Snehal Desai: Interview

So, did doing all this writing open you up and you think this is the path you're more interested in now?

It definitely is in terms of it's true I'm not finding the South Asian work I want and, so, I can either complain about it or go do it until I do find it. And the more I write and act, the better the director I become. I love being on the other side and switching back and forth has been great. I just graduated in May, but the show is here, people are hearing about it, and it's going to tour colleges in the fall.

I just figured if (Rhino Artistic Director) John (Fisher) brought you in, it can't suck. I don't know you, but he's usually got good taste.

No, he has great taste. So, yeah, I love directing and it is what I do want to do, but this has been a great ride.

Can you direct your own show?

You can, but I wouldn't. Just things like, at tech rehearsal, you can't both be in the audience and you can't see how you look essentially. It's just helpful to have a third eye on the script work and all of that…

No pun intended.

(laughs) Exactly, no pun intended by any means. But I've been enjoying it, and the interesting thing is, like, as an actor you can audition, as a playwright you can send a script in, but as a director the only way people will really hire you is if they see your work.

Will it be strange if you get to see someone else perform this show someday?

It's going to be great. I'm going to love that. It's funny, when you're a director you're always like, 'I wish I was an actor, because my day would end when I left,' and now as an actor, I'm like, 'God, I wish I was a director, because the show's open, but I still have to come every night.' My job is just beginning. So, it will be really interesting and thrilling to see someone else go on this journey.

And we have a lot of kids on the site who are really interested in theater, and I fell into this trap, too, where you're interested in theater in high school, you want to pursue it, but there's that disconnect of how to go from high school plays to where do I go from here?

I would definitely recommend, especially if you're not 195 percent sure, go to a good liberal arts college that has a theater program as well as all the other majors. One of the good things is I didn't end up going to a school that was just theater or just, you know, like at Georgetown, you can only be in their School of Government, or at NYU I couldn't do theater and poly-sci.

When you're a Tisch, you're a Tisch all the way…

You're in Tisch, or you're in Arts and Sciences. So, for me, the biggest boon was going to a place where I did the major I wanted and I took soc, and psych, and things like that and kept coming back to the theater. And then, just do lots and lots of theater. Do community theater, do it during the summers, go to the camps…

How do you have time to do theater on top of a PolySci major at Yale, that doesn't seem…

I went to Emory for undergrad, and got my MFA at Yale in directing. So, I went to Emory in Atlanta.

OK, this didn't sound like a realistic schedule when I had it all mashed together…

Well, but people are coming in with so much credit from AP courses and college courses, so I was able to finish my PolySci in two years, but I was like, 'I don't want to graduate early, so I'll do something else.' But if it's what you like, keep doing it. Go to a place where you can explore options and, if it's where you end up, it's where you end up. And if you really want to do theater later, go to a good MFA program.

One thing we didn't talk about, you said it's hard to find good Indian or Asian roles, but how much impact does it have as a fan of theater to not see your life portrayed onstage. Does that impact you at all?

It impacts me that it's motivating me enough to do that. This is a piece that I'd want to see, the South Asian work I'm pursuing on the side, and the things I want to say to the community, the dialogues I want to create in the community, and you want to see yourself reflected.

You want to see your family and your cultural institutions, and film has been really great about that. There's been a whole generation of Indian-American filmmakers with, like, Bend it Like Beckham and Monsoon Wedding. So, there's like a great film, but in theater, it's kind of a void, but it's been motivating for me.

And do you do a lot of outreach so San Francisco gIndians know to show up?

Yes. San Francisco gIndians and the overall San Francisco South Asian population. The piece has a gay theme, but there's a whole lot of other things in there. And these are the conversations and dialogues that should be happening. And when I'm at colleges and universities, I try to get co-sponsorship of South Asian groups, as well as the LGBT groups and the theater groups that don't normally do programming together.

So, if you're going to tour this piece, there is the chance that our readers will get the chance to see it.

Exactly.

And, beyond that, anyone reading this who's active on their college campus should be working with their student group, and contacting you saying 'Get your ass on my campus and do this show.'

Exactly. They should definitely contact me. Snehaldesai.com, they can e-mail me through that. After you perform at a couple colleges, there's a whole circuit and word of mouth, but if people are interested, they can definitely contact me and I could come out. I also have courses I can offer to supplement the program.

But I think the play leads to a good dialogue about a lot of different things. The irony of the piece is this is a character who spends a lot of time trying to prove what he's not when he needs to face who he is and deal with that first, rather than worrying how people keep perceiving him and looking at him.

Which sounds like a role you can only do justice to after completing that journey yourself…

(laughs) Exactly.

But we can't go too far down that (autobiographical) path…

No. But it's something we all go through. 'I'm not this, I'm not this…'