MXO ‘Up Close And Personal’: Nandita Shenoy Talks About Diversity And Tiny Houses At Cleveland Play House!

By Ms. Osupa Nia

Posted April 4th 2019




MXEONTERTAINMENT.COM  (MXO) had the opportunity to interview Nandity Shenoy (NS) one of the cast members of ‘Tiny Houses!’

MXO:    Nandita Shenoy good morning and thank you so much for this interview.  Did I pronounce your name correctly?

NS:         Yes, it’s Nandita..that’s right.

Mxo:     Nandita, okay.

MXO:    Welcome to Cleveland…

NS:         Thank you.

MXO:     It’s going a little crazy at this time with the NFL trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns.

NS:         Yes, that’s what I just heard.

MXO:    You were born in Buffalo, New York another football town?

NS:         I was, I was.

MXO:        I’m quite sure you can relate to the football mania.

NS:         (Laugh) I can but I also stay healthily skeptical.

MXO:    You mean for the Browns or football?

NS:         These kinds of miraculous trades having been through the process in Buffalo. This is it.  This is the one!

MXO:    Well Cleveland fans they say that every year. Die Hard! (laughter.)  Nandita you are an actress in theater, television and film and a playwright?

NS:         I am that is correct.

MXO:    It appears theater is your core passion.

NS:         Yeh I would say that I mostly work as an actor in theater and write predominantly.

MXO:    What do you want to leave as a legacy on the stage acting and/or writing.

NS:         Well I guess I’m very passionate about representation and diversity and making sure that the voice of many are heard.  I do think that the theater does tend to hear certain voices over others. I generally see my own role in theater as someone who has the opportunity to bring more perspective.  I think theater is an amazing and powerful medium for people to be in the same room with each other an experience the same things in real time together which I think is a very powerful experience.  I hope that being able to experience something a little different from yourself or maybe familiar but not completely known.  An opportunity to learn more, be more open.  So that’s what I see as at least as my role in theatre.  I don’t know if that’s my legacy but that’s what I see my role is.

MXO:    That’s beautiful…I like the diversity angle. Tell us about the South Asian Playwrights Association.

NS:         Actually, I’m part of an Asian-American playwrights group called May-I Writers Lab which is a collective of writers.  It is the largest collection of Asian-American playwrights ever assembled we would like to say.  We have bi-weekly meetings in New York.  There’s a variety again under the umbrella of Asian-Americans.  There are so many different perspectives and voices.  All have different ethnic backgrounds.  Also, different immigration status.  Some people are first generation, some people are second generation and some people are recent immigrants themselves. So, there are a lot of different voices within a single group.  I think that under that kind of unifying umbrella of Asian-Americans there’s this idea of Asian voices and Asian stories being told as American stories as opposed to stories about other countries.  It’s been a really wonderful incubator for me and has helped me develop a lot of work.

MXO:    You are of South Asian descent?

NS:         I am of South Asian descent.  My parents immigrated to Buffalo from Bombay.

MXO:    Bombay…wow!  Now you spoke of the Mayi-I Theater Company is that the correct pronunciation?

NS:         It’s Mayee.

MXO:    This company also produced the Off-Broadway production of Washer & Dryer?

NS:         Yes, they produced Washer & Dryer for it’s Off-Broadway debut at East/West Players in Los Angeles.  Did the world premiere in 2015.  Then it was produced once more in Chicago by The Rasaka which is a predominantly salvation theatre company. Then May-I produced it Off-Broadway in 2016.

MXO:    Has the Mayi-I Theater Company had a significant impact on your career?

NS:         Absolutely…obviously they produced my play (laughter).  But I think the greatest impact has really been the Writers Lab because it’s given me a community of playwrights who all have different levels of experience.  Some have MFA’s in playwriting.  Some went to the Julliard School, some like myself don’t have MFA’s but have come to the theatre and write for the theatre. It’s just been a really remarkable supportive group of colleagues.  It’s given me a community and a place to try new things. So, I think that’s the most significant impact that May-I has had on my career.  Actually, when I joined the lab in 2007 I had only written short plays and it was through May-I that I wrote my first full length play.  So even having the support to finish a full-length play is amazing.

MXO:    It is.

NS:         It has had a tremendous impact on how I am viewed and how I see myself as a playwright.  So, I really give the Writers Lab a lot of credit for supporting me through my process and letting me have the process that I needed to have.

