Sikh Family Center had an opportunity to catch up with Mehr Kaur, teen theatre actress, recent director, and founder of a new theatre company in Massachusetts. Mehr’s recent production ‘Kultar’s Mime’ has received wonderful press and feedback. Here’s what Mehr told SFC about her life and plans:
Sikh Family Center: So, tell us, where are you going to college? And what are you studying?
Mehr Kaur: I am going to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. I’m focusing on theatre with a concentration in Directing and a minor in Government. I’ve been very interested in theatre, for a long, long time. I was an actor before I got to college. But when I got here, I discovered I really like directing. So took a class and found I really enjoyed it.
SFC: Sounds like an eye-opening class for you. What was it?
Mehr: It’s called Basic Directing 1. Usually, people don’t take the class until their Sophomore or Junior year . . .
SFC: . . . But you took initiative to take it your Freshman year. Great! Now tell us why a minor in Government?
Mehr: Well, politics has also always been an interest. And Government and Econ are the two of the largest majors at Smith. I know people doing Government internships in DC, and Boston that and other places. And that interests me too. But the reason I am doing it is that my interest in theatre, in fact, lies on top so many other things… science, government, etcetera. The Government Minor will also enrich my Directing major by allowing me to experience different atmospheres and relationships.
SFC: This deep interest in acting and theatre. Have you always had it?
Mehr: I’ve been acting since I was very young, since I was like six or seven, in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. When I got older I worked at Wheelock Family Theatre. I worked there for a year, just experimenting and gaining experience. My interest in theater grew.
SFC: Acting for seven years? Where?
Mehr: There was a camp in town, a theatre camp for kids. And also my Dad’s plays. We performed one of his plays at the Sikh Youth Symposium as well. In High school then, I was heavily involved in theatre. I helped with arranging for our high school theatre group to go attend the Edinburgh Film Festival.
SFC: Sounds like a great experience. What did your theatre group perform?
Mehr: We wrote an original piece, Empty Page, Empty Stage, about a girl and her use of literary characters, to help her get through her formative years.
SFC: Tell me about your formative years. Was theatre part of your home?
Mehr: Yes. My Dad was always into writing, art, and going to see theatre. I grew up in that culture. I was always encouraged to pursue theatre when I was young.
SFC: And as you got older, you decided to major in theatre. Did that take some convincing of your parents?
Mehr: I come from a culture that values success very much. So that is something I value too. So yes, there were some conversations. Mostly about how this is something I will approach with full seriousness… and that no matter what I was doing, I would work hard at it.
SFC: Makes sense. Tell us more about this play you worked so hard on producing and directing?
Mehr: Sure. In the early 90s, about 1991, my Dad was in America. And he wrote this poem about little kids in Tilak Vihaar in Dilli and the aftermath of 1984. Then, when I was very young, he shared it with me… and it didn’t make so much sense then. But it kept re-appearing. We would read segments of it every year when we went to 1984 Remembrance events. And now, more recently, I revisited it and looked at it through a critical, analytical eye. It became so visual. And then I came up with the idea, to adapt it, as a play.
SFC: Your first attempt as a Director, how wonderful!
Mehr: Yes, I was looking for something to Direct. And so I adapted this poem. And developed the characters of the poem. For the art, we commissioned a student at Smith College. Evelyn Davis, a beautiful artist.
She looked at some pictures, and we worked together. Then, we got a team of actors ready. Five actors. We started our production company from scratch, but we ran it professionally. In March I started auditions, and 24 or so people auditioned. Most of the students were from my hometown, Hopkinton. This company is completely student-run.
SFC: So you did all this amazing work while juggling the first year of college. How was that?
Mehr: It sure was busy. I came up with the idea around January. I think I worked for 4 months creating the script etcetera. During Spring break, we conducted the auditions. And then gave the actors the scripts to familiarize themselves with. On May 21, we started rehearsals. We had rehearsals in the evening, four times a week, in our basement. Week of June 21 was tech week. And we put the play on June 28.
Mehr: Yes, I did a lot of preparation work while balancing college workload. That semester, I was also acting in a play and then also stage manager for another play. I was at rehearsal every night or had a show every night… And then, of course, classes, sleeping, homework. It all worked out somehow.
SFC: What is it like as a Sikh in theatre? Do you think about that?
Mehr: Yes… As a Sikh, it is really valuable and special to have an interest in arts, because, unfortunately, though I am sure there are tons of talented people out there, not enough have pursued it. And growing up, I didn’t have role models. That I wanted to be an actor wasn’t something people would take seriously… Then, as I started working on this, and put projects together, I knew I wanted to be a Sikh role model for women and wanted to be a role model in the arts.
SFC: And your play role models how art can bring attention to very dark times in history…
Mehr: Absolutely. When you think about oppression and violence, if you look at the Holocaust, there are a multitude of artistic responses. But not for 1984. Art really brings out issues, political, social issues… it begins conversations around issues you can’t begin to talk about otherwise.
SFC: Well-said! Who are your inspirations?
Mehr: Student directors at Smith. It was very inspiring to see how much people my age could do. Who just say, hey, I am going to get this project together and put it on. They are my number 1 inspiration right now. Then several theatre personalities, and director Peter Brooks. I love people who inject theatre with social purpose.
SFC: And do you have advice for others inspired to pursue the same path as yours, perhaps a career in theatre?
Mehr: The number one thing is that you have to be motivated and self-created. Have to be enterprising and put yourself out there. I started a theatre company in my town. We never had a student company before. It energized people. There are 20 people working on a film now, which we are currently shooting.
SFC: As the Sikh Family Center, we love hearing about the role of family and community in your life…
Mehr: Yes, like I said, my family has always been super supportive of my work, as an artist, as an actor, director. Also, one of the things I am super grateful for is how my Dad introduced me to the notion of Women’s Colleges. I would urge people to think about women’s colleges… I am learning so much about myself and being a feminist, which I think is very important, especially in America, and especially today. This college was definitely not something I was thinking about originally.
SFC: Very interesting, thanks for sharing… Anything else you’d like to add?
Mehr: I was really fortunate to grow up where I grew up. My best friends growing up have been Sikhs. And that is not the only way, or the scenario for many. Anyway, I did grow up in a great community, went to Gurudwara each week, grew up super proud of my heritage, studied and learned music. My community was always super supportive… I would urge people to find that if they don’t have it or to embrace that if they do. And to cherish it.
SFC: Thank you, Mehr Kaur!