East West Players (EWP), the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, in partnership with San Francisco’s EnActe Arts and New York City’s Hypokrit Productions, is proud to present three unique virtual world premieres of “The Sitayana (or How to Make an Exit)” by Lavina Jadhwani (Time Out Chicago’s “Best Next-Generation Stage Director”), directed by Reena Dutt (“Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine’s,” Sacred Fools Theater Company), from Sept. 25 to 27, with livestream shows running through Oct. 17.
“The Sitayana” is an artful transposition of the Hindu epic “The Ramayana” told from Sita’s point of view. Part epic tale, part coming of age story, “The Sitayana” is the ultimate breakup play. Audiences attending the livestreamed viewings will be given the choice of one of three unique incarnations of Sita from whom they will hear her story (“Amar Chitra Sita,” “Sita’s Mehndi Party,” and “Sita’s Slumber Party”), which questions traditional gender roles, subverts idealized views of femininity, and ultimately centers Sita as a hero within her own epic journey.
The production, part of the Virtual 55th Anniversary Season of East West Players, “Between Worlds,” had previously been postponed in May 2021. Each of the versions will be available for video-on-demand viewing beginning Monday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Oct. 17.
“The story of Ram and Sita is one as old as time. What Lavina has brilliantly done here is reframed the story through the lens of modern relationships. Along the way upending stereotypes of femininity and providing a refresh to dated views of chastity, commitment, and duty,” says EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai. “It is also such a groundbreaking moment that producing this play virtually has allowed us to collaborate with our friends at EnActe Arts and Hypokrit Theatre, two of the most innovative and adventurous theater companies in the country.”
“South Asia represents one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, the hallmark of which has been a tradition of oral storytelling from the advent of language, dating from before the written word was invented. Some stories, like this one, have been continuously propagated through several millennia of human evolution because they address basic human relationships and adapt to the time and place wherein they are re-told,” says EnActe Arts Artistic Director Vinita Belani. “EnActe Arts is excited to be partnered with East West Players and Hypokrit Productions to bring not one, not two but three fresh new takes on this ages-old tale, to tell a truly universal story to global audiences from a contemporary, feminine lens. Our ‘pitaara’ (basket) of millenia-old stories is large, and this is just the beginning!”
“There’s probably no better person to provide an irreverent and yet wholly truthful in themes adaptation to one of south Asia’s most iconic epics than Lavina Jadhwani. We are proud to support a voice as singular as Lavina’s as well as her inimitable collaborators, Reena Dutt and Amrita Ramanan,” says Hypokrit Productions Artistic Director Arpita Mukherjee. “This is the future of American theatre, where a multitude of South Asian voices can come together rather than being the token participant in their storytelling.”
EWP was founded in 1965, at a time when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) faced limited or no opportunities to see their experiences reflected outside of stereotypical and demeaning caricatures in the American landscape. EWP not only ensures that API stories are told, but works to increase access, inclusion, and representation in entertainment and media.
EnActe Arts is a nonprofit organization co-located in Silicon Valley and Houston. The term “South Asian” is used broadly by EnActe Arts to represent the people of the greater Indian subcontinent living in the region and abroad, including the historical cultural influences of the region. EnActe Arts is a talent incubator and a platform for engaging diverse populations in conversations on social issues to create greater awareness and tolerance from a South Asian perspective. EnActe’s programs and productions are rooted in developing talent and creating opportunities for actors, playwrights and creative and technical production staff at any skill level and of all ages and ethnicities.
Hypokrit Productions’ mission is to fundamentally disrupt the American entertainment industry, with the purpose to make the arts more equitable and relevant to a wider audience. Hypokrit exclusively develops work by global-majority artists, with a specific focus on artists of South Asian descent. Hypokrit focuses on producing work that appeals to a multicultural and transnational audience. They develop TV and film projects, giving artists a greater opportunity for exposure, and the audience a greater opportunity for representation and connection.
Lavina Jadhwani is a Chicago-based director, adaptor, and advocate. She creates work that is well-crafted, rigorously researched, compassionately curated, and radically inclusive. As a second-generation immigrant, she constantly investigates the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” and through her work, she strives to expand the definition of that word to include more minority voices.
Jadhwani’s directing credits include work at Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Conservatory Theater, Asolo Repertory Theatre, Guthrie Theater, Mixed Blood Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Phoenix Theatre (Indianapolis), Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, Teatro Vista, Writers Theatre, and Rasaka Theatre Company (where she served as artistic director for six years). She maintains relationships with Silk Road Rising (artistic associate), Steppenwolf Theatre Company (artistic engagement associate), and the National New Play Network (Affiliated Artists Council). Time Out Chicago named her their “Best Next-Generation Stage Director” in 2013.
Reena Dutt is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors’ Lab (New York City), Directors Lab West (Los Angeles), and a semi-finalist for Drama League’s New York Directing Fellowship. In December 2019 she closed the world premiere of “Defenders” by Cailin Harrison at The Broadwater, and in March 2020, she opened the West Coast premiere of “Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine’s” by Madhuri Shekar on the Sacred Fools stage. Right before Critics Pick was publicly announced after opening weekend, the play was flung into COVID abyss (incredibly Shakespearean of the world at large). Prior to that she assistant directed for Jo Bonney at The Geffen Playhouse on Jose Rivera’s world premiere of “The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona,” and Drama League’s Jennifer Chang on EWP’s and The Fountain Theatre’s Los Angeles premiere of “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo.”
The cast of “The Sitayana” includes: Nikita Chaudhry (“Sita’s Slumber Party”), Sheetal Gandhi (“Sita’s Mehndi Party”), and Minita Gandhi (“Amar Chitra Sita”).
The creative team includes: Reena Dutt, director; Amrita Ramanan, dramaturg; Lisa Tom, director of photography; Kristen Flores, production designer; Nancy Chou, video editor/graphic effects and titles artist; Ashphord Jacoway, costume designer; Sharath Patel, sound designer; Aki Ruiz, illustrator; Neha Assar Pancha, mehndi artist; Brandon Hong Cheng, stage manager.
“Between Worlds” will culminate with actor Danny Pudi (TV’s “Community” and Apple+’s “Mythic Quest”) making his debut as a playwright with his show in development, “Running,” in late fall 2021.
Tickets for “The Sitayana”: $9.99 for livestream and video on demand. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.eastwestplayers.org