What’s the tumblr equivalent of a latergram? This was from last Wednesday, December 16, when my playwriting class presented an evening of excerpts from their new plays at the East West Players David Henry Hwang Theatre. Very grateful to this amazing group of human beings for helping me create a safe, productive, nurturing environment. We started in September and worked for around 12 weeks on developing new plays. It was tough but so rewarding. It was my first go-around at being a playwriting instructor (as opposed to being a theatre history instructor at USC) and I learned a lot. Looking forward to my next opportunity to do it again.
As the year-end recaps start filling up the internets, I feel the need to put out mine as well. More for me than for anyone else. And I do think it’s a little weird to only talk about the good parts of life in these retrospectives. It feels quite obnoxious, in fact. But the times during the year when I was feeling particularly sad or anxious… well, writing about it was the last thing I wanted to do. Why write when there are ALWAYS going to be episodes of 30 Rock to rewatch for the seventh time on Netflix while eating chocolate?
Basically, overall, my year was wonderful. And because of the amount of stuff that happened, and because of my innate laziness, I’ll be using bullet points.
- I flew from Chennai to Atlanta. We started rehearsals for both In Love and Warcraft in Atlanta and A Nice Indian Boy in LA almost simultaneously.
- I meet with Chris Moses and Sarah Wallis from the Alliance Theatre’s Education department. They are giving me my first commission – to write a one-act play to be performed by members of the Alliance’s Teen Ensemble. I pitch them a story that happened to me IRL. They love it. We’re all super excited. The production will happen April 2015.
- While in Atlanta, I am interviewed for a teaching/playwriting fellowship at Emory (that I eventually don’t get) but it’s a wonderful three days of meeting the theatre department and getting to have a public reading of bits of my different plays.
Also, my first snow! In Atlanta of all places.
- I foolishly make a resolution to blog every week. But guess what! That’s my same resolution for next year!
- In Love and Warcraft opens on Feb 5, followed by a wonderful weekend of the 10 year anniversary celebrations of the Kendeda Playwriting contest, where I got to meet playwrights from all over the country, who’d all been winners or finalists of the Kendeda contest.
- Read my mother’s review of the play, and my parents’ experience of opening night, here on her blog.
My friends flew to Atlanta to see the show. Best sleepover ever.
- Read my mother’s review of the play, and my parents’ experience of opening night, here on her blog.
- I bid a sad goodbye to Laura Kepley and the wonderful cast & crew, and return to LA for the last week of rehearsals of A Nice Indian Boy, and the opening on Feb 26.
- I rejoin the CTG Writer’s Workshop for our monthly meetings, and continue struggling with my new play about women in science.
- I’m back to working at USC as an Assistant Instructor.
- I meet director and advocate Leslie Ishii, who will give me an incredible opportunity at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in a few months.
- With A Nice Indian Boy in full swing and In Love and Warcraft closed in Atlanta, I deal with post-play depression by diving headlong into the intense madness that is the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, for which I am the marketing coordinator.
- I continue walking over to the theatre almost every night to meet friends who’ve come to see the show. It’s a truly wonderful experience to reconnect and hang out with people in this context. A Nice Indian Boy has a great closing performance on March 23.
Cast + Snehal Desai (our director) and me
- IFFLA happens, and it goes well, thank god! It was a wonderful experience in the end.
- I meet with Peter Kuo, who proposes that he direct a workshop production of my TYA play ’The Frog Girlfriend.’ in June. I think it’s an awesome idea, of course.
- Work begins in earnest for Much Ado about Something, the inaugural production of the Better Than Shakespeare theatre company, written, directed, and co-produced by the brilliant Megan Kelly, comprising of a team of mostly USC MFA actors & writers. I get cast in a tiny part where I get to fight aliens with cheese graters on my hands.
