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Weaving Stories on Stage

Dec/02/2023 / by abhijit-masih

Shubhra Prakash’s new play speaks to her lifelong love of technology and culture

In the bustling sphere of theater, where spotlights dim and glow, Shubhra Prakash emerges as a unique force, blending her STEM roots with a passion to unfold narratives on stage. Shubhra’s journey is not only a testament to her resilience but also an exploration of cultural identity and the ever-evolving intersection of technology and the arts.

Shubhra’s theater roots run deep, stemming from her early days in India. “I was always part of school plays,” she says. “I was always part of anything that had to do with being onstage—speaking, singing, performing.” Her connection to theater became a refuge, a place where she could truly be herself, a sentiment that carried her through the challenges of high school and beyond.

While she moved to the United States as a teenager, she still found solace in the world of theater. “When I started high school, I realized that it was in theater where I felt like I could belong,” she says. Her journey continued through college in Silicon Valley, where she intertwined her STEM background with her theatrical pursuits. 

She eventually found her way to New York, where she not only continued performing but also co-founded a theater company providing a platform for South Asian artists. In a bold move, Shubhra took a plunge into playwriting, crafting a narrative that delves into the intersection of technology and culture. 

Inspired by her uncle, a visionary designer who brought Indian scripts to the computer, Shubhra’s play, “Fontwala,” intricately weaves the story of navigating language on the digital stage. “Through a series of events, he ended up designing a keyboard that would allow for Hindi to be typed on an English keyboard,” she narrates with a gleam of pride. 

Shubhra delves into the challenge her uncle faced, attempting to encapsulate the richness of Hindi on a Roman keyboard. “The mere act of trying to fit a language like Hindi on a Roman keyboard, which has limited characters—that was a very compelling story,” she says.

In telling her uncle’s story, she seeks to unravel the layers of his artistic mind and the profound impact of his work on the intersection of technology and culture. “I wanted to talk about him as an artist, the very first artist that I ever knew,” she says. Her play, originally envisioned in Hindi, took shape in both English and Hindi, and is performed in diverse spaces from traditional theaters to bookbinding workshops and creative writing classes.

In her ongoing exploration, Shubhra seeks to bring theater to non-traditional spaces, bridging the gap between diverse audiences and the stage. With dreams of seeing “Fontwala” performed by other South Asian actors and envisioning a Hindi version embraced in the US, Shubhra Prakash continues to push boundaries, creating a space where art, culture, and technology unite.

Sidebar:

Finding Fontwala

Fontwala is a story inspired by the life and work of Rajeev Prakash Khare a typographer, font designer and calligrapher of Indian scripts. He designed one of the first keyboards, The Anglo Nagari Keyboard, that allowed for Indian scripts to be typed on a Latin-based keyboard. 

Shubhra Prakash, his niece and New York-based theatre artist began interviewing him in 2017 to write this story of innovation. The story has become a solo theatre play in English, an ensemble play in Hindi, a digital exhibition and is on its way to become a documentary. 

The New Face of Motherhood

Why the label “stay-at-home mom” needs an update for today’s working women 

After a decade in corporate America, Neha Ruch pressed pause on her career when she became a mom in 2017. She found herself frustrated by the stereotypes and narrow labels put on “stay-at-home moms,” instead finding the career-to-motherhood (and back again) journey much more complex. To create a more inclusive community around this life stage, she founded the digital community Mother Untitled in an effort to challenge outdated stereotypes of stay-at-home moms.

“We need to dismantle these old static titles,” she said to Fortune magazine. To spark discussion, Mother Untitled surveyed 1,200 college-educated SAHMs on their experiences. The results show how rarely women today fit “traditionalist tropes” of stay-at-home moms.

Almost 40% regularly volunteer, work side businesses, or pursue passions outside the home. They’re also likely to dip in and out of work as needed. “What we see is people making the right choice for right now,” says Ruch. “But people are dialing up and dialing down all the time.”

Being a SAHM is not permanent. Previous research found over 90% of highly qualified women who pause careers plan to return to work, valuing flexibility. The survey provides unique insight into an overlooked group, says Ruch. She aims to expand dialogues on motherhood and careers. “Every mother is mothering,” she says. “Every mother is working.” Ruch wants to modernize what SAHM means, moving beyond stereotypes of isolation. She advocates showing the spectrum of choices for women and men.

Labels like “stay-at-home mom” fail to capture the complexity of women’s lives today. Ruch’s survey and advocacy work shine light on this diversity, empowering women to craft their own narratives. 

Box: 

The Mother Untitled Mission

“An ambitious woman choosing to pause or shift her career to make room for family life, while also discovering space for herself along the way.” Learn more at motheruntitled.com.

British Flour Ad Gets Representation Right

A new ad shows why it’s so important to be authentically inclusive

Even though South Asians make up the second largest ethnic group in the UK, they’re still rarely represented in advertising. It’s rarer still to see an authentic portrayal of the South Asian experience. But one recent ad made waves for not only its warm representation, but also for a progressive view of gender in the home. 

The ad by Elephant Atta, a popular flour brand, showcases a number of joyful families, coming together to cook traditional foods and teach the youngest generation all the techniques, while allowing room for everyone’s unique interpretation. Unlike other stereotypes might suggest, the ad shows men of all ages and young boys pitching in to carry the flour in the house and try their hand at cooking themselves. 

The ad also accurately depicted the diversity within the South Asian community. Through subtle fashion and food choices, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh families were all portrayed, yet still celebrated for their commonalities. As Sadia Siddiqui said in an analysis of the ad, “Irrespective of who we pray to, we all want perfectly round rotis.” 

View the ad on youtube.com/@Elephantattaflour.

box: 

$1.3 trillion 

The estimated purchasing power of South Asians living in the United States. 

Source: FrontAd Media