• Tuesday, April 15, 2014
  • April?

    Halfway through April, and so far, the word to use for 2014 is intense. And, for the record, producing an event is 6 million times harder than just writing a play. Pfff.

    A Nice Indian Boy closed on March 27, and I had to say goodbye (for now) to these beautiful people.
    My favorite moment of the production was when a packed house – mostly people from Satrang and API-Equality – came to see the play and stayed for a talkback hosted by Prince Gomolvilas. It was affirming, and really what I personally needed to hear… that this was worthwhile. That this story means something for the people I was writing it for (besides me, and my parents, obv.)

    And I got an article about me in Rediff, which means the Indian internet has acknowledged my existence.

    And right from the time Indian Boy opened, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles kicked into HIGH gear, and ate up my LIFE till like… well, we closed on Sunday but the wrap-up continues. But my life is now mostly mine again.

    Producing an event for creative people is easy on some level because you believe so strongly in those creative people that you’re pouring your heart and soul into the work. On the other hand, it’s FREAKING hard and stressful because… it’s production!

    But the people I met were brilliant. And the films were exceptional. And so I’m happy I got to do it.

    All through IFFLA I kept thinking… when this is over, man. My life is gonna change. I’m gonna keep the house clean, do laundry, read books, even bake cookies. So far, I’ve been napping and eating my favorite cereal for dinner. But I did do one load of laundry. Baby steps.

  • Tuesday, September 10, 2013
  • Loving Ganesha

    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 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.

    Sack full of kozhakattais Sack full of kozhakattais

    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.

    It hurt less than eyebrow threading. It hurt less than eyebrow threading.

    (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).

    A-Nice-Indian-Boy-Slider-Image

    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.

    iPad doodle iGanesha

    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.

  • Saturday, August 31, 2013
  • When it rains, etc.

    OMG at the Alliance OMG at the Alliance

    Look Mom, I’m on a poster.

    And not very long from now, I’ll be on a marquee (or two) as well!

    I don’t have anything particularly interesting to write about right now, so how about we just make a record of what I’ve been doing in the past couple of months.

    As of this week, my unemployment troubles have ceased, as I somehow managed to line up three freelance jobs that I’m equally happy about. Which also means I suddenly have work. Like actual work. And I need to structure my time and be disciplined and all of that. And clean my room. Cleaning my room is integral to everything else in my life. Always.

    The first round of auditions for In Love and Warcraft took place in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago (where I found myself on a poster), and they were equal parts fun and stressful, and the fun was abundantly supplied by my awesome director Laura Kepley who I am now officially in love with. Our next round will take place in New York in November, which also means I get to go to New York yay yay yay yay. YAY.

    Photo Aug 09, 15 31 01

    I got the new East West Players season brochure in the mail and FELL IN LOVE (cannot emphasize enough) with the amazing poster art for A Nice Indian Boy. This could not be more perfect. Look at that beautiful Ganesha. It’s everything I wanted.

    And of course the most amazing part of my summer was the 8 days I spent in D.C. at the MFA Playwright’s workshop at the Kennedy Center. I got to work on ILAW with Celise Kalke, my dramaturg at the Alliance, Shirley Serotsky, my D.C. director, and a brilliant cast. The reading was fantastic. It was the first time I’d heard the play outside of my USC workshop last year- and yay. It was still funny.

    attractive actors being funny attractive actors being attractive and awesome

    In fact you should just read Celise’s account of our week, just stop reading and go read that.

    I met wonderful theatre people- directors and dramaturgs and actors and theatre students from D.C. and all over the country- and got to hang out with fellow playwrights all at similar stages in our careers, and got to sightsee a bit, and generally just had the best time.

    It didn’t feel that way in the beginning though. On the Saturday that I landed, after the amazing Gregg Henry dropped me off at the hotel, I started freaking out about the week ahead. I was so very nervous about having to meet so many people- I didn’t know anyone there, since I wouldn’t see my own team till Monday- I did not want to talk to strangers. I was having a full on introvert meltdown.

