8 Microaggressions Actors of Color Hear Daily

“Is acting like your hobby?”

After the Oscars began their slow descent into the wrong side of history, Arpita Mukherjee and Shubhra Prakash, co-founders of Hypokrit Theatre Company, decided to ask the cast of Romeo and Juliet about microaggressions they experienced in show business.

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The term “microaggression” is defined by Columbia professor Derald Sue as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” The word was originally coined by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the ’70s.

Even as ticket sales went live and actors delved into their characters more deeply, Mukherjee and Prakash decided to embark on this photo project to shed light on an often “accepted” problem.

“When it comes to issues of representation, race and inclusion, there really isn’t any business like show business,” said Mukherjee. “Because so much of what happens in the performing arts world can be chalked up to ‘subjectivity’ and because in some cases stereotypes can actually help actors get work, we prefer not to speak up.”

Here are a few of the microaggressions actors in Romeo and Juliet identified as regular occurrences:

1.

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Telling Stories Together

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Here at Hypokrit, we take great pride in our mission to create beautiful work, but all our work wouldn’t mean anything without anyone to share it with. The work we create is only as important as the community we build, and as a group of artists, we are constantly looking for other like minded creators, innovators and thinkers that we can learn from. In the past month, we have been completely overjoyed (and overwhelmed) by the sheer ingenuity of the minds we have had the pleasure of meeting thanks organizations such as SAJA (South Asian Journalist Association), TEDxNewYork and the IAAC.

 

Although we still stand firmly by our downtown theatre roots, especially with the opening of Romeo and Juliet at the Access Theatre coming ever-closer, the SAJA Conference, TEDxNewYork‘s Grand Central and  Indo-American Arts Council’s (IAAC) first annual Literary Festival allowed us to learn from storytellers from all over the world, and from all walks of life. Through this new network of journalists, novelists, directors and artists, we are not only expanding our own mission and message of universality through art, but are also learning that storytellers come in all shapes and forms, as long as you have a listening ear, an attentive eye and an open mind.

Cofounders Arpita Mukherjee and Shubhra Prakash with Sir Salman Rushdie

Cofounders Arpita Mukherjee and Shubhra Prakash with Sir Salman Rushdie

 

At the South Asian Journalist Association Conference (SAJA), there was a plethora of panels covering issues surrounding diversity in the newsroom. As a theatre company that promotes blind casting and casting against type, we were immediately stimulated by how this issue resonated with all types of storytellers. Throughout the panels, we kept returning to one central question- does covering diverse stories bring a diverse audience? Or does seeking out a diverse audience encourage diverse stories?

 

The IAAC has been supporting storytellers, artists and writers since it’s inception. Led by Aroon Shivdasani, the council’s mission has always been to “build an awareness of Indian artistic disciplines in North America, raise enough money to be able to sponsor artist’s activities [and] function as a central clearing house for funds for artistic disciplines.” With the likes of Mira Nair and Booker of Bookers Author Salman Rushdie on the advisory board, it goes without saying that the festival brought along some amazing South Asian creators from all walks of life, including Nair, Rushdie and Aasif Maandvi (The Daily Show, No Lands Man). Thanks to Aroon and the IAAC, we were able to participate in panels that ranged from the writer’s process to how to direct, to the benefits of social media on the art world. Even within the variety of thinkers at the festival, there was a common narrative throughout all the panels that was undeniably present- everyone within the human experience has a story, and that story is always meaningful.

 

There is no denying that technology has influenced the way that we tell stories, but at the TEDxNewYork Grand Central event, multiplatform editor Lam Thuy Vo (Al Jazeera) insists that content always comes before medium. At her talk on how technology is changing storytelling, she spoke of the importance of staying true to the narrative and without the medium convoluting it. And I think that lesson is something that  is important to the entire Hypokrit community, SAJA, IAAC and TEDxNewYork alike: tell stories that matter. Simply, specifically and well.

