In their new musical ‘The Princess & The Pauper – A Bollywood Tale,’ Imagination Stage tackles a re-telling of the classic Mark Twain story. Described by playwright Anu Yadav as “a feminist story about South Asian girls who learned to trust their minds,” this adaptation takes place in Dehli, India and includes songs, dance, and music that pay tribute to South Asian culture.
In ‘The Princess & The Pauper, Princess’ Razia (Anjna Swaminathan) and dressmaker’s daughter Rani (Alex Palting) decide to switch places to see what life is like in the other’s shoes. But when Wazir (Jimmy Mavrikes), a corrupt government official, tries to steal the throne from the Sultanate, Princess Razia must team up with Rani and the people of Delhi to counter injustice. Suitable for ages 5 and up, ‘The Princess & The Pauper’ addresses inequality, wealth disparity, and women’s empowerment, all through a uniquely South Asian lens. Yet, its message is applicable to all audiences. As Yadav puts it, “Our world right now is in need of stories that remind us of the power of truth, love, and connection. That’s what we will need to resolve our greatest global challenges.”
At Imagination Stage’s “A Creative Conversation with South Asian Artists” on January 18th, playwright Anu Yadav, choreographer Tehreema Mitha, actress and musician Anjna Swaminathan, and Imagination Stage Artistic Director Janet Stanford sat on a panel to discuss the creative process behind the show and the importance of representation in the arts. Moderated by Imagination Stage MD Board Member Sunit Talapatra, the panelists discussed their own experiences and their motivations for working on this production before taking a few audience questions. Yadav spoke of growing up without seeing many South Asians in theatre productions, saying she began writing roles for herself to fill and then used her voice to provide opportunities for young South Asian girls who may not otherwise have seen a place for themselves in theatre.
In this play, she talked about embracing different cultural and religious traditions to show the commonalities between people, using the story of Razia and Rani to ask the audience, “what does it mean to see each other as humans?” Stanford said that part of her interest in directing the show, and in inviting Yadav to write it, stemmed from the idea of this “quest for identity” and relationships between people. Mitha explains that her dances also address this idea, saying, “I don’t belong to anybody, but I belong to everybody.” Swamiathan furthers this discussion by explaining that “half of writing is empathy…[it’s an effort to] constantly humanize.” The representation and exploration of South Asian culture and identity in ‘The Princess & The Pauper’ not only humanizes a culture that is often reduced to stereotypes but also works to fully develop the characters and allow them to thrive in their own identities.
‘The Princess & The Pauper – A Bollywood Tale’ runs from February 10 through March 18, 2018, in Imagination Stage’s Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre, 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814. For ticket information please click here or call 301-280-1660.