South Asian Theatre with Universal Appeal

Community through Theatre

I had the great privilege of being born and brought up in Kolkata — a place with a large heart and even larger artistic soul. I grew up helping Mother Teresa on weekends, casually dropping into Satyatjit Ray filmings, dancing in Anand Shankar’s youth programs and learning street theatre with Badal Sircar. I was constantly surrounded by art and activism of the highest quality.

As a child, I was nerdy and awkward, preferring books and science over social interaction. My saving grace was art!I discovered my grand passion for theatre at age five, playing Mother Hubbard in my kindergarten concert. I went on to act, direct and play roles in very Western fare like Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekov and Stoppard but also productions by powerful Indian playwrights like Jayshankar Prasad.

But I always knew I was going to be an engineer ultimately – I come from a long, unbroken line of engineers but I am the first female engineer in my family. After a 20+ year career in the tech world, very often being the only woman in the room, I stepped away because I hadn’t given enough to my other great passion. I needed to balance my life out. And so EnActe was born.

One of the nicest things about stepping away from a corporate career to start a theatre non-profit is that I get to hug people at the end of business meetings!

When I entered the art world in the Bay Area, I also realized that I had grown up with great privilege. The children around me did not have the same luxury of exposure that I did, at least not in theatre, and not even a tenth of the creative opportunities that surrounded me growing up. EnActe works to correct that imbalance.

Theatre is fun, yet messy. It forces you to interact with people in ways that are intimate and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable. It’s physical — it’s all about inhabiting the same space together and, through this process, creating living art. So what happens when we go into a COVID-19 induced lockdown?

As Artistic Director of EnActe, I had to do some quick thinking about what benefit we could leverage out of being unable to interact or perform in the real world. EnActe Academy swung into action! We are now organizing online classes for youth and adults to learn creative writing, radio plays and animation. We are planning staged play readson Zoom and setting up Facebook conversations with international artists. It’s all become meaningful in a completely different way.

But something else has changed. In daily life, simple pleasures have become the most satisfying. I find I have time to do things slowly and savor the process — long walks, cooking with family and eating wholesome meals at the table, together.

In this hiatus from super-packed schedules, as an artist I have also had time to rediscover myself and re-align my priorities. I have dusted off old pieces that I wrote, signed up for monologue training and, with my fellow artists at EnActe, started a reading group! I hold this precious gift of a slowed tempo to take deep breaths of inspiration, recharging myself for what will surely be a chaotic re-opening of the world post-COVID.

See you on the other side — a hug will be waiting!

— Vinita Sud Belani