    At 7pm we were all supposed to gather in the lobby for the shuttle that would take us to the Kennedy Center. At 7pm, I came down to the lobby, and saw a whole bunch of chatty, happy, theatre-y looking people generally being sociable human beings. I also saw the shuttle waiting right outside. Stay and talk, Madhuri, stay and talk, I kept telling myself, but I couldn’t do it. I walked right through the lobby and outside, and got in the shuttle.

    Where I saw four people sitting by themselves, looking awkward. I took a seat by myself as well. The silence stretched on for… minutes? Until finally, one guy suddenly spoke up- “Hi, I’m Kelly Lusk, sorry, this is weird.” And we all introduced ourselves.

    A few seconds.

    And then I asked- “Wait, are we all playwrights?”

    And of course we were. The directors and dramaturgs and actors were inside being chatty cathys while the playwrights were in the bus avoiding human contact.

    And I immediately felt better. (And grateful to Kelly Lusk, who is awesome.)

    playwrights comma sozzled playwrights comma sozzled

    By the end of the week, I grew to really adore the other playwrights and it felt strange on our final Sunday when we suddenly had to disperse all over the country again.

    For the past six weeks, I was also consumed with a script that I was not able to crack. My very first attempt at writing a TV pilot, a half-hour comedy spec, based on my own life- that’s always tricky.

    Anyway, on Sunday, I finished it. I can’t remember the last time I was so relieved to have typed to the end- although maybe first drafts always feel this way (no, they don’t. This was a tough one).

    Anyway, the only reason I got it done 5 days before my real deadline was because Hema told me that finishing this script would count as her birthday present.

    Hema the adorbs with draft #1 Hema the adorbs with draft #1

    So my trick to productivity is to… forget to get my roommate a birthday present and have her unselfishly let me make it up to her by doing something I’m supposed to be doing anyway.

    One more pass, with help from Megan, and then it’s off before my Labor Day deadline.

    My mom tweeted this photo of me for Krishna Jayanthi.

    madhurikrishna

    YAY WEEKEND! (of rewrites!)

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013
  • Make gifts for people

    A couple of things-

    My play ‘Monkey Love’ will have a reading (a 30 minute excerpt) as part of Ingenue Theatre’s Short Plays: South Asia festival in the exotic land of Brooklyn.

    As part of the promos, they asked for a brief thing about what inspires me to write. So I wrote this.

    Sometimes I fancy myself an invisible anthropologist.

    I was born in San Jose, CA, and moved to Chennai, India when I was nine. I lived in India till I was 20, and currently live in Los Angeles, but even today, I can’t quite figure out what ‘home’ is, exactly.

    I grew up in India always feeling a bit like an alien- but an invisible one. I looked like everyone else for the first time in my life, but somehow I couldn’t relate to the people around me. I was a stranger on the inside, and no one could tell.

    Here, of course, I’m a minority, but in one of the most diverse cities in the country, a place where most people come to, not leave from. I’m different, but in Los Angeles, that lets me blend in.

    And so I observe. Whether in India, hiding behind the way I look, or in LA, just another out-of-towner among many. I’m an invisible anthropologist. Always one step removed.

    And so, I write.

    And here’s what I discovered a few days ago through my friend Chitra on Facebook, that I absolutely love. I love this. This is everything.

    MAKE GIFTS FOR PEOPLE

    A Nice Indian Boy in particular was a labour of love. I wanted to gift the play to my parents. I wrote with them in mind, and with the excitement and anticipation of sharing it with them. It is my gift to them, in the only way I can make one. Through this play I hoped to show them that I not only loved them, but that I respected them, and that I understood them- and understood myself. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and it’s a gift to the two people I love most.

  • Friday, June 14, 2013
  • “How’s unemployment treating you?”