- I realize my play for the CTG Writer’s Workshop has unravelled, completely, and I can’t continue. The whole premise is flawed. I experience deep panic and fear, then brainstorm with my friend Manisha in Berkeley (an actual Woman in Science), and she helps me come up with a completely new premise and set of characters. So now I have four weeks to write a new play from scratch. I freak out but have no choice but to do it. (Oh and this scenario will happen again before the year is over.)
- I scramble to write the brand new play – now titled Queen – and it slowly, slowly starts coming together, with a lot of help from Megan Kelly and Rachel Skytt. (Once again, this will repeat for the year is over.)
- I go to New York for a week of Kendeda workshops/readings at Playwrights Horizons. I get to work with the lovely Lucie Tiberghien and hang out with Celise Kalke again. I meet Madhur Jaffrey! I have a truly awesome time in the Nice Weather time of year.
- Much Ado rehearsals continue apace, and it’s coming together really well, which I get to say easily because I wasn’t really in the horribly stressful trenches of writing/directing/producing this Hollywood Fringe Play, I was just talent (and marketing.)
- I finish a skeleton draft of Queen JUST in time.
- The CTG Writer’s Workshop 2013-14 culminates in a weekend of readings of the seven new plays from the group. It’s special, inspiring, so much fun, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. The reading of Queen goes over well – really well! – and I can’t believe it. This is the first thing I’ve written since I graduated, and it gives me hope that ILAW and ANIB weren’t just flukes, that I haven’t exhausted my story well, that I’m still capable of doing this.
- Much Ado About Something has an EXCELLENT run at the Hollywood Fringe, and charges me up. I want to create more things with my friends.
- The Kilroys party happens, and it’s hella fun, and I feel like a Playwright in Los Angeles.
- The Frog Girlfriend has its workshop show at Fullerton College, and it’s SO great. Peter Kuo, my director, had to step in at the last moment for our lead actor who suddenly became unavailable, and he was awesome. It was such a fun evening.
With the cast + Peter after the show
- Megan Kelly and I come up with our next ambitious project for Better Than Shakespeare – a web series. We recruit our friend Seamus Sullivan to be the third part of the writer’s room. From the month of August, we meet religiously once a week to write the web series.
- I get to go to San Diego Comic Con as a member of the Harry Potter fandom panel! Weirder things have NOT happened.
In my Daily Prophet dress generously gifted to me by Heidi Tandy
- While in San Diego, I meet up with James Vasquez, who directed a reading of A Nice Indian Boy at the Old Globe theatre last December. We make plans to work on a film adaptation of the play with his production company.
- I start rewriting Queen in preparation for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Lab, which I get to be a part of thanks to Leslie Ishii’s API 2×2 Playwrights initiative at OSF.
- I go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the first time, and it’s a magical few days of watching plays, meeting fascinating people, and having the new draft of Queen read and discussed. Turns out the new draft is much weaker than the first draft. So back to the drawing board it is. But I also get to hear a reading of the wonderful Takarazuka!! by Susan Stanton, which will be having its production in November at East West Players.
The API 2×2 lab at OSF
- The Fall semester at USC starts up, and I’m so relieved to go back to having structure in my life.
- I realize I have to start writing my Alliance Teen Ensemble commission, as the first draft is due on Dec 1st. I have my first phone call with my director, Laura Hackman, and she’s awesome, and I really haveto get started. The play is titled Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine’s.
- I get invited to be a part of Chalk Rep’s upcoming Flash Festival! I write a ten-minute play for the first time in years.
- I struggle with Antigone.
- I join the Playwrights Union.
- The Chalk Rep festival happens and I get to work with the lovely Jennifer Chang as my director, and I really hope I get to do so again in the future. My play Daisy Den Happy Valley Yum Yum has at least half-a-dozen euphemisms for a certain part of the female anatomy.
