Shailja Patel on Theatre: “Theatre is a relationship”
Migritude is founded on Shailja Patel’s multiple and deeply connected relationships. Such as the relationship with her history and culture, and her relationship with her identity. Patel’s personal experience, as well as the experiences of those close to her, tell a complex story of strength, pain, and love. It is only fitting that she use theatre to present them. In addition to the relationships established in the text, theatre introduces new perspectives;
- Patel + the audience: Possibly the most important, the connection between Patel and the audience dictates how well the message gets across. The goal of the show is to share the stories of the people who are forgotten or left out of history. Having that strong connection ensures they will be heard. Below are some examples on how she breaks the barrier between the stage and the audience.
- “When I perform the first part of this piece, I become the watcher. I have to see my parents and the immigration official so vividly, that the audience sees them too” (92).
- “In the finale of the show, the audience has finally earned the right to see the saris in all their splendor. Because they’ve engaged with the violence and violation beneath” (95).
- Patel + the Director and Choreographer: Little is mentioned about the professional process between Patel and her coworkers. But, it can be assumed that through the time and care put into every detail of Migritude, as mentioned often in part two of the piece.
- The show was Directed by Kim Cook, who also acted as the Dramaturg and Creative Development Partner. Cook brought both a professional and personal perspective to Migritude. Her background and passion for Art and Civic engagement mirrors Patel’s own attitudes. This similarity creates trust and respect between the two artists. The strength of the performance signifies that.
- Choreographer Parijat Desai, brought a new element that Patel had little experience with. Dancing was used to express emotion and conflict, so Patel put a great deal of faith into Desai to bring those experiences forward.
- Patel + Migritude: Without Patel, Migritude would have no life. The success of the show relies entirely on Patel. Her relationship with the stories is the primary motivation to continue pushing and creating art that engages the audience with activism and passion. Below is a podcast that explores the different mediums of Migritude, and highlights Patel’s experience with performing.
This video gives insight into how Patel prepared for the one-woman show, and what the show means to her as an artist.
The use of fabric as prop and symbol:
Saris play a significant role in both the text and the performance. To Patel, they hold powerful ties to her family and identity. For the audience, they are the link between the culture and history of the show. Each Sari was chosen with clear intent and motivation, base on what they represent.
- Saris symbolize femininity in Patel’s experience, which was closely linked to weakness and fear as well.
- The fact that the Saris are personal belongings of Patel, and were given to her from her mother, adds humanity and depth to the performance and evoke a passion in Patel that feeds the performance. She described watching her mom dress in her Sari before weddings as “…our childhood theatre” (79).
How do they function in the show?
Having visual tools such as the saris allows for more creative expression and aids in storytelling. Since this is a one-woman show, Patel cannot rely on dialogue to push the story along. She must create tension and emotions with the small amount of tools she has besides her self. This is done with careful consideration and timing. It conveys tone and attitude, character development, and cultural context. Here are some examples of how Patel utilized the saris to provide technical and creative support.
- “Shake the folds together with a snap. Hangs the sari firmly on a bar as I say, “A man we can do business with” (79).
- [Watching her mother dress] “When she put on a sari, it was a ritual, ceremony. She brought a precise choreography to the folding of the pleats at the waist, the extension of her arm to measure length of the pallav” (80).
This is another example of how Patel uses fabric to coney emotions and character.
Here is audio of a reading of “The Making (Migrant Song)” which is featured in Migritude.
Lu Yao & Veronika Lynch ’19