    A friend of mine pinged on gchat the other day with this question, and I didn’t get a chance to respond, because I think I was about to shut down my computer and go take a nap.

    Anyway, my answer would have been – I’M LOVING IT.

    Staying at home all day, answering emails, catching up on Netflix and thinking up stories is my unmitigated bliss. I know that I should get a job, that it’s good for me, and yeah of course I’ll be very happy and relieved once I do get a job, but in the meantime I’m loving not having to wear clothes that button up or zip or fasten in any sort of way.

    […Hey, universe, I actually would like a job. I’m just being a baby. So if you do actually have any sentient sense and force of will at all, please disregard my love of sweatpants and nudge one of those HR recruiters into replying to my emails. Thank you.]

    I haven’t updated this blog for a long time, for many reasons (coughlazyasssweatpantscough), but one reason in particular- every post was being permalinked as madhurishekar.com/“post title”, whatever it was. And that started giving me the heebies. Every post had to mean something, because it was gonna be madhurishekar.com/“post”! Too much pressure! Until I finally peeked in the settings today and found out that I could adjust that. So from now on posts are gonna be in the much less intimidating madhurishekar.com/year/month/date/“random number” format. Much better.

    So what’s been happening since my last real update. Well…

    The big ones-

    East West Players will be producing A Nice Indian Boy as part of their 2013/2014 season. Opening night will be February 24, closely following the run of In Love and Warcraft at the Alliance. Two productions in two months of two different plays, my first year out of graduate school. All I can hope for is that this doesn’t mean I’ve peaked. (Hey, Universe? Yeah. This too.)

    Made it to the finals of the Many Voices Fellowship at the Playwrights Center and spent about seven nerve wracking weeks pondering the possibility that I may have to move to Minneapolis after graduation. Luckily, the fellowship was awarded to someone much more deserving, and most likely far less of a wimp about temperatures below 15 degrees celsius.

    Finished an extensive rewrite of A Nice Indian Boy this semester,culminating with an amazing two-week experience of rehearsing and presenting it as a staged reading for the USC New Works III Festival. Directed by the brilliant Robert Egan and featuring a wonderful cast- Sunil Malhotra, Michael Weston, Pia Shah, Ravi Kapoor and Meera Simhan. My family came to see it on June 1, which also happened to be my parents’ wedding anniversary. My mother cried. My father cried. My brother laughed at all the right places. That’s all I cared about.

    The cast in rehearsal. The cast in rehearsal.

    Got to fly out to Atlanta to take part in the Alliance Theater’s Taste of the Season event, where I hung out with the beautiful Celise Kalke and got to meet Susan Booth and Pearl Cleage and many of the other truly lovely people who work at the Alliance. I think maybe the most wonderful thing about this experience is that they have set such a high standard for me to expect from my collaborators. The Alliance artists and staff treated me with such respect and kindness that I immediately felt comfortable, and understood that this shouldn’t be an exception just because they happen to be nice people. It’s what I should expect as a playwright, and a person. As someone just starting out, this means a lot.

    20130613-183915.jpg And there was so much free food. So much free food!

    I have an agent! I’m signing with lovely Beth Blickers from Abrams. Yay!

    And… I graduated from USC with two of my best friends in the world.

    20130613-183853.jpg

    And I’m unemployed right now, but that’s fine, because 2013 has just been crazy ass awesome so far, and I can handle a little downtime.

    (Hey, Universe. Thank you.)

  • Wednesday, February 13, 2013
  • Find Untold Stories

    Find untold stories, things that fascinate you, and do your best to tell them honestly. There’s so little truth in the world these days, any small morsel of it is a precious thing that will be appreciated, and find a grateful audience.

    Don’t look for “big” stories, just look for ones that matter to you. The more you work at it, the better your work will be, and the more people will see it.

    -Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing.