From Left to Right: Arpita Mukherjee, Clare Murphy, Shubhra Prakash, Maan Singh Tinna

From Left to Right: Arpita Mukherjee, Clare Murphy, Shubhra Prakash, Maan Singh Tinna. Hypokrit team representing at #IAACfest

 

Thank you to SAJA, the IAAC and TEDxNewYork for allowing us to learn so many important lessons this month, and for inviting us to be a part of your community. We can’t wait to see where your stories go.

 

 


No Fear Shakespeare! How to Face Your Fears with the Classics

Classical texts can be some of the most challenging plays to produce. The language is archaic, the plays are long, and the characters are, lets face it, really hard. However, the classics tend to be a go-to for most young theatre companies due to the ease of securing rights. Yet many performers who have limited experience with Shakespeare are turned off from auditioning because the language seems intimidating and frustrating. And that could not be any further from the truth.

There is a reason that companies produce the classics year after year – because they’re timeless. The stories of Shakespeare, for example, can be manipulated and formed to suit any time period, setting or world, making his plays some of the most versatile material for young artists to hone their skills and test their range. I was able to sit down with some of the cast members from Hypokrit’s Romeo and Juliet, whose experience ranges from nerd to newbie, to get their opinions and advice for young actors intimidated by classic texts.

What has been your experience/training in classical material?

Dyalekt

“[I had] limited classical training in college,” admits Dyalekt, a rapper, composer and actor, playing Friar. “The first play I ever wrote was a Hip Hop adaptation of Macbeth (Heir to the Throne HHTF 2001).” Dyalekt never viewed his limited training as an obstacle, but instead chose to use his background in music as an avenue to explore and share Shakespeare’s work: “I’ve taught several Hip Hop/Shakespeare classes, basically about their similarities and how to use the rap-ear the radio gave you to listen to Billy in a way that’s easier to understand. Two summers ago my band (Deathrow Tull) performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where we had freestyle rap Lincoln-Douglas debates about Shakespeare with local MCs and poets.” In Dyakelt’s mind, Shakespeare is far more accessible than people assume.

 

What has been your experience with Shakespeare?

Eusebio Arenas

“Shakespeare is storytelling and character,” observes Chilean actor Eusebio Arenas, who moved to New York to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He plays Prince in Romeo and Juliet. “After you deconstruct the language, Shakespeare is about finding the truth within the scene,” emphasizes Arenas and suggests approaching the text as dialogue between characters, rather than over-thinking the poetry in the language and putting the plays on a pedestal: “[The poetry doesn’t exist]… because the characters are poets. For me the words are still a dialogue and [the] discovery [of that dialogue] is what we must aim for.”

 

How has working on Bollywood & Shakespeare together changed your opinion on either of these genres?

Nikita Chaudhary

Nikita Chaudhry, who trained at NYU Meisner Studio and is playing our gender-bended version of Benvolio, was surprised by the malleability of Shakespeare’s work, especially since it’s often viewed as stuffy, dated and overcomplicated. “I have learned that Bollywood and Shakespeare are not mutually exclusive. I love that we are playing with time, class, style, race and gender in this production, it’s exhilarating,” says Chaudhry who watched Bollywood films growing up. “The language in both, the songs, and the rhythms. The heartbeat of the story is so visceral and strong.”

 

Elizabeth Wessa

 

Elizabeth Wessa, who portrays Lady Capulet, echoed Nikita’s sentiments. “Just being exposed further to Bollywood has given me more of an appreciation for the genre,” she explained as she reflected on her first experiences of watching Bollywood movies. “Combining the two has demonstrated how universal and timeless so many of Shakespeare’s themes are.”

 

How has training your affected your process?
morgan detogne

Morgan DeTogne

“Training has both helped and hindered,” says Chaudhry. “Helped because I am able to dive into the meaning of Benvolio, and really work with what I am getting from those around me. Hindered, because I think I hold back from really going into the extremes of both the Bollywood aesthetic and Shakespeare.” The structure and formality that some conservatory training instills can sometimes prevent actors from approaching the work with a sense of play. The need for playful experimentation in Shakespeare was also reiterated by Morgan DeTogne, who plays Juliet: “My training philosophy [is] that there are no formulas, and to experiment with many techniques to see what works best for you. This has helped me be flexible when embracing the Rasa technique* and working with Arpita on experimenting with the text and emotional arcs in each scene.”