A scene from the Chalk Rep play
- Better Than Shakespeare produces Better Than Halloween, a night of readings of brand new ten-minute plays inspired by ghosts and witches in Shakespeare, which we commissioned our playwright friends to write. It’s a great and exhausting event that we pull off with a lot of help from Rachel Skytt and Zury Ruiz, as we’re in the middle of our web-series writing/pre-production.
The Better Than Halloween party
- I struggle a LOT with Antigone, and am starting to get super anxious about letting down the Alliance and visualizing the project spiral into disaster. Near the end of the month, I realize that the premise is all wrong, the characters are all wrong, and now I have four weeks to rewrite the play from scratch (sound familiar?).
- Two productions get officially confirmed/announced! In Love and Warcraft by No Rules theatre company in D.C., and A Nice Indian Boy by Rasaka Theatre in Chicago.
- I edit the Samuel French proofs for In Love and Warcraft, and it looks so gorgeous.
- But mostly – Antigone, Antigone, Antigone. It kinda sorta starts coming together in the second half of the month. I go on an AirBnB writing retreat a few days before the deadline and it actually helps, and I write 80% of the script in three days. The day before the deadline, I still don’t know how the play ends. I’ve written everything but the ending. Megan Kelly helps me break through. I write the ending at 3 in the morning fueled by sugar chips and send it in.
- The day after I send in my draft to the Alliance, my theatre fairy godmother Celise Kalke emails back with the subject “OMG! Your play is so good!” and I almost start to cry, I can’t believe it. Then I get to go the Playwrights Union/Kilroys holiday party and it’s super fun.
- I fly to Atlanta for the first workshop of the Antigone play. I meet Laura Hackman, my director, and the members of the teen ensemble in person for the first time. I have the best freaking time, and it so SO wonderful to be back at the Alliance again! In the same year! The play is actually almost complete. It doesn’t require any major rewrites. Holy shit. I’ve finished my first complete, good draft after my MFA.
Members of the Alliance Theatre’s Teen Ensemble
- We confirm our director for our Better Than Shakespeare web series, Liz Rizzo, and our lead actors!
- I wrap up my final semester teaching at USC. Since I won’t be coming back in the Spring semester, this may be my actual final semester, and luckily, the students I got this time around were exceptional.
- I am commissioned by Playwrights Arena in Los Angeles to write a play for Golden Tongues, their annual celebration of Spanish Golden Age plays.
With other playwrights commissioned for the Golden Tongues series
- Chris Moses from the Alliance gives me another commission – to write a play for their Theatre for Very Young Audiences program in 2016 – that is – to write a play for BABIES. When I go to the Alliance in April to see Antigone, I’ll also get to do a WORKSHOP WITH BABIES. What is my life.
And I haven’t mentioned all the stuff I applied to this year, because of course the rule of applying/submitting to anything is to forget about it immediately afterwards.
I have so much stuff lined up for the top of 2015 already:
I’m currently working on the screenplay adaptation of A Nice Indian Boy, hoping to get that done really soon.From January 3-9, I’ll be in Chicago for the first week of rehearsals of A Nice Indian Boy by Rasaka Theatre.January 10-11, I’ll be in D.C. for the opening weekend of In Love and Warcraft by No Rules.January 17, in L.A., Megan will be directing a reading of Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherines.January 24-25, we start production on our Better Than Shakespeare web series.January 26, I fly to Chennai! I’ll be home for three months, till April 25.The Golden Tongues draft will be due at the end of February.I’ll be writing a new play that I’m very excited about while I’m in Chennai.At the end of April, I’ll be back in the U.S., and will be at the opening weekend of Antigone in Atlanta, and also playing with some BABIES.May – June will be full of intense production and post-production work for our web series.And there are another two productions lined up for 2015 that haven’t been officially announced yet.