    From http://lifehacker.com/5983834/how-we-work-alan-henrys-favorite-gear-and-productivity-tricks

  • Monday, February 11, 2013
  • The Tower of Pisa

    The rewrite of A Nice Indian Boy is kind of kicking my ass. I came up with a great analogy for it last night (if nothing else, I still have analogies) and told Megan about it. My draft is like the leaning tower of Pisa. It’s very elegantly constructed and it works as a building but the foundation is messed up so the whole thing is just off at an angle.

    Also, TOWER OF PIZZA Also, TOWER OF PIZZA

    So as I try and fix the foundation, I have to rebuild the whole structure and lose many of the little accoutrements I loved so much. And that is the end of my analogy. For now.

    So let’s procrastinate by blogging.

    – On Friday, I had my first conversation with Susan Booth at the Alliance, and even now, three weeks after I found out the news, I still cannot believe my play won. Every conversation with people at the Alliance leaves me feeling like I’m walking on air. They do genuinely love the play, and I can’t describe how incredible that feeling is. We talked about directors. I’m so excited. The names she mentioned were fantastic. I can’t wait to see where this goes. I also got sent my contract. Hello, $. Heh.

    – Saw Chinglish on Saturday night with Megan and Zury, at South Coast Rep. My first thoughts as we settled into the play was – how elegant. It was so elegantly crafted, so light and airy, so VERY funny, so beautifully (and I mean beautifully) designed, both in terms of the production and the script. And yet at the end, I’m still left unmoved. I wonder why. Maybe I didn’t feel the loss of the love story at the end, because I didn’t fall in love with the characters to begin with.

    – Went to a stand-up show in Santa Monica with Megan last night, as part of research for her thesis play. All I can say is- all life experiences are good writing fodder. That, and I should probably give stand-up another shot when I’m done with this semester.

    Now, back to work.

  • Wednesday, February 6, 2013
  • Swallowed Fire

    Last night I got to meet Callie Kimball, whom I’ve known through Twitter for maybe almost three years now, and as with most of my online friends it just felt so natural and easy to talk to her in person. I also got to go for the reading of her play ‘Swallowed Fire’ done by the Absolute LA Theatre company in NoHo. This is the second reading in a row I really enjoyed myself at. So funny, so charming, so sweet, so melancholy. A woman goes down in a submarine and is forced to confront her worst fear in that underwater, claustrophobic space- her mother (in a box). The love triangle in the submarine was so delicious, so much fun, I want to write something like that too. Soon. It’s a work-in-progress, so I emailed her my thoughts later, and the structure of her piece made me think of the structure of A Nice Indian Boy- the importance of the launch, the inner life of the protagonist, and how far you can push them.

    The reading was produced by Callie’s Twitter friends too. The Internet is such a wonderful thing.

    The curator of the awesome site Dark, Lovely and South Asian shared this quote on Facebook today, and it kind of blew me away. I’ve been struggling with artistic statements for grant applications for the past couple of weeks, and this quote comes along and just… says it.

    5185-junot-diaz

    “You guys know about vampires? You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?’ And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

    – Junot Diaz, Speaking to students at Bergen Community College

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013
  • Holy shit, 2013 is off to a good start.

    Jet-lagged and awake at 4am in Los Angeles, but for once in my life it is the feeling of ridiculously, incredibly, unbelievably good news that is keeping me from falling back to sleep.

    I awoke from a similar jet-lagged coma yesterday afternoon to find my phone ringing with an unknown number from Atlanta. “Atlanta,” I thought jokingly to myself. “Maybe it’s the Alliance Theatre telling me I’ve won the Kendeda and they want to produce my play.”

    …WELL.

    I WON THE KENDEDA, AND THEY’RE GOING TO PRODUCE MY PLAY.

    I’m going to be in Atlanta January and February 2014, for the production of ‘IN LOVE AND WARCRAFT’. I’m going to have readings at the Kennedy Center in DC and at the Lark Play Development Center in NYC.

    Holy… shit.

    It really, really hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe it. This is…

    Okay. Yeah. More later when I’ve processed this.