Dipika Guha says you don’t need to know anything India or yoga to enjoy her latest, Yoga Play (April 19-30, Nicholas Studio, part of the Pacific Playwrights Festival).
The play follows Joan, hired to stabilize Jojomon, a yoga apparel giant, after its CEO is brought down by a fat-shaming scandal. But just as Joan finds her stride, more trouble surfaces and sales plummet. Joan comes up with a plan so risky that it could make or break the company and her career—and what it requires from her CFO, Raj, is far beyond the call of duty. This sharp comedy asks what it takes to find your own authenticity in a world determined to sell enlightenment.
Guha is a true global citizen—born in Calcutta, she was raised in India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Yoga Play is an SCR/CrossRoads commission, a program that immerses playwrights into Orange County’s diverse communities to be inspired by what they find.
As Yoga Play rehearsal started, Guha dished on how and where she likes to write, books read in secret, her residency in O.C. and more.
Guha's writing space
Where I write: This is my desk. It’s in my bedroom. In the past, I have had a study or dedicated work space that I ended up not using—I guess I have a rebellious streak! The moment I feel like I have to be somewhere, I no longer want to be there. There’s something about the casualness of having the desk in my bedroom that tricks me into writing without fuss. That said, I have also trained myself to write just about anywhere. Trains, planes, buses, hotel rooms, lobbies, waiting rooms are all fair game.
The stories I read in secret: Really? Ugh, okay. I secretly read Jeffery Archer novels as a kid. This was before he went to prison. And as an eight year old, the racy, political fiction felt taboo and enticing in every way. I also secretly read Simone de Beauvoir when I was nine. Classier, but still taboo. I am not sure I understood or followed the story, but I was deeply struck by the tone and what it felt like to be inside the bright mind of intelligence.
I knew I wanted to be a playwright: It was the moment I asked myself what I really wanted to be. I was twenty three and had never written anything at all much less a play, so the brazenness of what my heart wanted shocked me. I mean, how can you possibly say you think you are a playwright with absolutely zero proof? Writing my first play was a deeply intentional act. I was trying to match outside what I knew to be true about myself.
The play that changed my life: Robert Wilson’s production of Buchner’s Woyzcek at the Barbican in London. A close friend who was in art school had recommended it. I took my Dad and we got cheap tickets way, way in the back of the house. Watching it was something of a nightmare. I had no idea what was unfolding and it made me kind of angry. But then images of the play stuck with me for months and months and it led me to direct for the first time in college. I think I was trying to work out what Wilson was doing by doing it myself. As a kid, I was also massive Andrew Lloyd Webber fan so seeing Phantom of the Opera and Cats with my Dad also changed my life. It’s worth noting my Dad slept through all three plays.
How SCR supports my work: I had the great fortune of having the resources to come out to Orange County for an exploratory residency, to lean on the Literary Department for research help and then when I had a first draft, afforded the time and to be given resources to workshop the play. Everyone at SCR has been wonderfully supportive of my process and doing the utmost to get the best draft of this play into production.
What I did with my CrossRoads residency: I used my residency in Orange County in August 2015 to explore three ideas. Indigenous California, the domestic employee visa (called the B-1) and yoga. The incredible literary department at SCR supported me by organizing and accompanying me to meetings with immigration lawyers, the Southern California Native American Center, and a wide variety of yoga and meditation classes. At one of these meditation classes, Kat Zukaitis (who is part of the literary team here) and I had a very singular experience. I can’t really say much more without spoiling a big plot point. But it tipped me off to something I was trying to say about spirituality, cultural appropriation and the ways in which identity politics are both essential and limiting to different degrees. And it was funny. That experience gave me the kernel of something to write towards.
Coffee or tea: Tea. Then coffee. Then tea.
What I’m binge-watching: Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle,” an adaptation of Philip. K. Dick’s novel about what would have happened if the Axis powers had won World War II. It’s light relief after reading the daily news.
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