 

What advice do you have for actors working on a Shakespeare play with no classical training?

Dyalekt: Remember that it’s still acting. It’s also music and there’s a lot of direct address, but the same can be said of many [works].

Elizabeth: Don’t be overwhelmed by the language. Shakespeare’s themes and characters are all ones you’ve encountered before. And remember, he wrote for the people, he was a crude, rude, dude so enjoy the work!

Nikita: Relish the words. Use the words and meaning to discover what you’re saying, and as an actor. Learn the rhythm so that you can follow the heartbeat of Shakespeare. Do all the homework you can so that you can be as free as possible when rehearsal and performance comes!

Morgan: Do your homework. There are so many tools available to help you from No Fear Shakespeare (for understanding the text) to texts on iambic pentameter to help you understand the rhythms and beats. Go into your first rehearsal with as much knowledge as you can. And drill the verse cold!

Eusebio: Read other Shakespeare material, focus on the language, so you can immerse your body with the words and be completely in the moment, without having to make an effort to speak. You can only bring yourself to the material with honesty, patience and with an extreme desire to grow, and the director will do the rest for you.

*The theory of performance founded in India from 200 BC, which is used in Sanskrit drama as well as in classical dance and music.


Dos and Don’ts of Auditioning for a Startup Theatre Company

Getting a break (big, small or otherwise) in this city is hard. We get it. Be that as it may, there are countless new theatre companies hungry for dedicated actors to add to their ensemble. The challenge then becomes investigating which company and production is the right fit for you. Working with an energetic new theatre company can be exciting, but often comes with a lot more responsibility than just showing up and spewing lines. A smaller operation can mean more work, but can also be a much more rewarding experience, with the added bonus of giving you more to put on your resume! So if you want to bulk up your resume with some exciting projects, here are some Dos and Don’ts to follow when auditioning for a new theatre company, with insights from Arpita Mukherjee, Founder and Artistic Director of Hypokrit Theatre Company.

DO your research

While this one should be a given for any audition, preparation is paramount. Apart from just learning your sides and showing up on time, do your homework on the company and its founders. “Why are you going to audition for a company that’s just starting out? Why are you going to an indiscriminate building to recite Shakespeare verse? If you can’t answer these questions, you may not be very successful at the audition,” says Mukherjee, who built a theatre company from the ground up in Washington DC and noticed that actors don’t always know what to expect when they go into an audition. “The majority of theatre companies fail. Most independent theatre out there, although brave, isn’t commercially successful. So why go, unless you really believe in the project? You won’t learn everything from an audition notice, so check out the company’s Facebook page, website (if they have one), email the casting director, read up on the company’s mission, and at the audition, ask questions about the company.”

DON’T fake interest

“‘So what is this all about’ and ‘How will rehearsals work’ are NOT good questions,” advises Mukherjee. “If you ask about anything already mentioned clearly in the casting call, that just tells the casting director you didn’t read up on the company and are now asking some general questions to appear like you care. Your question needs to be specific and something you really do want to know.” If you didn’t do your homework, the last thing you want to do is give yourself away.

DO pursue projects you’re passionate about

Once you’ve read up on a company and their production, you should be excited about it! If not, don’t bother auditioning for them. In the long run it just wastes your time and the director’s time, which is no fun for anyone. And it could come back to bite you if you end up auditioning for them again.

DO treat others as you want to be treated (especially if you expect them to hire you!)

Just because a company is small or the play has a shoestring budget, doesn’t mean that it matters any less than a show on Broadway. In fact, the directors, producers and actors in small companies are probably working very long hours and running on limited resources, so their time is extremely valuable. There’s nothing worse than listening to an actor talk about his or her busy schedule, or how the company would really have to make it worth the actor’s time in order for them to be in the production. “Not only is it offensive,” asserts Mukherjee, “it just seems ridiculous. If you are so busy, why are you here, looking for work? I know that websites and gurus treat auditioning like a power game, and try to empower actors to beat that game, but it’s still you, asking for a job. Be confident, but don’t be a jerk.”

