Northwestern students explore site-specific work in Nothing Without A Company’s New World Play Festival


Source: Louise Liu

Radio, Television, and Film graduate student Aalisha Sheth and alumnus Priyankar Patra. Sheth and Patra’s original plays will premiere on Thursday as a part of the New World Play Festival.

Wilson Chapman, Web Editor


Radio, Television and Film graduate student Aalisha Sheth wanted to write a play that would explore a South Asian mother-daughter relationship through hair care, but thought it was too niche of an idea to attract a producer.

Through Nothing Without A Company’s New World Play Festival, her deeply personal work has found an audience. The company’s New World Play Festival is a festival of ten new one-act plays, many of which feature Northwestern students or alumni. The festival — which has taken place over the past three weeks — wraps up on Oct. 27.

Nothing Without A Company is a Chicago-based theater group that focuses on site-specific works staged to fit unconventional spaces. The company aims to tell stories that focus on diverse communities, such as the one Sheth features.

Sheth’s play “The Last Plait” is set to open Thursday. The story follows a close but dysfunctional South Asian mother and daughter as the two bond through the practice of hair care. The piece explores themes of clashing cultures and migration, a subject that Sheth said resonates with her as an international student.

Sheth said her play also challenges stereotypes of femininity through its examination of hair, a medium historically used to control woman and rob them of their agency.

“I wanted to create a play where mothers and daughters are laughing, loving and being critical all at the same time, while also owning their anger and agency and empowering themselves by empowering each other,” Sheth said.

The festival features additional Northwestern voices, including Priyankar Patra, who received his master’s degree from the RTVF Writing for the Stage and Screen program. Patra said his play, “One Ticket to America,” will also premiere Thursday, and is based on his experiences growing up in India with his parents.

Rishi Mahesh, who plays the main character in Patra’s piece, said the play is based directly on Patra’s experience preparing for his Northwestern application interview. Through this story, the play examines cultural identity and barriers, the Communication sophomore said.

Mahesh added while the piece is specifically based on Patra’s life, he still found it related to his own experience leaving home to go to college.

“I connected a lot with the concept of leaving a family, leaving your home, traditions, culture, everything to come to Northwestern and be far away from them,” Mahesh said.

Dolores Díaz, another RTVF graduate student, premiered her play “Appreciation Day” during the first weekend of the festival. The play follows a senior living community in a neighborhood celebrating National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day who are forced to participate in the festivities by the senior living director.

This piece found its beginnings in a Northwestern classroom, she said. Díaz’s professor introduced her class to “living newspaper writing,” in which the writer draws inspiration from a newspaper article.

Díaz said she was intrigued by a photo she found alongside a “puff piece” about National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, which featured a young boy in a police uniform costume. She thought the boy was too young to understand the implications of dressing up and celebrating police officers in the 21st century, she said, and tailored this premise to reflect the community around the Berger Park Center, which has both a large police presence and senior population.

She added she enjoys site-specific work because it forces her to think about her audience in a unique space, providing viewers with an unconventional theater experience. Díaz said this gives the work a level of specificity that is absent in most stage pieces.

“As a playwright, people always ask, ‘Why this story now?’” Díaz said. “I think with site-specific work it even takes it a step further: ‘Why here?’”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @wilsonchapman10