Student Showcase: Vidisha Agarwalla
April 14, 2020
Vidisha Agarwalla is a second-year communication studies and media and screen studies combined major with a minor in law and argumentation. She is the president and producer of New Renaissance Theatre Company, a theatre company for people of color and minorities. She produced What Rough Beast, the play New Renaissance put on last year, and also worked toward their production of Stop Kiss. Vidisha is also a passionate dancer and a member of Rangila, a competitive Indian Fusion Dance Team at Northeastern. She recently participated in competitions in Baltimore and New Jersey.
Photos Courtesy of Vidisha Agarwalla
How have you impacted the arts? How have the arts impacted you?
Systemically, racism in the arts leads to minority groups not feeling welcome in theatre or confident in their abilities. This leads to them shying away from the art and prevents them from honing their skills. As president of New Renaissance Theatre Company, I aim to break this cycle by holding theatre workshops to give minority groups an education and entryway into theatre. As the producer, I carefully pick productions that reflect the struggles of people of color and minorities. Last semester, we put on a play called What Rough Beast, which dealt with Islamophobia and racism, in response to the fascist materials that were found in Snell Library. As someone who has experienced racism in theatre countless times before, I work hard to foster a collaborative and encouraging community that makes important political statements through our productions.
How has your experience with the arts in Boston and at Northeastern been unique?
As an ethnically Indian woman who was born and brought up in Singapore, my experience in Boston has been unique. I’ve found Northeastern to be a place filled with many artistic opportunities. In my two years here, I’ve been very involved with Rangila and New Renaissance, but I have also created the cover art and a six-page self-directed spread for The Avenue (Northeastern’s fashion magazine), a contemporary ballet with a live wind ensemble, and a fashion show through Northeastern’s Fashion Society. It’s a fantastic place to try new things and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
Photos Courtesy of Vidisha Agarwalla
As a South Asian woman, why was it important to you to become so involved with the arts?
Like many other young Indian girls, I was encouraged to take up a classical Indian dance at a young age. For 10 years, I learned the classical Indian dance form called Odissi. I loved it. It was a dance form that taught me discipline in the rigidity of the postures, grace through the intricate hand gestures, and elegance from the sultry torso movements. Due to the storytelling aspect of the dance form, I also learned about mythical Indian stories, which helped me connect to my Indian roots despite growing up in Singapore. Alongside Odissi, I also learned ballet and lyrical jazz. I loved the vastly different dance styles that I learned, however, in high school I began to feel like a jack of all trades and master of none. I wasn’t exceptionally good at any one style and I couldn’t pick a single style I liked best.
From a young age I was always fascinated by theatre and drama. However, my interest was quickly diminished in middle school by a racist drama teacher who lumped me in with a group of chatty Indian girls who didn’t pay attention, despite my many efforts in class. Not feeling welcome but still wanting to be involved in theatre, I applied my strengths to working backstage. I did stage makeup, dance choreography, set design, and stage management. I wanted to do more, but I didn’t have the confidence or the knowledge.
In university, I found the perfect creative outlets for my interests. In my first semester, I joined Rangila, a competitive fusion Indian dance team that fused bollywood, classical and contemporary dance styles. I found a loving community of Indian girls and I get to learn and practice all the dance styles that I love. I also enjoy our competition seasons, despite how hectic they get. This semester, we competed at Johns Hopkins University at their fusion dance competition Dil Se, and at TCNJ’s Jersey Jalwa. While we didn’t place at either event, the amount of hard work we put in as a team to create polished and energetic sets was so rewarding.
Last fall, I joined New Renaissance Theatre Company, a theatre company that aims to give people of color and minorities a space in theatre regardless of experience level. New Ren was the perfect entryway into theatre. I started off as their producer, which meant organizing the production season and ensuring every element of a play (including lighting, sound, costume, set) came together for the final show. What I love about New Renaissance is that they welcomed me, someone with barely any experience in producing plays, and taught me the ropes. Now, I’m so happy to say that I was elected as president for the Spring 2020 semester.
Another aspect of New Renaissance that makes me so excited to be involved is that we choose to put on plays that reflect the conflicts that people of color and minorities face. Last semester I produced What Rough Beast, a play that dealt with anti-Islam ideology and gun violence. Before the art-hating disaster that is COVID-19, we were just starting the production of Stop Kiss, a beautiful contemporary play that revolves around the relationship development of a lesbian couple who get physically assualted by a homophobe after their first kiss.
New Renaissance Theatre Co. Spring 2020 // Photos Courtesy of Vidisha Agarwalla
As a South Asian woman, it’s so important to me to be involved in the arts — and not just the ones that are deemed culturally appropriate by our parents. The last two semesters have given me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. To get involved with theatre, a new art form that I have always admired from the sidelines. I thrive with the constant challenges leading a theatre group has presented me with. I’m grateful that I get to meet and learn from so many incredibly talented people along the way. I couldn’t have made it through this particularly chaotic semester without the guidance and support from New Renaissance's incredible eboard.
What advice would you give to students who are trying to create a space for themselves and their communities as artists?
I would encourage students who are trying to create a space for themselves as artists to join any groups they feel comfortable in and to learn from others. If no such place exists, I would also encourage them to actively create spaces in art communities where they don’t feel welcome.