Actress, Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil on Her Global, Local Influences

March 17, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Minneapolis playwright, director and actor Aditi Brennan Kapil talks about the global elements and role of immigration in her work. The story was produced by Angie Prindle of "MN Original" on Twin Cities Public Television.

This segment was originally produced for tpt‘s “MN Originals” series. You can watch the full version here.

JEFFREY BROWN: For those stations not taking a pledge break, we hear a unique voice from Minnesota. Here in her own words is Minneapolis playwright and actor, Aditi Brennan Kapil.

ADITI BRENNAN KAPIL, playwright and actress: There’s an international element to my writing always. The last play I wrote was bilingual in English and American sign language because I find language to be such a compelling lens into the human condition. And this play is also multilingual. They are also very layered and complex, I will own that.

I’m Aditi Brennan Kapil, and I’m a playwright and a director and an actress. And I’ve been working in the Twin Cities for many, many years. And as a playwright, I guess I work nationally as much as I work locally.

I’m an immigrant twice over. My father was from India. My mother was from Bulgaria. And then they immigrated to Sweden which is where I grew up. I spent all my summers in Bulgaria with my grandparents, and then I spent my school year in Sweden.

And then when I went to college, I came here. I went to McAllister College and then I got married and I remained. So I’m an immigrant of several stages and an immigrant by birth, too.

WOMAN: (INAUDIBLE) is that the partnership that then didn’t work?

KAPIL: Yes. I was trying to give you a little context there, but it doesn’t have to be there. We could probably find a way to kill it.

I wrote a play called “Agnus Under the Big Top” and it will be premiering simultaneously at Mixed Blood where I’m directing and also at Long Wharf Theater in Connecticut with Eric Ting directing.

Right now, we’re all together at The Playwrights’ Center and we’re trying to get the script finalized.


KAPIL: It’s a play about immigrants in a U.S. city, and it’s a play about the ways in which we change when we change where we are. When we move from one place where we are a certain kind of person to another place where all of a sudden everything around us tells us that we’re a different kind of person.


KAPIL: A lot of this play comes from me, from just my thinking about the immigrant experience from how I feel myself be recontextualized when I get on a plane in Sweden, and I leave, and I land in Minneapolis. All of a sudden — like I feel like the person that I am here is actually quite separate from the person that I am there from the person that I am in Bulgaria where I’m still treated like the little tiny cousin.

You get treated that way and all of a sudden you’re, like, yes, ma’am. And that’s who you are then when you’re there. And all of that sort of mixed in to this pot and became this play.


WOMAN: I play the character of Agnus, and she’s an immigrant from Liberia and has been in the country for a few years.

A lot of times with plays you get the material, and you get a chance to work on it, do table work and sort of unpack what it’s about or what it could be about, but sometimes — actually often there’s a lot of guessing and decisions that you have to make because the playwright is not in the room.

So it’s been really nice to have Aditi at the table and it fills in the blanks without a lot of the guesswork.

KAPIL: Agnus is a Liberian immigrant who came to the U.S. many years ago, and she’s been working as a homecare worker. And her closest human connection is with her son who is back home in Liberia, and she’s sending money home and providing him with an education that he couldn’t afford if she had remained in Liberia.

This is an ensemble play so it’s about all the immigrants, but it’s her journey that is the catalyst for the journeys.


WOMAN: Aditi’s characters in writing, it has complexity in a way that’s really tangible. You can touch it, you know, it’s raw, it visceral, but it also makes you work.


KAPIL: Shipkov is the first character who got created for this play and he is a hybrid of my hard-drinking uncle in Bulgaria and the circus ringmaster that I saw when I took my daughter to a circus in Sofia, Bulgaria, and my dad who drove a subway train for many years at the end of his life in Stockholm, Sweden. And he is the subway driver who has very little connection with anyone else in his life, but he will entertain himself.

And Happy is the very young Indian man who has very recently arrived in America and is trying very hard to make a good impression and has been assigned to Shipkov as a trainee.

So, yes, that’s Shipkov and Happy, subway train drivers.


KAPIL: I got lucky enough to have an artistic home here. Almost immediately after graduating from college, Jack Reuler, the artistic director of Mixed Blood, cast me in something and over the years I became one of his company. It’s an informal company, but I became someone that works here often, and I think of this as my artistic home as a result.

And also I have The Playwrights’ Center which is my other artistic home. I got lucky twice.

I’m always blown away by the number of theaters that take on my work because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to cast. It’s not easy to fulfill all the technical requirements.

But they’re complex stories that I feel reflect the world that we live in. I also feel that theater audiences can sustain a more challenging aesthetic than we sometimes think they can. I think that we can bring in a deep, dense soundscape and have multiple languages and have the experience of that be fulfilling and exciting. And I think that people who go to theater are willing to work. They are willing to work for their — for their ah-ha moment.

JEFFREY BROWN: That story was produced by Angie Prindle of MN Original, a production of Twin Cities Public Television.