Creative Director Aarti Bajaj is creating an inclusive workplace as she rejects the words ‘white’ and ‘brown’ on the set of stage production Meera.
Creative Director Aarti Bajaj. Photo by Helen Selmeczy.
On the set of the stage production Meera, which will makes its debut in New Zealand on 31 May, Creative Director of Australia-based Wild Dreamer Productions, Aarti Bajaj has discarded the words ‘white’ and ‘brown’ from her lexicon.
‘I hate using those terms, “white” and “brown”,’ Bajaj told ArtsHub.
Bajaj follows nontraditional casting or blind casting – the practice of casting without regard to the actor's sex, gender, ethnicity or skin colour. Her aim is to offer performers and composers a platform to showcase their talent, whatever their ethnicity.
When casting for Meera, a contemporary re-telling of the 16th century Northern Indian love story between a royal Princess and Krishna, a Hindu God, Bajaj was determined to create a working environment inclusive to all.
‘It's about bringing inclusion and diversity together on stage, and to ensure the story itself is more powerful than the skin colour or ethnic background of the actor or character,’ said Bajaj. ‘It simply means when someone’s selecting an artist for a role, their colour shouldn’t matter, their ethnicity or where they come from shouldn’t matter, it should be more what their talent is, and what they can offer,’ she said.
‘When we are talking about artistic interpretation, in terms of this love story between Meera and Krishna, my brain doesn’t see colour, my brain doesn’t see ethnicity, it just sees the art.’
A multi-cultural cast for a retelling of a traditional Indian tale
Bajaj explained her process when casting for the original stage production: ‘I had to create something which showed people that story and art is beyond colour – beyond these things.
‘When I went out to create my cast for Meera last year – we have the story of Meera from the age of five to her adulthood – my five-year-old Meera was of Indian descent, little Krishna was not Indian but Caucasian, my teenage Meera was Caucasian and teenage Krishna was Indian … we showcased all the different ethnicities.’
Bajaj’s intention was a deliberate one, ‘When everything is happening on stage all the focus should be on the story. The audience shouldn’t be looking at colour.
‘And now when we take the show to Auckland we have a cast that ranges from Filipino to Maori, Samoan and Indian. I wanted to showcase that anybody can be anybody, you don’t have to put artists into boxes.’
Bajaj’s perspective has been shaped by her experiences in the international and local arts industry. When she started her production company and her work on Meera, which had its world debut at HOTA, the Home of the Arts in Queensland in 2018, she was told that her lack of a profile was a big hindrance.
‘Someone told me: “You don’t have a profile … any big entity or collaborator would hesitate to collaborate with someone that doesn’t hold a profile”,’ Bajaj told ArtsHub.
‘And it should have scared me but it somehow gave me more strength, because I thought to myself if everybody did that then no one new would come forward to showcase what they really believed in.
‘And I said I’m going to create a platform for everybody or anyone who has the talent. We will make a platform that doesn’t worry about what your profile is, how many projects you have done – If you have got something to say I will bring the platform to you. And that’s how we created Wild Dreamer Productions.’
Taking Meera to a wider audience Bajaj hopes to encourage others in her situation to advocate for inclusive working environments. ‘All I know is this is what I believe in, and I will continue to do so.'
In the spirit of Wild Dreamer's ethos of inclusiveness, the production company has pledged a percentage of profits from Meera's Auckland run to the victims of the Christchurch tragedy.
'You know colour is just a matter of geography. We now live in a global village. If we don’t embrace each other today then we will never be able to do it,’ Bajaj concluded.
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