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Students bring diversity to the stage in “East, West”

Anushka Kulshreshtha ’21, Zoe Mahler ’22, Indira Kapur ’20, Anna Wilson ’22 and Katherine Kopp ’21 rehearse “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” from the West portion of “East, West.” Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

On May 8 and 9 at 7:30 pm, the Studies in Performance Theatre and Dance seminar will perform “East, West,” a series of three consecutive dramatic adaptations of short stories by British Indian writer Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s anthology is divided into three main sections: “Free Radio,” “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” and “The Courter.” Students in the class adapted each story into a play as a part of the course, taught by Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Lesley Delmenico. The class read several post-colonial texts in order to study the art of adapting works of literature for the stage.

“My particular interest is in post-colonial drama, and along with that comes post-colonial literature,” said Delmenico.

“I’m really interested in adapting work, and I’ve been a big fan of Salman Rushdie’s work for a long time. He’s really difficult to adapt because most of his work is massive and sprawling, with lots of characters and lots of references and embellishments. And it’s wonderful, but it’s really tough.”

The dedicated students in this 300-level course, however, have been working tirelessly to bring these shows together. The tightly-knit class of nine was split into three groups, each in charge of adapting one short story from “East, West.”

Each team was comprised of a writer, a designer and a director to ensure the success of the production. Delmenico praised her students’ ability to collaborate and adapt a story to the stage without a budget.

Ahon Gooptu ‘21 is directing “The Courter” from the East, West portion of Rushdie’s story collection. He is excited to see a story with South Asian representation adapted for the stage.

“I’m the only international student and one of the only three people of color in the class, and it’s been nice to stage stories that I identify with,” said Gooptu.

“So far, in my one and a half years at Grinnell, all of the shows that we’ve done have been written by white men … so when I go into an audition, I know that I’m auditioning for a role that was written for a white person.”

Though some in the class were worried that they might not get enough people of color to cast in the show, Gooptu remained optimistic.

Of the 30 students who auditioned, he was glad to see 12 of them were from South Asia.

Mithila Iyer ‘19 is an actress in “The Courter.” Iyer was eager to get involved because of the opportunity to play a character who shared her South Asian identity.

Both Gooptu and Iyer relate to characters and themes present in the shows, including the concept of what home is and where to find it.

“I would just love to see more of these kinds of opportunities in terms of diversity of characters and representation,” said Iyer. “And I’m really glad that my last play at Grinnell is one in which I’m able to be a South Asian character.”

Performances will take place in the Wall Performance Lab in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. No tickets are required.

Anushka Kulshreshtha ’21, Zoe Mahler ’22, Indira Kapur ’20, Anna Wilson ’22 and Katherine Kopp ’21 rehearse “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” from the West portion of “East, West.” Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

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