Updated: Dec 8, 2019
I grew up with myths and spectacular narratives. Every year, I was given more books on mythologies from around the world than dolls and play-kitchens. So, it’s just fair to say that I fell in love with people’s stories early on. What I like the most about the play Recognition of Shakuntala (hence Shakuntala) is that the protagonist is a female. Whether the playwright Kalidasa intended to write it about Shakuntala as the protagonist is beside the point. In my mind, when I read the story of Shakuntala twenty-something years back, I saw a strong young woman who is not afraid to use her voice. The story is also about freedom and forgiveness. The story of Shakuntala demonstrates devotion and courage, family values and desire in the most intriguing and intricate way and allows us to look back in the past to understand contemporary social issues.
Thus, when CU Boulder offered me a space in their 2019-2020 season to direct the play Shakuntala I was beyond excited. I was excited about the collaboration with my colleagues and friends. I knew that I didn’t want to direct a “classical Indian play,” but rather, I wanted to share a story with style to craft a visual poem onstage. I knew that it can only be possible through collaboration with other artists. I collaborated with my friend, Kshitija who is also from India. Kshitija’s enthusiasm and attention to detail are transmittable. She’s not just an excellent dancer but a phenomenal choreographer. When we first met, we knew that we must work together during our stay at the Department of Theatre and Dance, CU Boulder. So Shakuntala happened!
Kalidasa had re-imagined the story from the Mahabharata. I wanted to adapt the story of Shakuntala from the original play by Kalidasa and from different styles of translations. My colleague and friend Nolan Carey and Silvia Peckham joined hands with me as the dramaturgs. Instead of hibernating during the summer of 2019 we were exchanging long emails, discussing the edits, enduring extensive hours of historical research so we have the script available for the company as soon as we come back from the break. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but we did it!
We focused on some major themes, such as nature functions as a “character” and the relationship between the natural landscape and the other characters in the play, especially Shakuntala, strong female representation, and the power of forgiveness. We were also experimenting with the language to make it more accessible to the modern-day non-Indian audience who [we assumed] are not well acquainted with the mytho-religious iconography veiled in the original script.
The rehearsal process was the most satisfying collaborative experience I’ve had thus far in my artistic career. We discussed the Natyashastra and its construction of abhinaya. I was working with a non-Indian cast, so we centered on abhinaya and its effect on the audience. While discussing classical aesthetics, I shared the concepts of rasa and bhava and Kshitija introduced how to embody the concepts through actions.
I couldn’t have done the show without the team of designers. The designers, Maria, Joe, Elise, Sam, and Hannah created magic on stage through their excellent artistry. Shakuntala had five incredible runs from October 31st-November 3rd.
Photo Courtesy Jonathan Spencer, CU Boulder
Lights: Elise Rosado
Scenic: Maria Aki
Costumes: Joe Kennedy
Props: Hannah Male