By Constance Strickland
We know that when there is cultural and racial equality in theatre, it makes room for artists from all walks of life to contribute to the history of theatre. It is vital that we make space, open doors wider for women from all cultures to have a chance to have their voices included in the future of theatre. I am humbled, inspired and overall ecstatic to introduce Amrita Dhaliwal! Amrita debuted Lady Love in the 2013 Fringe, and now returns for #HFF19 with Gemma Soldati in THE LIVING ROOM, a physical comedy about death that is a modern day reflection on how grief affects one’s soul and body.
Constance: How long have you’ve been sitting with this work? What led you to Fringe and why now?
Amrita: It’s hard to say how long I’ve been sitting with this work really – perhaps my whole life, death has been there. But I think I can cleanly say that after my mom’s death in November of 2017, I was flattened in a way that I had never experienced. My pain and immense grief felt so universal, and yet in our American world, I felt so alone. I started to see how much we hide death in our culture and communities. Slowly that started to include writing and reading about loss in other cultures and their practices around death. And then very slowly I started having conversations with fellow devising artists about their experiences. And that’s where The Living Room was birthed. My creative partner, Gemma Soldati, also a doula, and I shared a deep curiosity and desire to express this through our work as clowns. Gemma had lost her boyfriend, as well very suddenly, so we shared a deep understanding of each other’s journeys. We started with “work-in-progress” shows in October 2018 in which we asked for feedback from the audience. And through that process we had a final product by March of 2019. We are taking the show to Melbourne Fringe and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, so the Hollywood Fringe run is really for us to prepare for those festivals.
Constance: The work is now out there; you’ve given it away. How does that feel?
Amrita: It’s strange because to me it doesn’t feel like we give it away, it feels like the audience gives us something every time, too. Because there’s no fourth wall in our work and everything is direct address, it feels as if in every show we – the audience included – create something together. And we leave it in that space when it ends, but we are changed because of that shared experience. I would love to ask audiences this same question!
Constance: What are you enjoying most doing your show?
Amrita: The play and the growing love, trust and commitment with Gemma. The show requires so much for us to be in sync and really be in alignment and it’s been so deeply rewarding to continue to grow with Gemma, which in turn makes the show so much more powerful, vulnerable and a gift for everyone to unwrap and enjoy.
Constance: What’s been your biggest challenge in terms of this production?
Amrita: As a woman of color doing comedy and self-producing theatre, it is a challenge to exist in these arenas. We do not receive the same systemic support, credibility, respect and access to resources as cis white men. These challenges – again, because they are systemic in nature – exist within the Fringe and will within the ecosystems ahead of us. That is, unfortunately, the nature of our world. However, we have been particularly fortunate to have the support from our community of clowns, Idiots, and artists as we’ve developed the show. What has also really helped us meet these challenges the most have been other women and organizations like LAFPI supporting us and shining a light on our work.
Constance: What do you hope audience members take away from your show?
Amrita: Due to the nature of this work, it’s really up to them what they take or leave with us. We don’t have designs on what they need to feel. If I had to say one thing I hope for, I suppose it’s simply that they go into the world just a little bit more curious about death. And then maybe we as a collective society can have more difficult conversations about our loved ones and our own end. After all, it’s where we’re all going.