The year hasn’t really flown by. It’s felt like a year. The best part of it has been connecting with so many impressive and truly special people month after month. But with every opportunity comes an increase in anxiety, and fear of failure on a bigger level, fear of screwing up. The beginning of every project is mentally taxing – I feel mental and emotional pain whenever I sit down to write (whenever I think about writing), but that’s part of the process, and of course I’m lucky, and I don’t want to complain. How could I? My life is what I want it to be – not only do I know what gives me purpose and satisfaction in life, I get to do it. And I get to make people laugh and let them immerse themselves in something they enjoy for a couple of hours, and how awesome is that? It’s all I ever wanted.
Oh my God Ganesha, February is almost over. Two play openings in one month. Two production experiences compressed over 7 weeks. I still feel like I’ve been struck by a battering ram, it might take me the weekend to recover. And I’m too tired to type right now, but here’s what I need to record.
A Nice Indian Boy opened last night. Was overwhelmed by the genuinely lovely conversations I had with board members and audience members after the show during dinner. This play is out into the world. Let’s see what happens.
In Love and Warcraft opened, and closed. What more is there to say about this play, except that it was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
I got to be on NPR (!!!!!!!!): http://wabe.org/post/love-and-warcraft-levels-alliance
And a BUNCH of my friends flew to Atlanta to see it.
My friend Nahal Navidar said, “This month, it’s almost like you’re getting married. Only, it’s better, because you actually did something.”
This month did feel like the best celebration. I got to see so many of the people I loved, at the same time and place, celebrating these stories together. I can’t ask for anything more.
So what’s the term for someone who’s a deeply committed agnostic (as much as one can commit to the idea of non-commitment) but still feels an overwhelming, irrational, almost implausible love for Ganesha? I know I’m not the only one. Somehow this symbol- this image- of an elephant head on a chubby man’s body- does funny things to my brain, making it those release feel-good neurotransmitters, giving me a sense of control, of solace, the feeling that things will be okay.
I collect Ganeshas, here are a few that I have with me in L.A.
Complete with mardi gras beads
I believe in Ganesha without really believing in the rest of the system that Ganesha belongs to and comes from, and that’s fine with me.
When I was 12 or 13, and in a strange place in my life, where I was undergoing a serious spiritual crisis (while also decorating my room with Backstreet Boys posters), I read this book called Loving Ganesha, published by an American Hindu organization called the Himalayan Academy. In it, along with many fun pictures of Ganesha meant to be colored and scribbled on, was the line- people who love Ganesha tend to look like him. And somehow that lodged in my head. Me, at 12 or 13, overweight and with the whole range of body issues that came along with it, suddenly found something to connect to. Of course I like Ganesha, I thought to myself. I look like him. And he looks like me. And he’s so loveable. He loves music and dance and his parents and has a sweet tooth, just like me, and he’s totally adorable and everyone worships him.
Not the way most tweens deal with body issues, but that helped. A lot.
As I grew up, and fell in and out of love with Hinduism with equal intensity, my very strong affection for Ganesha never diminished. I wrote stories about him, doodled him on the edges of my notebook, I even drew him as Santa Claus, complete with mooshika reindeer.
Now let’s flash forward to me in my mid-twenties, where I have inevitably wound up with a Ganesha tattoo on the back of my neck.
(People often tell me that they don’t want to get a tattoo because they can’t imagine the idea of permanence- the idea that they would forever be okay with whatever they tattoo onto their body. How did I get the confidence that I will forever be okay with the idea of Ganesha? And yet I did, and I know I will be.)
In 2011, I wrote the first draft of A Nice Indian Boy. Somehow, even before I wrote it, I knew that this play was going to be the play I was meant to write. It sounds stupid, I know, especially since I’ve barely begun my career, but something took over me when I wrote this, week after week, pages flew out with an ease that I’ve never experienced since. The play begins in front of the Ganesha altar at the Livermore temple in Northern California, where Naveen, my protagonist, first lays eyes on Keshav, the man he will one day marry. The play begins with the sound of a temple bell and Vakra Thunda Maha Kaya being recited by one of the leads, and maybe it’s cheesy as all hell, but if I was going to begin this play, I was going to begin it with an invocation to Ganesha, and there could be no other way.
