BENGALURU: When Priyanka Shetty made the switch from being a techie in Bengaluru to a stage actor in the United States, she thought she had done the “impossible.” Having grown up here, Shetty was used to patriarchy and sexism, but what she wasn’t prepared for was being discriminated over colour and origin. While Shetty, now a lecturer, overlooked the typecasting, she often found lack of roles that suited her. “It’s hard to get opportunities on stage. And getting that of a protagonist’s is near impossible,” she says.
But she has turned adversity into advantage, and her play, The Elephant in the Room, which delves into the struggles and stereotypes of being an international student and a woman, will be staged at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC on November 23. It is part of a triptych with #Charlottesville and The Wall, which will be on the road soon. The play, which she improvises with each performance, will deal with the struggles of immigration.
The one-woman show is set in the dressing room of a theatre an hour before the start of a play, during which she has conversations about her childhood, and remarks about the transition and issues she has faced in the US. “I had to fight with my family and make sacrifices to move to the US,” she says, adding that she had first raised the issue in a humourous manner at a class assignment.
The first time she performed it at the South Asian Theatre Festival in Columbus in July 2018, the reaction was mixed, considering it was too close for comfort for many. “I want to make a change. Too many international students have kept quiet about the issues. In fact, post the show, members of the African-American community came up to me saying they felt the same. Over time, it’s about developing a thicker skin but it’s also important to speak up,” says Shetty, who is open to acting in short or feature films or streaming services.