DON’T be afraid of hard work

When working with smaller companies, chances are you may be asked to do more than just act. Companies with a small budget need all the help they can get, especially with marketing. Although this requires more work and time, in the end it can be a very empowering and enriching experience, giving artists a more holistic insight into a play and more knowledge to add to your resume. “I’m not afraid of hard work,” insists Mukherjee, “what I am afraid of is actors who won’t work hard. Chances are, I won’t hire the great actor with a bad attitude. Attitude matters more than talent. For a company just beginning to stand on its feet, it’s important to have a team full of unselfish actors who get on board when something goes wrong.”

DO believe in yourself and the work you choose to do.

“Ultimately, a theatre company is just like a startup, fueled by the passion of those that are part of it, and so it needs more than actors – or interns – or volunteers, it needs believers. And when you audition, you have to decide whether you believe in this company and its work enough to really be a part of it,” concludes Mukherjee, who auditioned over 100 people before assembling not one, but two casts for Hypokrit Theatre Company’s inaugural production Romeo and Juliet. “Every actor we hire, we invest time in making him or her better. If an actor just wants to get a part, act, and then get a bigger part, he or she should be doing rounds of established companies. A startup is a completely different way of building a career; it’s staking your bets on one thing that you really think will foster your talent.”

In the end, if you find a company with a sound business plan, where your skills are valued, all you need to be successful is a willingness to work and a good attitude. The payoff could not only include consistent, great work, but also a meaningful network of artists and patrons that allow you to pursue your own projects. So keep your chin up, be willing to learn, and remember, even the Royal Shakespeare Company started with just a few people that believed in something.

Happy auditioning!


Launch Party Preview

So our Launch Party is just around the corner, and we’re very excited to debut our Hypokrit Ensemble to you all! Our cast, crew and creative team have been working tirelessly on a fierce trailer featuring a dramatic duel between the Montagues and the Capulets…Holi Style. Confused? Excited? Titillated? We are too, in a good way.

We can’t get enough of our stellar Romeo and Juliet cast, so with the help of virtuoso photographer, Kyle Rosenberg, we captured some shots of our cast in character to get us into the Bollywood vibe, not that we had any trouble with that.

Below are some candids of our flawless cast from our photo shoot and trailer shoot. We can’t wait to share the final products with you on Thursday the 18th of September, 9pm at The Empire Hotel Rooftop!

 

 

#Bedroomeyes

Monique giving us them bedroom eyes.

STOP IT MONIQUE!!!

 

 

BAMF

Shubhra as our resident bad-ass

LEAVE SOME FOR US, SHUBHRA! GOD!

 

 

Cheesin'

A coupla hunks, cheesin’.

#cheesin like the best of them.

 

 

Feetsies!

Take a picture of your feet…

…Bitches love feet.

 

 

I'm ready for my closeup

I don’t always get drunk…

…but when I do, I want it photographed

 

 

 

Firestarter

He’s a firestarter…

…twisted firestarter

 

 

***WE***

 

Damn. Straight.


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Welcome to our blog!

Hello World!

Welcome to our blog! We’re Hypokrit Theatre Company, and we’re so excited to introduce ourselves to you with our rendition of Romeo and Juliet through a Bollywood lens, and this page is our way of sharing the production process with you!

Even though our production is in February (the only appropriate month to open Romeo and Juliet) we want to share our journey with you. This blog will give you an inside look into the lives of our actors, directors, producers, and the whole team involved in bringing this play to life! We’ll be sharing behind the scenes videos, pictures, vlogs and musings about Romeo and Juliet, all our Hypokrit Events, and anything else we thought you guys would be interested in!

And not only that, we want to hear from you! Got something to say about one of our posts? Then be sure to leave a comment or send us a message! We can’t wait to get talking about Shakespeare, love, and of course, Bollywood!

So once again welcome, welcome welcome! Let’s fall in love together- with Hypokrit’s Romeo and Juliet!