Welcome to the DGF Fellows Spotlight.
These interviews put the spotlight on a DGF Fellow and invite you to take a behind-the-scenes look at our program.
This year, you’ve met Jessica Kahkoska & Elliah Heifetz; Paulo K Tiról, Andy Roninson, Kate Douglas, Avi Amon, and Andrew Rincón. And we’ll continue to introduce you to all the 2019-2020 Fellows: Kyoung H. Park, Melis Aker, Nikhil Mahapatra, and Nolan Doran.
Each writer is asked a series of questions to help us get to know them better, while exploring where they’ve been, what they’re up to now, and what they hope for the future.
Please take your seats, unwrap your candies, and silence your cellphones as we put the spotlight on Nikhil Mahapatra!
What was your first experience with theater?
My absolute first? Playing a random person in a Sunday School play, where I refused to speak during rehearsal because I already knew my one line, and I didn’t understand why I had to practice saying the one line if I already knew what it was (I was 5). Acting was never in the cards.
When did you decide to become a writer? Is there a writer, show, or piece of writing that was particularly influential on your path?
I was working in a really depressing and difficult job and it sort of forced me to reckon with what gave me joy – and I realized it was always writing.
I suppose I first loved Noel Coward’s plays because they were always so delightfully funny, and I think it was, for me at least, a really accessible way to enter theatre. There is a deep focus on the psychological, philosophical and societal analysis in theatre today, which really resonates me and I absolutely love! But I also think we should never forget the importance of implanting joy into our work – and how that simple emotion can really drive connection and understanding to the core material of a piece.
How do you describe your work overall? What sets your work apart?
I feel like every play is different, so it’s hard to get a grip on what my overall theme is. I would say that I really enjoy creating a story that surrounds a deep central question that has no, and can never have, a clear and correct answer. Living in that enigmatic space, with an added splash of dark humour and a dash of eroticism is what brings a story to life for me.
As for what sets it apart – I have a feeling this is something you can tell only over a long period of time or experience, or perhaps something you would only ever know if you’re extremely gifted at introspection.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you’ve been developing as a Fellow?
I’ve been working on two pieces – a story about two restaurant-owning families and their attempt at holding onto their lives in rapidly gentrifying crown heights. It’s sort of a queer coming of age friendship and family love letter that seeks to present the change that is a natural part of life – with all its gifts and inevitable losses. The other piece is much younger, and is a racial and queer retelling of the little mermaid fable – with some twists and liberties taken.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a writer?
It used to be a physical reaction from an audience. It’s perhaps a little sadistic or narcissistic, but there is just such a pleasure from seeing people react viscerally to something you’ve created – and usually from something you’ve created from a deep place. Our current situation in the pandemic however has sort of released me from that need for exterior approval. At the moment, I’ve been taking the time to really languish in the stories and people I’ve been creating, and looking at how they reflect both the good and bad parts of myself and my life. It’s kind of like a form of introspection and self-discovery that I feel is very necessary for growth – not only as a writer, but as a person too.