Arpita Mukherjee and Hypokrit Want to Disrupt the Pedagogy of American Theatre

Interview   Arpita Mukherjee and Hypokrit Want to Disrupt the Pedagogy of American Theatre
 
Hypokrit, which develops work by artists of color and prioritizes bringing new audiences to the theatre, is a company that operates on its own terms.
Arpita Mukherjee
Arpita Mukherjee

Over six years, New York City-based Hypokrit has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. Exclusively focused on developing work by artists of color, the company is dedicated to creating brave spaces for BIPOC theatremakers at all career levels, and producing work that appeals to a nontraditional theatergoing audience. Hypokrit is also the home of Tamasha, the only cross-discipline performing arts festival for emerging South Asian artists in North America.

“I think like most good and bad ideas, it started over drinks,” says Arpita Mukherjee, Hypokrit’s co-founder and artistic director. After swearing off the theatre to pursue a career in journalism in New York, in 2014 Mukherjee found herself once again in the rehearsal room. Filled with the kind of joy that had led her to start her own theatre company back in Washington, D.C., she approached her castmate—and soon to be Hypokrit co-founder—Shubhra Prakash about beginning something new.

Eh Dah? Questions For My Fathe
Eh Dah? Questions For My Father at NYTW Next Door Kyle Rosenberg

“For me, a driving force of making theatre has been to try and bring people to the theatre that don’t [typically] go,” says Mukherjee. “I came to the U.S. with my immigrant parents. In India, we went to see theatre and the performing arts all the time, but then we didn’t as much here. I’ve always been intrigued by how to bring people like my parents—the South Asian community specifically—to the theatre, and by extension the many people who are marginalized.”

This founding impulse, one which centers community and strives to make theatre relevant to a wider audience, has been the driving force of the company. From its very first production (a Bollywood-inspired Romeo & Juliet that was set in Delhi) to its most recent, Aya Aziz’s contemporary musical Eh Dah?, about a family divided between Egypt and America as they navigate a post-9/11 world.

“Most of the people who come to see Hypokrit shows are not theatregoers,” says Mukherjee “They don’t go to see other theatre. Hypokrit is their home.” Steadily building the company’s audience, through grassroots marketing strategies and community outreach campaigns, has ensured that shows and events continue to well attended; it’s also allowed Mukherjee and Prakash to be artistically ambitious.

“[When] the perspective shifts from trying to make work for critics or industry, to people you actually want to bring to the theatre—the questions you ask are different,” says Mukherjee. “We’re going to be rigorous and make good work, but who do we want to make it excellent for?

“We’re able to artistically take risks, because we’re not catering to the ‘usual theatergoing’ community,” says the artistic director. “It’s enabled us to do work that might be scary to other people… as we know we have a core audience that will come.”

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Arpita Mukherjee Chasi Annexy

While not consciously catering to industry, Hypokrit has caught the attention of a number of institutions looking to partner with the company. This has led to a Climate Project piece with UNICEF and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; an evening of work and panels by South Asian artists at LCT3, in collaboration with Natasha Sinha; a NYTW Next Door production; and a residency at WP Theater, which has provided Hypokrit with rehearsal space and producing resources.

Mukherjee, who also works as a freelance director and writer (she is the book writer for the musical Monsoon Wedding), has always used her connections to allow Hypokrit to be a bridge for its affiliated artists. Throughout 2018 and 2019, the Tamasha festival paired eight female-identifying South Asian playwrights with institutions in New York. This included collaborations with The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, The Movement Theatre Company, and New Georges (the playwrights were Deepa Purohit, Rohina Malik, Riti Sachdeva, Dipika Guha, Deepali Gupta, Sharbari Ahmed, Divya Mangwani, and Madhuri Shekar).

Hypokrit is helping to open doors for artists of color, a road that Mukherjee has tread first-hand. It’s the reason, she says, that she’s forged such a multi-hyphenate career, not just in theatre, but in the worlds of television and film also. “As a woman of color, I’ve always had to do several things,” she says. “The specialist road was not as laid out for me.”

Looking ahead, Mukherjee’s goal is to disrupt, as much as she can, the pedagogy of American theatre. “What are we going to disrupt about the usual way we do theatre?” she asks. “[To] not get stuck to any pre-existing idea of what this company should look like…[and] to continue to make it artistically freeing and exciting.” With her core team, made up of Prakash, managing producer Annie Middleton, and artistic producer Chelsea Fryer, Mukherjee is dreaming up ways in which Hypokrit can be more “opportunity-based.” This means moving away from the usual producing model with its standard number of productions a year, to seeking out co-productions that fit specific projects, and working across different media, including TV.

With its planned summer revival of Ahmed’s Raisins Not Virigins now on hold until next spring, Mukherjee and the Hypokrit team have a moment to pause, take stock, and really bring their vision for Hypokrit to life.

To learn more about Hypokrit, visit hypokritnyc.org/

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