Throughout the play, Ganesha kept popping up as a metaphor, in the most unexpected and wondrous of ways. My two lovers bond over their Ganesha tattoos (one of which is the one I have). Their relationship intensifies in the middle of the play as contemplate Ganesha’s inherent queerness- the misfit bachelor god in the mostly heteronormative Hindu pantheon.
Keshav, my Caucasian character who converted to Hinduism, is described as a modak, Ganesha’s favorite sweet, because he’s white on the outside and brown on the inside.
Ganesha is also the catalyst for my favorite joke in the whole play. After a particularly rough fight with his stubbornly homosexual son, Naveen’s father looks at a painting of Ganesha on the wall. “You understand father-son troubles, no?” he says. “You only got that elephant head after your father cut off your human head. Now those were real family troubles.”
Ganesha tied the whole play together. In a story that’s personal to me on so many levels, the fact that my favorite God, my imaginary friend, acted as my muse, makes it even more special.
So in the past few days I’ve been hearing some very promising news about the play and the production. Good things are happening, in general. And today, on Vinayaka Chathurthi, the new East West Players website went live, revealing the absolutely perfect new artwork (featuring such a beautiful Ganesha).
But here’s what made my heart sing the most.
So remember Himalayan Academy? The organization that published Loving Ganesha and started this whole thing? So they’re still a part of my life, as I occasionally write for the magazine that they publish- Hinduism Today. I am as agnostic as they are religious and conservative, but I am very fond of the monks who run the Himalayan Academy and am happy to help out.
I never told them about A Nice Indian Boy, though, because to be honest I was a little worried that they might take it the wrong way. To use overtly religious symbology in a gay love story- maybe they’d be offended.
I remember when I was 13 or 14, reading another book on Hinduism that they had published- “Hinduism neither condones nor condemns homosexuality,” the book said. I remember this so clearly, because it just didn’t make sense to me. How can you neither condone nor condemn something? What did that mean?
Anyway. Last week, I sent a very long-overdue email to the publishers of the magazine, to just give them a general update on my life. I mentioned the title of A Nice Indian Boy and the fact that it was getting produced in February, but nothing else. I didn’t tell them what it was about, but I attached the poster art for the production.
I quickly got a reply from one of the monks, Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami:
“You are brave to confront the issue of homosexuality in Hindu families, even at the level of marriage, in your plays. The Hindu world needs more stories like those you write. It is a very slow evolution our community is going through in this regard. We are proud about what you are doing to show people what they need to see, what more recent generations see quite clearly: it’s not a big deal; you love who you love; live and let live.”
How wonderful is this? How absolutely, thrillingly, surprisingly wonderful.
I was wrong to doubt them, as they’ve even put together an LGBT resource pamphlet for their Hindu student organizations, one that is marvelously progressive and kind, and expounds on what I think of as the best aspects of Hindu philosophy- the fact that no one is excluded from salvation, and that if you believe in the divinity of a God, you believe that that divinity exists in everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
The heart of A Nice Indian Boy- the actual midpoint of the story- is a meditation on Hinduism and sexuality, and the importance of storytelling and culture and belief in helping us accept who we are, and love who we are. One character thinks to himself- Ganesha might be queer. And Ganesha might be like me. Therefore, I might be okay.
Identifying with Ganesha saved me in some way when I was a kid. Having an anchor like that- an ancient, powerful symbol on your side- can mean everything to a misfit lost in this world, and I got to write about that in my play.
I can’t explain my love for Ganesha, and I can’t explain how all of the happy things relating to the play are clustering around Vinayaka Chathurthi. I’m still agnostic as the day is long, and I know this is probably a series of happy coincidences, but for now, I’ve got my imaginary friend on the back of my neck and in my heart and things are going to be okay.