Students Convert Literature into Stage Production
The idea began more than two years ago during a Hindu scripture class. Miranda Milillo ’16 and Megan English ’16 took the course and fell in love with an epic literary play by Muthal Naidoo titled “Flight from the Mahabarath.” The compelling theme and characters are the stuff great shows are made of, but this one came with a catch—it was not intended to be performed.
“The play wasn’t written to be performed. This is the first time the play is being translated to the stage,” said Milillo, director of the show and an English and religion dual major.
What began as a joke to turn the piece of literature into an actual production soon grew into an enormous project. The students created an independent study to analyze the text, write synopses of scenes, and do general prep work to bring the play to life this semester with Dr. Matthew Sayers, associate professor of religion, supervising.
“Flight from the Mahabarath” is a feminist critique of an ancient Hindu text attributed to the scribe Vyasa. The play centers on the women of the text leaving “Mahabarath” to make a life of their own away from the constricting stories the original author wrote for them. When two men join them, they begin to fear that their presence will lead to their new life becoming just like the old one. Each of the women shares their individual stories during their journey, attempting to leave the past behind in hope for a better future. The heavy emotional impact and message of gender equality was something that compelled the directors from the start.
“The women in this play struggle with the fact that they profess an inclusive lifestyle but attempt to censor the way the men are able to express themselves. Through this conflict, they learn that male hegemony does not only oppress women, but also men who challenge heteronormativity,” said Milillo.
The play tackles the subject of feminism to challenge a contemporary audience’s view of the word and shed light on a topic that is worth talking about.
A great deal of effort was put into getting this message out. After their independent study, Milillo and English put in all the work that goes into any theater production. Their casting process included a read-through of the text and auditions that enabled the actors to become familiar with the story. Rehearsals began soon afterward and coincided with the Wig and Buckle Theater Company’s rehearsals for their own upcoming play, leading to a lot of juggling of time and shared theater space. English, an actuarial science and religion dual major and stage manager of the show, has done the same job in the past for Wig and Buckle productions so is no stranger to the role.
“We learned a lot about the challenges of orchestrating this cross-culturally inspired piece to reflect the diversity that Muthal Naidoo intended the play to convey and to demonstrate the cultural context in which we are presenting it. Trying to create a significant cultural experience out of 27 pages of dialogue and stage directions required us to be extremely sensitive to the traditions and critiques of those traditions that we try to represent to the best of our abilities,” said English.
The work that comes with staging a play that was never intended to be performed is a challenge that its directors find rewarding. “The positive side is this production is completely our own and we aren’t influenced by what has been done with it in the past,” said Milillo. “We’re hoping that after seeing the play, audiences will leave with a better sense of how gender equality should work.”