Putting Women Centre Stage: Madhuri Shekar Interview

Madhuri Shekar is an American-born, Indian-raised playwright who has just been named as “one to watch” by American Theatre. Her play In Love And Warcraft won the 2013/2014 Kendeda Graduate Playwriting award and has since been produced throughout the USA. Following the on and off line life of college senior Evie, the romantic comedy explores a range of contemporary and age-old topics such as gaming and sexual expectations within relationships. With two female leads and entirely relatable characters, it’s a refreshing narrative to life in the 21st Century.

Now for the first time, In Love And Warcraft is coming to London for a two-week run at Theatre N16 in Balham this November. What A Nice Production, the company behind the London professional premiere, was set up by actor Charlotte Nice after becoming frustrated by the lack of female-led theatre shows. As well as taking on the busy roles of Artistic Director and Producer of the company, she will also be playing Evie in the in the upcoming production. Charlotte took a chance to ask Madhuri about her influences for the play and discover exactly how she’s finding life as a female creative within the industry.

What was your inspiration to write In Love And Warcraft? Are you a gamer yourself?
I wanted to write about the pressures around sex, sexuality, sexual expression etc for young people in college. Gaming actually came into the play later, but that's when everything clicked into place around Evie's character. I'm not a gamer myself – I had wonderful friends who helped me research and understand World of Warcraft and similar RPG games.

Did the characters or the plot come first?
It's always a dance, right. Characters inform plot, then interesting plot ideas inform the character. The first draft of this goal didn't even have 'Evie', it was a different character altogether. But once I discovered Evie, and who she was, and her love of Warcraft, everything else just made sense.

Did you set out to write a play with a female lead?
Yep. Whenever I get a chance, why not.

Were the characters of Evie and her best friend Kitty based on people you know? I love that even with all their differences, they still find ways to be similar. Did you feel strongly about having two contrasting female voices in the play?
They're both based partly on me. Taking two extremes of my character and making them best friends! They were so much fun to write.

Did you have close female friends at college? Did this influence the play at all?
Oh absolutely. I went to a women's college in India, and the friendships I formed there continue to inform my plays (Antigone,... QUEEN) to this day!

How important do you think it is for the audience to be able to relate to the characters they’re watching on stage?
It's important to recognize the characters, I think. And there's something thrilling that happens when a character does, says, reveals something that you always thought was deeply personal and unique to you. It's wonderful when that happens – suddenly you don't feel as alone in that part of yourself.

Do you think there’s a lack of female narrative in contemporary theatre?
Yes. A lack of the range and diversity of female experiences, a dearth of prioritizing women's stories, putting them in charge of their own narratives. We need more, more, more, female friendships on stage in all their complexity. I want everyone to read this piece on how the lack of female narratives in popular culture is actually impacting the U.S. election, the fate of a whole country and the world – stories MATTER.

How have you found your experience in the industry so far as a female writer?
I'm surrounded and supported by the most wonderful people. I was lucky enough to be in a writer's group right out of my MFA with 4 members of the Kilroys group! There are so many people working so hard to push women's voices front and center and to achieve gender parity in the theatre. It's a thrilling time to be working right now. I'm reaping the benefits of decades of struggle and I hope to be part of our continuing progress.

Have you ever been to London? How do think the play will be received by English audiences?
I did my first Masters degree at the LSE! I lived in Tavistock square. I spent a wonderful year in London and saw a TON of theatre. Judging from how the undergrads socialized in my uni residence, I have a feeling a lot of Evies, Kittys, Rauls and Ryans will likely be in the audience.

We very much hope that will be the case! Can you tell us about what you’re currently up to and what the future holds?
I'm currently in the playwriting program at Juilliard with 9 other incredible playwrights. I'm coming up on 6 months in New York after 8 years in L.A. and excited about all the theatre I get to see. My play QUEEN will be produced at Victory Gardens in Chicago in April 2017, and I'm plugging away at new projects. And whenever I can, I plug the web series I created with Megan Kelly and Seamus Sullivan – Titus And Dronicus.

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In Love And Warcraft plays at Theatre N16 from the 6-17th November.

Tickets and more information can be found at www.whataniceproduction.co.uk.

Keep up to date with the production on social media @WhatNiceTheatre

http://www.madhurishekar.com/

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