Theatre department to present SHAKUNTALA: a remix this weekend

SHAKUNTALA: a remix is adapted from Kalidasa’s play. (Photo courtesy of E Wolfson.)

This weekend, the theatre department will present SHAKUNTALA: a remix as its final show of the season. A contemporary adaptation of Kalidasa’s fourth-century Sanskrit play, SHAKUNTALA: a remix is based on a tale from the Mahabharata, one of the most significant ancient Indian epics.

Directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Shanti Pillai and Artist-in-Residence Sean Devare, SHAKUNTALA: a remix navigates love, betrayal, and forgiveness. The production, notably, will span three separate stages. The show begins in the forest, where a king hunts for deer and instead encounters Shakuntala, the beautiful daughter of a nymph and sage. After witnessing a marriage and a secret curse, the audience moves to the palace, where courtesans parade for the king. The show concludes in the celestial realm, which features a lion, a romantic reunion, and a Bollywood dance number. 

“It’s a love story,” cast member Saumya Shinde ’26 said. “But the story is not just about a king — it is about the birth of India, as Shakuntala and Dushyant have a child named Bharat, which is what we call India today.”

As a first-year international student from Mumbai, Shinde feels the representation is deeply meaningful. “Last year, I was not thinking that I would come to a remote place in America, and I was going to perform SHAKUNTALA,” she said.

SHAKUNTALA: a remix is part of the theatre department’s push to diversify its productions, drawing from works beyond the Western tradition. “The Indian theatre tradition is literally the most ancient theatre tradition in the world in its continuous form,” said cast member and French Teaching Associate Danae Tsiamis. “The most important thing is changing the canon, not concentrating on the things we’ve seen so many times, things that are always praised as being the epitome of excellent theatre.”

The movement between stages underscores the epic nature of the play in space and time, according to those involved in the production. “It does feel like you are going on a great journey, because in fact, to travel from the forest to the palace, you’ve got to walk, you’ve got to traverse some real ground,” Ryan Crants ’24 said. “I think we’ve effectively created three entirely different atmospheres.” 

Cast of SHAKUNTALA rehearses for their upcoming performance. (Photo courtesy of E Wolfson.)

Cast members’ roles change between realms as well. “There’s a ceremonial exchange of roles,” E Wolfson ʼ23 explained. “And then at the end is this coming back of the three Shakuntalas and the three kings, who have an echoing between each other.”

Co-director Pillai emphasized the grounding of these transitional elements in tradition. She characterized them as a contemporary reference to folk performances in South Asian contexts, which use space dynamically and actively engage audiences in the performance process.

Cast members expressed faith in their directors to bring the story to life. Stella Oh ’25 was drawn to the production because of its experimental blend of ancient epic with contemporary elements. “Sean and Shanti’s vision is about a traditional story, but they’re not doing it in a traditional way,” she said. 

For example, co-director Devare noted that the production was developed collaboratively and from the ground up based on each performer’s skills and artistic interests. “The raw material that we started with was us,” he said. “And then we started introducing text and improvising, creating.” 

Students also noted that SHAKUNTALA: a remix provides an exceptional opportunity to make use of the theatre department’s full resources — resources that, in light of budget cuts beginning in the fall, might soon become less available. Crants highlighted, for example, that the department will have the capacity to deploy live music, puppets, stilts, and fully furnished sets across multiple stages for the production, which may not be the case in the future. 

For Wolfson, these resources allow for expansion into new and valuable performance experiences that encourage audience participation. “There’s a lot of fun, thrilling, steamy, high-tech, high-effect shit happening,” they said. 

Characterizing the production as “a work of shared humanity,” Pillai reflected on the creativity and community that the show has inspired. “We’re grateful for all the agonies and the ecstasies of the process,” she said.

Students will perform SHAKUNTALA: a remix on May 4, 5, and 6 in the ’62 Center on three different stages: the Directing Studio, Adams Memorial Theatre, and CenterStage.