it reflects the amazing, cultural diversity present in the world. The text becomes even more relevant and interesting to watch.

There’s been so much talk of how diverse this season is, yet, as you mentioned, there are very few Indian actors on Broadway. Do you fee like there’s still a long way to go?
VR: We’ve definitely made a lot of progress in the last couple of years. TV has helped shaped the diverse landscape a lot, just having all kinds of people featured—not just ethnicities, but shapes, sizes and genders. I do think there is still a lot of work to be done, and it starts with the writing. There are a lot of Indian, African-American, Latino and Asian playwrights that aren’t getting their work produced on a commercial level like Broadway. In regards to there not being many Indian actors on Broadway, I do know that School of Rock has an Indian child actor and has just cast an adult Indian actor, which is incredible!

The inaugural Tamasha Festival of South Asian Performing Arts kicked off September 26 at the Paradise Factory Theatre in New York and runs through October 2. For the full line-up, visit tamashanyc.org.

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