MXO:    It sounds like a wonderful company that helps and supports Asian Americans.  Interesting…I read an interview B-Street Theater had with ‘Tiny Houses’ playwright Chelsea Marcantel and here is a quote about the stories she likes to write “I enjoy writing stories about humans as small group primates. Our given tribes, our chosen tribes, the value systems we create and inherit and seek out—these are the stories I find fascinating. Now Nandita I personally think that we as human beings all gravitate to our cultural, tribal origins.  ‘Tiny Houses’ is about family and finding a home base.  What are your thoughts about this?

NS:         I think that absolutely, I really like that quote you found by Chelsea and I would say in a lot of ways it resonates with me as a writer as well.  I like to tell human stories and I do think that sometimes for writers and artist of color we get identified by that thing called tribe and it is not necessarily recognized that we are writing about the human experience.  The human experience is the American experience.  I’m very proud to be an Asian American playwright. I’m very proud to be an Asian American actor.  But I also realize there are days when someone says ‘oh she’s an American playwright because that’s how I identify myself.  So, I think particularly ‘Tiny House,’    the story of finding home, resonates for a lot of people because our culture says that people don’t necessary stay close to their nuclear family from childhood.  I left Buffalo when I was eighteen years old.  I have since assembled a core group of people.  It’s funny that you are asking me this question because I was thinking about It this morning.  I was thinking about who I talk about to my cast, who are the names that they know.  I know I have four people that I talk about all the time and those are my chosen family.  The people who know even when I’m far away that I still connect with and talk to and they know what’s going on in my life and I know what’s going on in their lives and we support each other even when we’re not in the same space. To me that’s family and that’s home.  I think that ‘Tiny Houses’ is very much about the family that you choose and sometimes the family that you review.

MXO:    Okay I think we are on the same page with that. Tell us about your character Jevne, a YouTube  artist in ‘Tiny Houses.’

NS:         She is an ASMR artist on YouTube.  So, she uses her voice to induce response in other people which is often described as tingles.  She uses her voice and also sometimes sound effects.  In the play I use brushes and feathers.  Sometimes the sound of my nails on a hard surface.  All of these things with certain people induce a response that’s very relaxing and helps people fall asleep.   As they say in the play my voice can cure insomnia (laughter).

MXO:    Okay, What kind of drama is Jevne bring to the home?

NS:         Oh there’s drama (laughter) but I don’t want to give to much away.

MXO:     No spoilers, but I’m talking to you envisioning this.  I haven’t seen it and I’m thinking OMG I can’t wait to see it (laughter).  Give us a little snippet….Just a little one.

NS:         Okay…I think she has a very clear sense of her home and where she belongs in the world and who belongs in the world with her. I think that she’s really operating from a place of just pure love and understanding of her place in the universe.  I think a lot of people don’t have that. She’s very sure of herself and very clear on who she is and what she wants. I think sometimes it can come across as someone who is…for lack of a better word simple.  But I think there’s something really beautiful about knowing who you really are and accepting it.

MXO:   That’s so important. I can’t wait to see the production of ‘Tiny Houses’.  Nandita welcome to Cleveland and thank you so much for this interview!

NS:         Well I hope you come talk to all of us afterwards Osupa.

MXO:    It will be at Media Night.  They normally have a cast party, Q&A… there is always something going  on afterwards….we’ll see.

NS:         I’d like to meet you in person.  Talking about home and family and (mxo/ns together) tribes. (Laughter)

MXO:    We are too much connected here. (Laughter).  Again, Nandita welcome to Cleveland.

NS:         Thank you.  Thank you for being interested and caring about the theatre.

MXO:    Also,, FYI if you have a taste for some tribal homestyle cuisine Choolaah Indian Barbeque is the rave within the South Asian community.

NS:         Really?

MXO:    It is in the suburb on Beachwood which from downtown is about 25 minutes.  I know you spell it better that I do…Choolaah’s.

NS:         That sound great, I will look it up.  We’re always looking.  We’ve been trying to do the Cleveland food thing and check out all the different yummy things to eat here.  I’ll put that on the list.

MXO:     Again, thank you and Break a leg!

NS:         Thanks a lot, talk to you soon.


Ns:         Bye Bye

I had the opportunity to finally see ‘Tiny Houses.’  It is delightful, hilarious and a truly remarkable amazing production.

‘Tiny House’s run of show is now through April 14th in the OutCalt Theatre at Cleveland Play House in Play House Square.

More information is available here.


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