Actor/playwright tells story of her own cultural transition from India to the U.S. in one-woman play
As an actor, Priyanka Shetty has no problem making the character in the one-woman play “The Elephant in the Room” her own. The character is Shetty herself, after all.
Shetty is the playwright, too, for “Elephant,” which deals with her experiences in two cultures, each posing its own set of problems for the young theater artist.
“This is my truth. Some of the truth comes as harsh realities, things people don't like to talk about,” Shetty said in a phone interview. “It's not my whole life's story, but the part of it that is my transition from India to America. But everything I talk about is 100 percent true.”
While “The Elephant in the Room” concerns Shetty's finding her way in two very different cultures, the immediate impetus for the decision to turn her experiences into a stage play was an instance of racism Shetty experienced in Charlottesville, Virginia, no less, where she is pursuing a master's degree in acting at the University of Virginia.
“The semester after [the Unite the Right rally and riots], I experienced my first real taste of racial discrimination on a personal level,” said Shetty, who declined to elaborate on specifics. “That particular incident gave me the drive to follow through with writing the play, to say that this is real and it happens and it's not fun. So I talk, in the play, about how it crushed me and how it made me feel.”
But the story begins in India, as Shetty wrestles with “growing up in an Orthodox family that wouldn't dream of having an actor for a daughter.”
“But I've been drawn to [acting],” Shetty said. “It's my true calling, what I was meant to do.”
She founded a theater company in India in 2010, and eventually left a successful business career in the country to move to the U.S. to study acting.
While living in Columbus, Shetty worked with acting coach Joe Bishara, who directs “The Elephant in the Room,” presented this Sunday, July 22, as part of the South Asian Theatre Festival.
“Her story is immediate and authentic. It's exceptionally timely,” Bishara said, describing the play as “a cross between a monologue and standup.”
“There are humorous moments, but the topics are hard-hitting,” Shetty said. “It's especially relevant to our current political climate.”