Tag Archives: Amrita Dhaliwal

Grieve Rinse Repeat

by Guest Blogger Gemma Soldati

For most purists, the notion of “live-streamed,” or “on-demand,” theatre feels antithetical to the spirit of theatre. I myself have lamented the inability to look an audience in the eyes and hear them breathe. When COVID-19 struck, Amrita Dhaliwal and I were on tour with our Hollywood/Edinburgh/Melbourne Fringe show The Living Room, a comedy of grief; a two-month long tour across the US and Melbourne, Australia. As everything was cancelled and I watched our careers screech to a halt, I knew what to do. Amrita and I had built a show about it. I had to grieve. 

Amrita Dhaliwal & Gemma Soldati in “The Living Room” – photo by Kevin Krieg

I skipped the denial phase and went straight to anger at Delta Airlines for not issuing refunds initially. It wasn’t long until the depression set in. I laid in bed for days checking the New York Times latest COVID-19 stats, paralyzed by the graphs.  It was around this time I started to see the writing on the wall and accepted that it was over. There would be no shows, no rehearsals, no collective catharsis or effervescence. Theatre was dead. 

But what to do with the dead? Bury it? Burn it? I did both. All summer I stood in soil that held my performative impulses down below the seeds I planted. I lit candles that illuminated a new room in my mind, one that showed me my passion wasn’t dead, just my practice. So, I searched for new practices. I found Batik and began sewing like a mad woman. I drew pictures with an untrained hand. And made shadow puppets. I hunted down music with unprocessed sounds and distant voices. 

Eventually the bargaining stage of my grief came in the form of the new solo show I was hoping to premiere at the (ultimately cancelled) 2020 Edinburgh Fringe. In the fall, an Artistic Director of a theatre in New Hampshire (where I’m currently based) approached me. She wanted to commission me to create a new live show during the pandemic. It felt like a clandestine operation. Like grave diggers in the night, we raised the dead with patience and focus. And thus my latest show came to be. But, there was a COVID caveat. It had to also be live-streamed. I shuddered. It was like performing my show from outer space – like Mike TeaVee in Willy Wonka floating above his parents as a million little signals. Ultimately, I accepted the offer. The 12-person max audience of masked faces was a wonderful sight, but the real gift came from the ether. Friends from Australia writing to say they woke up early to watch. Godchildren in Santa Cruz talking to my character on the screen. They couldn’t see me sweat, but they could see the signs of life.

Now the Edinburgh Fringe, among many, are adding digital elements to their festivities. I will be featured in this new virtual reality. And while I am dismayed that I cannot be present for my show The Adventures of Sleepyhead, I feel that I’ve sent an ambassador to represent me – much in the way a painter must feel when their work is viewed without them at the gallery. Digital audiences will undoubtedly have a different experience of my work and I will too, but just like a person listening to a conversation from another room, curiosity is piqued and for me that is enough.

Gemma Soldati in “The Adventures of Sleepyhead”

When people say, “theatre is dead” they fail to acknowledge the natural cycle of death and rebirth. And to those of us who are worried that this move to embrace digital shows will threaten the life of live theatre, rest assured knowing that it is in our biology to come together, to sing, dance, talk, emote, touch, reenact and play. No human invention will ever replace that. 

Gemma Soldati is an American performing artist. Her focus is clown inspired work developed in front of live audiences.

Read more about Gemma and her work at gemmasoldati.com.

#FringeFemmes Check-Ins: The Living Room

by Constance Strickland

Quick peeks at #HFF19’s “Women on the Fringe” by Fringe Femmes who are behind the scenes this year. Click Here for all Check-Ins

Fringe Femmes

WHO: Amrita Dhaliwal + Gemma Soldati

WHAT: The Living Room

WHERE: Theatre of NOTE, 1517 North Cahuenga Bl

WHY: A woman in a black dress with her face hidden from the audience marks lines on a chalkboard. Silent. We see only the bounce her body makes as she writes on a small board. There’s something about this action that becomes unsettling but, but your fears are set aside as an abrupt entrance brings  the room to immediate laughter. This Dynamic Duo’s energy, chemistry and timing are a theatrical treat that will take you outside yourself and on an unexpected emotional journey with a room full of strangers. The Living Room is a place where many families gather together in joy and sorrow. A room of memories.

This show is a wonderful examination and celebration of life and death. By the end of the show you won’t quite understand how, but you’ll find yourself speaking aloud.

HOW: https://www.dhalidati.com/thelivingroom (The HFF19 show has closed but The Living Room will be performing as part of the Edinburgh Fringe)

Click Here to Find More “Women on the Fringe” in Encore Performances

All Hail #FringeFemmes! Meet Amrita Dhaliwal

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.

For more information on THE LIVING ROOM in HFF19, visit https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6206


Amrita Dhaliwal